‘Xuansha was informally addressing his monastics when he heard a swallow singing. He said to the assembly, “This is the profound dharma of real form. It skillfully conveys the essence of the true teaching.” He then descended down from the teaching seat.
A monastic asking for an explanation said, “I don’t understand.”
Xuansha said, “Go away. No-one will believe you.”‘ (Shinji Shobogenzo)

I have posted this before, and make no apologies for doing so again. I reflect on this story frequently, and won’t add the same comment as I did a couple of years ago. These days I associate the story with Glen Canyon, as I read it out on the first roam that we did along the canyon, and decided to repeat it at the following visit. I gave it an airing in the most recent roam as well, as we sat on the logs by Islais creek, which was running freely. A couple of girls were playing barefoot with sticks, making a suitable amount of noise for their fun, and behind us a pair of large ravens were picking at a log. When we started walking again, I heard a woodpecker up a in tree.
What else do you think conveys the essence of the true teaching?


The Hidden Lamp

‘Magu, Nanquan and another monk were on pilgrimage. Along the way they met a woman who had a teashop. The woman prepared a pot of tea, and brought three cups. She said to them, “Oh monks, let those of you with miraculous powers drink tea.”
The three looked at each other and the woman said, “Watch this decrepit old woman show her own miraculous powers.” Then she picked up the cups, poured the tea, and went out.’


There are a few stories like this from the golden years of Chinese zen, where the presumption or pomposity of various male monks gets punctured by a woman. We are invited to imagine her as not being a practitioner in the traditional sense, but her understanding gets the better of the supposedly wiser men. In a few cases, happily, the men realise their shortcomings and vow to match the women’s wisdom, or even follow her as a disciple. But really, like yesterday’s story, what did you expect her to do?

Taiyuan Fu

‘One day the monk Baofu Congzhan was cutting a melon when Taiyuan Fu came up to him.
Baofu said, “If you say the right thing I’ll give you a piece of melon to eat.”
Taiyuan said, “Give me one.”
Baofu gave him a piece of melon.
Taiyuan took it and went away.’ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

I laughed out loud when I came across this story. What did you expect him to say?


‘Xiangyan asked a monk, “Where did you come from?”
The monk said, “I come from Guishan.”
Xiangyan said, “What does the teacher have to say these days?”
The monk said, “When someone asked about the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the west, the teacher raised his whisk.”
Xiangyan after hearing this asked, “How did the brothers there understand the the teacher’s meaning?”
The monk said, “The monks there deliberated and thought this was ‘Right within forms, clarifying the mind; adhering to things, demonstrating the principle.'”
Xiangyan said, “Those who understand just understand. Why should those who do not understand die from hurrying?”
The monk asked further, “What was the teacher’s meaning?”
Xiangyan also raised his whisk.


I hear Xiangyan’s last phrase as echoing Yunju. How about his raising his whisk though? Is that the same as Guishan or not?


A monk asked Xuedou, “What is your manner of teaching?”
Xuedou replied, “When guests come, one should see them.” (quoted in Zen Essence)

If you have been reading this blog from the very beginning, and have a good memory, or if you have read the Tenzokyokun a fair number of times, the name Xuedou will ring a bell. Dogen quotes his wonderful poem in that piece, and I recently dug out the three translations I have to look at with my students. I think what he is saying in this exchange is very much in line with the poem, though perhaps easier to grasp.


‘You are trying to attain thusness, yet you already are a person of thusness. As you are already a person of thusness, why be worried about thusness?’

I think it is okay to repeat myself every now and again. This phrase came to mind while I was musing over what to say for yesterday’s quote – there seemed to be an echo in the line of thought, but on further reflection, the parallel was not quite so straight. How do you find the two together?


Sansheng asked Xuefeng, “The golden fish that’s passed through the net – what does it use for food?”
Xuefeng said, “When you come out of the net, then I’ll tell you.”
Sansheng said, “The teacher of fifteen hundred people, yet you don’t even know a saying.”
Xuefeng said, “My tasks as abbot are many.” (Book of Serenity, case 33)

Xuefeng throws some serious shade at the end, and rightly so. The point is that if you ‘pass through the net’ – or the ‘gateless gate’, to use an analogous expression – you no longer worry about the things you worried about before, and if you have not passed through, then why waste time being concerned with what is in the future? It will not, as Dogen pointed out in Shobogenzo Yuibutsu Yobutsu, be the way you thought of it at all (I am surprised that I don’t seem to have quoted that passage, and I shall rectify it soon…)
It is also worth considering the Xuefeng is not letting on whether he has ‘passed through’ or not (we assume, as the monk does, that he has), but in either case, he still has work to do as abbot.