‘A monk asked Fen-yang, “If there is no bit of cloud in the sky for ten thousand miles, what do you say about it?” “I would punish the sky with my stick, ” Fen-yang replied. “Why do you blame the sky?” the monk persisted. “Because,” answered Fen-yang “there is no rain when we should have it and there is no fair weather when we should have it. ”’ (The Iron Flute)

Nyogen Senzaki’s commentary: A Zen monk punishes everything with his big stick; even Buddha and the patriarchs cannot escape that blow of Zen. His stick is the handle by which he can shake the whole universe. If there were to arise any disturbance in the perfect network of the universe, Fen-yang was ready to set things right with his stick. The monk was merely a dreamer expecting to live in uninterrupted bliss while he worshipped a white-washed, dummy Buddha. Fen-yang’s first answer was really a warning to the monk, but when he saw the monk did not understand, he simplified his answer as one might to a small child. 

My commentary: Perhaps we can think of this as a koan for California.


‘Shishuan entered the hall and addressed the monks saying, “All of the buddhas and all of the buddhas’ anuttara-samyaksambodhi come forth from this sutra.” He then raised his staff upright and said, “This is the Nanyuan Temple staff. Where is the sutra?”

After a long pause he said, “The text is long. I’ll give it to you later.”

Then, with a shout, he got down from the seat.’ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

Kids these days, no attention span, eh?


Daowu visited the assembly of Shitou and asked, “What is the fundamental meaning of buddha dharma?” 
Shitou said, “Not to attain, not to know.” 
Daowu said, “Is there a further turning point in going beyond?” 
Shitou said, “The vast sky does not keep white clouds from flying.” 

Daowu auditioned for the role of a white cloud, but couldn't nail it.


'Xuefeng asked a monk, "Where are you going?"
The monk said, "I'm going to do community work."
Xuefeng said, "Go."

Yunmen said, "Xuefeng understands people according to their words."
Hongzhi said [about this dialogue], "Don't move. If you move I'll give you thirty blows. Why is this so? For a luminous jewel without flaw, if you carve a pattern its virtue is lost."'

This is a classic example of a koan illustrating non-abiding. Both answers are perfect, but you cannot stick to either.

Nyogen Senzaki

‘Nowadays good speakers are everywhere; there are almost too many. But when you stop to think, you will notice how scarce good listeners are. You all know the story of Nanin’s cup of tea. Nanin, a Zen master during the Meiji era, once received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nanin served the tea himself. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. He cried, “It is full now! No more can go in!” “Like this cup,” Nanin said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” This story is all right so far as it goes. Butplease do not use this story merely to convince others to listen to you!

This story has a copyright by the House of Egolessness, which functions throughout the study of meditation until the dawn of realization for all sentient beings.’ (Eloquent Silence)

The Blue Cliff Record

'Sancho said to Seppo, "The golden carp has leapt through the net. Now, how will it sustain itself?"
Seppo said, "When you have leapt through the net yourself, I will tell you."
Sancho said, "A renowned teacher of fifteen hundred monks cannot find even one word to say about this?"
Seppo said, "As the abbot, I have many things to take care of.' (Case 49)

This goes along with Monday's story. The monk wanted a helping hand; he thought he had a cool question, and that the abbot would give him something decisive and clear to affirm him. The abbot knew better: if you aren't there, there's no point in asking; if you are there, more to the point, you won't need to ask. Right now, he probably has another meeting to go to. Besides, where is this net?


Heshan said, “Learning by study is called ‘hearing’; learning no more is called ‘nearness’; transcending these two is ‘true passing.'”
A monk asked, “What is ‘true passing’?”
Heshan said, “Beating the drum.”
The monk asked again, “What is the true teaching of the Buddha?”
Heshan said, “Beating the drum.”
The monk asked once more, “I would not ask you about ‘This very mind is the Buddha,’ but what is ‘No mind, no Buddha’?”
Heshan said, “Beating the drum.”
The monk still continued to ask: “When an enlightened one comes, how do you treat him?”
Heshan said, “Beating the drum.” (Blue Cliff Record, case 44)

What is he banging on about? Same answer every time – is that lack of imagination, or affirmation of the reality? Yes or no? Bang bang bang.


‘Three monks, Xuefeng, Qinshan, and Yantou, met in the temple garden. Xuefeng saw a water pail and pointed to it. Qinshan said, “The water is clear, and the moon reflects its image.” “No, no, ”said Xuefeng “it is not water, it is not moon. ” Yantou turned over the pail.’ (The Iron Flute, Case 25) 

Looks like Yantou scored the winner, but really he just didn’t know what to say. Doesn’t Xuefeng know that it’s rude to point? How would you express it?


'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.