‘One day, Yantou was talking with Xuefeng and Qinshan. Xuefeng suddenly pointed at a basin of water.
Qinshan said, “When the water is clear the moon comes out.”
Xuefeng said, “When the water is clear the moon does not come out.”
Yantou kicked over the basin and walked away.’ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

My first thought on reading this story was of the first three lines of the Genjo Koan: first the conventional view, then the view of emptiness, finally the view going beyond relative and absolute. Reading Nishiari Bokusan’s commentary as part of my preparation for going to England to try to teach on the subject, he points that it is not necessarily a progression from the ‘simplest’ to the ‘most advanced’ way of looking at things; all three views always exist at the same time. So perhaps this time Yantou (Ganto in Japanese), rather than having the final say, is only left with one option to express himself. Still, he does not miss the target. Walking away just seals the deal.


‘Together buddhas extend their hands; ancestors transmit to each other. Tell me, what do they transmit, and what do they give? Everyone, if you know the place to settle down, you will see all the buddhas of the three times and all generations of ancestral teachers, holding hands and pulling, without affirming advancement. If you hesitate in deliberation, this mountain monk with be in your nostrils. At that very time, how is it?

After a pause Dogen said: Although the colors of Eihei mountain are marvelous, in front of us is the highest peak.’ (Extensive Record, 290)

So, do you know the place to settle down, or are you hesitating in deliberation?

Ta Hui

‘This affair is like the bright sun in the blue sky, shining clearly, changeless and motionless, without diminishing or increasing. It shines everywhere in the daily activities of everyone, appearing in everything. Though you try to grasp it, you cannot get it; though you try to abandon it, it always remains. It is vast and unobstructed, utterly empty. Like a gourd floating on water, it cannot be reined in or held down. Since ancient times, when good people of the Path have attained this, they’ve appeared and disappeared in the sea of death, able to use it fully. There is no deficit or surplus.’ (Swampland Flowers)

Uchiyama Roshi

‘The idea of transforming delusion to attain enlightenment is easy to understand in terms of our ordinary way of thinking, yet it is not in accord with the buddha-dharma. In Buddhism, the dichotomy of delusion and enlightenment is transcended from the very beginning. We have to practice and actualize right now, right here in the buddha-dharma (reality of life) that transcends both delusion and enlightenment. This is Great Enlightenment (daigo).
Therefore, from the first, we are neither deluded not enlightened. Reality itself exists before we divide and name delusion and enlightenment. We are practicing this reality right here and right now. This is called attaining or actualizing enlightenment (kaigo). We practice with enlightenment as our base. Practice and enlightenment are simply one (shusho ichinyo).’ (The Wholehearted Way)

I remember writing down that last Japanese phrase when I was taking notes on my first reading of this book, more than a dozen years ago. I was not sure what it meant, and probably did not feel confident about the difference in the other terms either. Nowadays I do know that this is the key point of the way Dogen talks about practice and handed it down to us.

Koun Yamada

‘In olden times, Zen practitioners used to go about visiting Zen masters and having mondo [dharma questioning]; this was called angya, or pilgrimage. It was the custom to take along a staff. One day a monk from Baso’s monastery was in the mountains hunting for a branch of a tree to serve as his staff for angya, when he got lost. Eventually he came to a hut where he found an old man who he thought was a woodsman.
The monk asked, “How can I get out of this mountain?”
The old man replied, “Go on following the flow of water.”
And, indeed, by following the stream, the monk could get to the village, but the words of the old man were more than geographical directions. To “go on following the flow of water” is very valuable Zen instruction.
In the practice of Zen we must proceed every day, every moment, quite naturally according to the present situation. All our actions should be as ordinary as the flow of water. To go against the stream is not the way of Zen. When we meet a child, we must become a child. When we meet an old man, we must become an old man. When we are with a senior, we must pay him or her suitable respect. When we are with a junior, we must guide him or her with the utmost kindness. As I have said before, we must use the sword freely, now to kill, now to give life, according to the time, place and circumstances. That is the meaning of the old man’s words, “Go on following the flow of water.”‘ (Commentary on the Gateless Gate)

Katagiri Roshi

‘When you see in the proper way, what do you see? You see the true nature of time. In Japanese we say mujo. Mu is “nothing” and jo is “permanence”, so mujo means “no permanence” or “impermanence”. Seeing impermanence is not to face a kind of nihilism that leads to despair; it is to become yourself as you really are, with joyful open eyes. Thinking in the proper way is not to understand life through your intellect; it is to contemplate deeply how to live every day based on wisdom. When you see the true nature of time and understand how impermanence works in your life, you can use time to cultivate your life and keep up with the tempo of life without feeling despair. That is the basis of a complete human life.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)