Sekito Kisen

‘A monk asked, “What was Master Bodhidharma’s intention in coming from the west to China?”
Sekito said, “Ask the pillars outside.”
The monk said, “I cannot understand your answer at all.”
Sekito said, “I am also unable to understand the situation if I think about it.”‘ (Shinji Shobogenzo)



‘In wholeness take one step.’ (Cultivating the Empty Field)

Just like yesterday’s post, this reminds me of a koan – in this case, one of the translations of Yunmen’s response in the Blue Cliff Record (case 14): ‘Preaching facing oneness.’ For a long time I stuck with the other answer to the question (the question itself is a relatively stock koan one, ‘What is the teaching of the Buddha’s lifetime?’), which is ‘an appropriate response.’ Then I grew to appreciate that each has its very particular merits. How do we respond when faced with the absolute? As yesterday’s post reminds us. Don’t stop there; you are still a person. Take one step; say something; respond appropriately. Good places to start.

Kobun Chino

‘You don’t go anywhere from kensho. Seeking to know yourself ends, and time starts. The future doesn’t exist in the future, and the past hasn’t gone yet. Your ordinary dualistic knowledge of everything ends. But you don’t dwell in such a realization. After the second or third moment, you discover you are still a person, and you get up and prepare yourself for the day as usual. You live as if nothing has happened. You still get mad and you get glad when something good happens. But each time, when you realize this original self within you, the battle within you somewhat ends. In a sense, the battle to actualize such oneness starts anew. It is a real battle. Other existences out there are not others any more, so that the problem is much more serious when you see suffering people. That becomes your own suffering, immediately. Or when someone is experiencing great joy, by looking at, hearing, that joy, you become so happy!’ (Embracing Mind)

If anyone asked me if I had had a kensho experience, I would say no; reading of other people’s descriptions, I don’t feel that the same thing has happened to me. Nevertheless, I recognise the response in the last sentences, the more intimate connection with others’ emotions, in my life these days. As Kobun Chino says, echoing one of my favourite koansyou get up and prepare yourself for the day as usual.


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.


‘Yangshan asked Kueishan, “If a million objects come to you, what do you do?” Kueishan answered, “A green article is not yellow. A long thing is not short. Each object manages its own fate. Why should I interfere with them?”‘ (The Iron Flute)

One of the pleasure of browsing in the Tassajara library is to scan the cards to see who has taken the books out over the years. Mostly I find familiar names going back twenty years. The Iron Flute is a less-well-known collection of koans, translated by Nyogen Senzaki, which I like mostly for his dry comments, and the lovely illustrations in the square editions of which Tassajara has two copies. I was a little surprised, though, to see that no-one had taken out the copy I pulled from the shelf since I had in 2007…


‘A monk asked, “What is the thing toward which an advanced student should pay particular attention?”
Fayan said, “If the student has anything whatsoever which is particular then he can’t be called advanced.”‘ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)