‘A monk said, “I have just arrived here. I ask the master to expound the Dharma.”
Tianyi said, “The birds call in the forest. The fish swim in the deep water.”‘ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

Again with the birds and the fish. What can they teach us? Perhaps Tianyi should have asked the monk if he had had his breakfast.



‘Master Kasan quoted, “To study is mon [the character meaning ‘hear’]. To cut off study is rin [the character meaning ‘near’]. Above these two there is shin [the character meaning ‘true’].”
A monk asked, “What is shin like?”
Kasan answered, “To be able to beat the drum.”
The same monk asked again, “The essence of shin, what is it like?”
Kasan answered, “To be able to beat the drum.”
The monk asked once more, “I won’t ask about the-mind-as-it-is-being-Buddha, but the no-mind-no-Buddha, how about that?”
Kasan answered, “To be able to beat the drum.”
The monk asked again, “If a person who is earnestly and wholeheartedly seeking for the truth comes to you, how will you treat him?”
Kasan answered, “To be able to beat the drum.” (quoted in The Sound of One Hand)

Apparently the ‘answer‘ to this is ‘boom, boom, boom, boom’, and frankly I am not surprised, though to my taste, two ‘booms’ would be sufficient (perhaps recalling early memories). The monk exhausts all the stages he can think about, and still gets nothing special. Perhaps if he can burn through the seeking, the drum will appear for him, just waiting to be hit.


‘One day Caoshan came to his master to request permission to go on a pilgrimage.
“Where are you going?” asked Master Dongshan.
“I am going to a place that neither changes nor is different,” Caoshan replied.
Master Dongshan then asked, “If you’re going to some place that isn’t any different, then why are you leaving?”
Caoshan, being an outstanding disciple, replied, “Even if I go, nothing changes and nothing is different.”‘ (quoted in Unfathomable Depths)



‘A monk asked Qingyuan, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from India?”
Qingyuan said, “It’s just like this!”
The monk asked further, “What do you have to teach these days?”
Qingyuan said, “Come closer.”
The monk moved closer.
Qingyuan said, “Keep this in mind.” (Shinji Shobogenzo)

These monks always banging on about the same thing. And then they are worried about whether their teacher has anything new to say? How can we cure them of such foolishness?


‘Sometimes I, Eihei, enter the ultimate state and offer profound discussion, simply wishing for you all to be steadily intimate in your mind field. Sometimes, within the gates and gardens of the monastery, I offer my own style of practical instruction,simply wishing you all to disport and play freely with spiritual penetration. Sometimes I spring quickly leaving no trace, simply wishing all of you to drop off body and mind. Sometimes I enter the samadhi of self-fulfillment, simply wishing you all to trust what your hand can hold.
Suppose someone suddenly came forth and asked this mountain monk, “What would go beyond these kinds of teachings?”
I would simply say to him: Scrubbed clean by the dawn wind, the night mist clears. Dimly seen, the blue mountains form a single line.’ (Extensive Record, 266)

The extensively helpful footnotes with this volume tell us that Dogen uses the word uji for ‘sometimes’, which of course points us to his deeply taxing fascicle on time. I was also reminded, by the four different set-ups, of the famous story of Master Ma and Yaoshan, which I am still trying to wrap my head around.


‘Master Shoku was asked by a monk, “What is the meaning of our founder coming from the west?” The master said, “It is like getting a man out of a thousand-foot-deep well without using one single inch of rope. This answers your enquiry.” The monk said, “The monk O of the district of Konan recently became famous and the subject of people’s gossip.” Upon this Shoku summoned the young monk Jaku and said, “Drag out the corpse.”

Master Kyozan (who heard about this dialogue) asked Master Tangen, “How can you get the man in the well out?” Tangen said, “You stupid fool! Who is in the well?” Kyozan said nothing. Again, he later asked Master Isan, “How can you get the man in the well out?” Isan called out, “Kyozan!” Kyozan answered the call and Isan said, “He is out of the well already!”
Kyozan always used to tell the story described above to the people saying, “I got the principle from Tangen and learned the use from Isan.” (The Sound of the One Hand)

More on koans, following on from yesterday. My dharma friend Jamie gave me a battered copy of The Sound of the One Hand a little while ago, and it has been my commute read recently. It purports to give away all the standard ‘answers’ to koans that Japanese Rinzai monks have got in the tradition of giving to their masters.

At the risk of a bad pun, on the one hand, just looking at so-called standard answers misses the point, as the essential element of the exchange between student and master is the student’s ability, or otherwise, to embody the expression.
At a Japanese shuso ceremony, the same principle applies, as far as I understand it. There are stock questions and answers, but the shuso is expected to express themselves fully and with vitality. At Zen Center, spontaneity of question and answer is the custom, but there are still very Japanese elements in the ceremony, especially in the closing statement where the shuso professes ‘I am deeply ashamed’ at their lack of understanding and ability. In the assembly we listen to that, and sometimes a depth of emotion is exposed. I remember in my own ceremony, five years ago, even though I felt I had acquitted myself reasonably well over the course of responding to sixty or more questioners, I put more into that phrase than I imagined I would.
Jamie and I are plotting our visit to Tassajara in a couple of weeks, with some former shuso colleagues to put Yuki, the current shuso, who is Japanese, to the test. I am sure she will do wonderfully – her vitality is certainly not in question.