'When Shishuang met Daowu, he said, "What is the transcendent wisdom that meets the eye?"
Daowu called to an attendant and he responded. Daowu said to him, "Add some clean water to the pitcher."
After a long pause, Daowu said to Shishuang, "What did you just come and ask me?" 
Shishuang started to raise his previous question when Daowu got up and left the room. Shishuang then had a great realization.' (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

I am not surprised Daowu left the room. Shishuang comes along with some hi-faluting question and then doesn't even notice the response that is given. No action replays in these old stories.

Kodo Sawaki

‘It’s an idea of the mind to believe that the ego can escape itself and project itself into the fundamental universe.’

I was chatting with my dharma sister Kim about her recent visit to sit sesshin at Tassajara, and in the course of the conversation, pulled out the notebook I had when I was shuso there, nine years ago now. It is full of quotes that resonated for me, observations, notes for the dharma talks I gave, and sketches of the encouraging words I was asked to provide for the evenings of sesshin. This is from the first category, and there may be a few more snippets appearing here soon.


The disciples Daowu and Yunyan stood in attendance to the master. Master Yaoshan pointed to two trees, one flourishing and one withering, and asked Daowu, “Better to flourish or to wither?” Daowu replied, “To flourish.” The master said, “Shining everywhere, bright and glorious.” Then, he asked Yunyan, “Better to flourish or to wither?” Yunyan replied, “To wither.” The master said, “Shining everywhere, let it wither and fade.” Another disciple, Novice Gao suddenly came, and the master asked him also. Gao replied, “Let the withering one wither, let the flourishing one flourish.” The master looked at both Daowu and Yunyan and said, “wrong, wrong.”

As the old conjugation has it: better, best, bested.

I thought this one was worthy of a re-run in its entirety, but then I couldn’t resist adding that, as Dogen says about Bodhidharma’s four successors, they all have it entirely right.


‘When Mazu heard that Damei lived on the mountain, he sent a monk to call upon him and ask the question, “When you saw Master Mazu, what did he say that caused you to come and live on this mountain?”
Damei said, “Master Mazu said to me, ‘Mind is Buddha.’ Then I came here to live.”
The monk said, “These days Master Ma’s teaching has changed.”
Damei said. “What is it?”
The monk said, “Now he says, ‘No mind. No Buddha.'”
Damei said, “That old fellow just goes on and on, confusing people. Let him go ahead and say, ‘No mind. No Buddha.’ As for me, I still say ‘Mind is Buddha.’
The monk returned and reported this to Master Mazu.
Mazu said, “The plum is ripe.”‘ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

This is another repost, but I think my commentary on it may be a little different. While there may be many teachers – from Buddha himself onwards – telling students not to stick to one particular teaching, Master Mazu recognises that Damei has fully integrated what he told him and is living from that place; Damei knows ‘No mind. No Buddha’ just as fully.


‘A monk asked Fayan, “What is Buddha?”

Fayan replied, “First I want to ask you to practice it, second I want to ask you to practice it.” (quoted in Two Zen Classics)

I had not heard of this exchange before, but came across it while I was researching for this week’s class (thinking about Case 26 of the Mumonkan involving Fayan and the screens). But why do you think he needs to tell the monk twice?


‘Baizhang said, “I want someone to go and tell something to Xitang.”

Wufeng said, “I’ll go.”

Baizhang said, “How will you speak to him?”

Wufeng said, “I’ll wait until I see Xitang, then I’ll speak.”

Baizhang said, “What will you say?”

Wufeng said, “When I come back, I’ll tell you.” (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

I think Wufeng acquited himself quite well there, though he probably said too much at the end.

Zachary and I have scheduled a Zen Center class on the classic story of Baizhang and the fox, and I have started my reading around it. This is a dialogue I don’t remember reading before.


‘Yunju once saw a monk silently reading a sutra in his room. He asked the monk through the window, “Reverend, what sutra are you reading?”

The monk said, “The Vimalakirti Sutra.

Yunju said, “I am not asking you about the Vimalakirti Sutra. What sutra are you reading?”

At this the monk entered realization.’ (quoted in Shobogenzo Kankin)

How much of reality is reading in any one moment?

Baoci Zangxu

‘A monk asked, “I’ve heard the ancients had a saying, ‘When feelings arise, wisdom is blocked; when thoughts change, the substance is isolated.’ How about when feelings have not yet arisen?” The Master said, “Blocked.”’

So where did the monk go wrong? I would suggest he doesn’t need to trouble his mind about things that haven’t happened, because it will get in the way of meeting what is actually arising.


‘One day the old monk Baizhang, addressing his assembly, said, “Work the rice field for me, and I’ll instruct you in the fundamental principles of the great matter.”

After the monks had worked the rice field for the master, they said, “Now master, please instruct us  in the fundamental principles of the great matter.”

Baizhang spread open his arms.’ (Shinji Shobogenzo)

It won’t necessarily help your grasp of the fundamental principles, but Baizhang is well-known for his edicts on work.


‘A monk asked Fengxhue, “Speech and silence are concerned with equality and differentation. How can I transcend equality and differentiation?”

Fengxhue said, “I always think of Hunan in the spring; partridges chirp among the many fragrant flowers.”‘ (The Blue Cliff Record)

The monk is stuck; Fengxhue is not just reminiscing. Speech or silence, what do you have to say?