The Two Stages of Life
Written by Zen Master Thich Thanh Tu
Translated by Tu Tam Hoang
Enjoy the Way In Life
All patriarch’s teachings
Even though are different
Ultimately, the same
It just consider the post generation of Ma Tzu
Then the era of king Liang Un Ti is forgotten
All merits are void, the obstinacy yields more mistakes
Emptiness and unconsciousness, the ears hear uncomprehend words
Born in India, died at Shaolin, falsely buried at Bear Ear Mountain
The body is a Bodhi tree, the mind is a bright mirror, the verse was posted on the wall
Nam Quan Pu Yuan, slashed a cat, observed the monks’ mind
Master Hu drove away the dog to test the visitors
How expensive the rice at Lu Lang, no bargain allows
The road at Shi Tou was slippery, it’s hard to ask
Po Tsao threw the flags, stepped in the holy shrine
Ju Shi raised a finger to follow the master’s habit
The slash of Lin Chi’s sword, the rod of Chang Wu, the monks are pleasant
The lion Duan, the ox of Lin Yu, the Buddhists should never be arrogant
Raised the fan and bamboo tablet, examined Six senses of practitioners
Threw three wooden balls, held dipper, Zen masters tried to show off
The boatman rowed, the blue sea was still impure
Dao Wu danced with ivory tablet, how bizarre he looked
Wen Yan’s dragon swallowed the universe, we speechlessly witnessed with fear
Yi Cun’s snake crossed the world, whoever saw it spread the rumors
The Cypress tree is the mind, mistaken the East
Fire God is fire, still look in the North
The tea of Chao Chou, the cake of Shin Yang, Zen practitioners were still hungry and thirsty
The plantation fields at Tao Chi, the garden at Shao Shih mount, monastics still abandoned them.
Placed a bunch of fire woods, bounced the lamp, questioning was resolved
Looked at the flowers, listened to the bamboo tap, the enlightened Master was radiant
Know this: (1)
All patriarch’s teachings (2)
Even though are different (3)
Ultimately, the same (4)
In this introduction, the patriarch said that we should know that even though each master teaches different method, the principle is the same. Why? It’s because they practiced different methods to attain realization. Like in China, there’re different schools such as Lin Chi, Tsao Tung, Wei Yang, Yun Men, and Fa Yen. Even though each school has a unique teaching method, their principle is the same. Thus, when we study and practice, don’t get stuck in the methods, but discern the core idea of Zen.
If just consider the post generation of Ma Tuz (5)
Then the era of king Liang Un Ti is forgotten (6)
If we only discuss the post generation of Ma Tzu, then we have forgotten the early years that Zen propagated to China by patriarch Bodhidharma; especially, the meeting between the patriarch and emperor Liang Un Ti.
All merits are void, the obstinacy yields more mistakes (7)
Emptiness and unconsciousness, the ears hear uncomprehend words (8)
This is an important historical story that describes the conversation between patriarch Bodhidharma and the king. The king asked:
- “I built many temples, published Buddhist scriptures and supported numerous monks and nuns. Have I attained any merit?”
- “None at all.” The patriarch replied.
The emperor was a Buddhist, but his focus was on the physical aspect: the accumulation of conditional merits from good deeds. He didn’t understand why he had no merits at all. He waited for the patriarch’s compliments, but instead, it was a turn down. He was quite upset. Indeed, the more the emperor obstinate in his believing in good deeds, the more mistake he had made.
The emperor then asked:
- “What is the essence of Buddhism?”
- “Emptiness. There’s no essence.”
In the sutras, the essence of Buddhism implies the highest level of attainment that practitioners want to reach. But such reply that the patriarch gave had caused the emperor’s resentment. He then asked the next question:
- Who are you, then?”
- “I don’t know.”
If we don’t know the story, we are unable to explain the above 2 phrases.
The ears hear uncomprehend words – The first patriarch criticized the emperor for being awakened. The emperor was angry because he didn’t understand Bodhidharma’s words. Wasn’t he brave to face the emperor by giving such unpleasant responses? In our case, we would have complemented the emperor because we wouldn’t dare to rough his skin. Patriarch Bodhidharma had a gut to splash water on the emperor’s face three times. It’s completely an opposite response that the emperor was expecting. Unable to stay in such dangerous circumstance, the master had to move to Ngai kingdom.
What was the meaning in Bodhidharma’s response? We must have know that the emperor had a strong belief in Buddhism. When the capital was surrounded by the enemies, he ordered his men to chant and pray. Of course, they were surrendered. This is a result of his strong belief and his un-profound understanding of Buddhist dharmas. Patriarch Bodhidharma knew his problem, so he tried to help the emperor to discern the true nature. He abolished all physical aspects (the deeds). All the deeds of building temples, publishing sutras, supporting monks and nuns are conditioned merits. Conversely, unconditioned merits are attained by the discernment of our own true nature. The emperor mistaken conditioned merits with unconditioned merits.
How about the second response: “Emptiness. There’s no essence?” In Zen, differentiation still exists if we still see distinction between manhood and sagehood. This means that we have not yet attained the true nature. To patriarch Bodhidharma, there was no sagehood and manhood. Thus, how could there be “an essence?” When there’s no sagehood and manhood, differentiation ends. This is the ultimate stage. This is also the stage where patriarch Hui Neng said: “No thought of good, no thought of evil, what was the true nature of master Hui Minh?”
His response to the third question was “I don’t know.” This is an excellent answer. Because he didn’t know, he was unbound to differentiation. The king hornor the patriarch like sage, so whether the master’s response was profound or unprofound, the emperor still arises differentiation. Unfortunately, the emperor didn’t understand the answers. With no choice, the patriarch had to leave.
Born in India, died at Shaolin, falsely buried at Bear Ear mountain (9)
This is the history of patriarch Bodhidharma. He was born in India, but passed away at Shao Lin temple in China.
Falsely buried at Bear Ear mountain – There’s a myth that the patriarch remains were at Bear Ear mountain. But later, witnessed by Sung Yun at Chung Nan mountain, he carried a shoe and leaded west. Sung Yung reported the incident to the emperor. They opened the coffin and saw a shoe inside. The patriarch’s body was missing. That is his legend in China. However, Zen master Thuong Chieu (“always radiant”) in Vietnam didn’t accept this legend at all. Because we are in the post-generation, we have no comment. We just accepted it as a historical data.
The body is a Bodhi tree, the mind is a bright minor, the verse was posted on the wall (10)
This reminds us the historical event between patriarch Hui Neng and the Fifth patriarch. The Fifth patriarch announced his desire to retire and asked his disciples to turn in their verse expressed their realization. Everybody, withdrew so master Sheng Hsiu could turn in his writing. Hesitantly, he turned his verse by posting it on a wall. It said.
The body is the Bodhi tree
The mind is like a clear mirror
Always polish it
Do not let the dust cling
The master wrote this verse with the following intention. If the Fifth patriarch complemented it, he revealed himself to claim it. Conversely, he kept quiet. We should sympathize with his fear of loosing face to other disciples.
After reading the verse, the Fifth master praised it even though he knew master Sheng Hsiu had not yet attained realization. He asked his disciples to study it by heart.
Everybody felt okay with it, except master Hui Neng. He couldn’t let it fly because he realized that the verse didn’t sound right. Later, he asked someone to write a verse next to Sheng Hsiu’s. It said:
Bodhi is not a tree
And the clear mirror is not a stand
Originally, there’s not a thing
Where can the dust cling
This verse shocked everybody. Afraid that the master could be harmed, the Fifth patriarch erased it and said, “You haven’t attained realization.” He meant to deceive the mass to protect master Hui Neng.
Let analyze these two verses. Master Sheng Hsiu said, “The body is the Bodhi tree, the mind is like a clear mirror.” Bodhi is the bright mind. It’s formless, so how can it be a tree? The mind is like the bright mirror on a stand. But if we think carefully, the mirror is still bright even if it’s not on a stand. That’s why master Hui Neng replied with two phrases “Bodhi is not a tree and the clear mirror is not a stand.” This had cleared two false forms.
In the next two phrases, master Shen Hsiu said, “Always polish it, do not let the dust cling.” Master Hiu Neng’s rejoinder was “Originally, there’s not a thing. Where can the dust cling.” There two phrases confuse everyone because we usually hear that we should terminate affliction to attain the bright mind. But master Hui Neng said that the bright mind is bright by itself and it doesn’t need to be cleaned.
In Sheng Hsiu’s perception, the mirror is dull because of the dust’s covering. So to make it shine, the dust needs to be cleared off. He only sees the physical aspect of the mirror, not its true nature. What is its true nature? It’s made by glass. But glass is never due and it always shines. The mirror can’t shine because of the dust. Patriarch Hui Neng had discerned its true nature as it always shines; Therefore, he said, “Originally, there’s not a thing. Where can the dust cling.”
Our mind is the same as it’s always tamed. It’s dull because of the covering of false thought. Knowing that the true nature is always bright. It’s easier and less discourage for practitioners to practice. The Buddha said, “All sentient beings have Buddha nature.” The Buddha nature exists in us and always shines like a mirror that doesn’t need to be cleaned. Thus, the perceptions of master Hui Neng and Sheng Hsiu were miles apart. One projected the physical aspect and the other projected the true nature that’s always existed and shined bright.
Let’s talk about the Fifth patriarch. How could a respectable monk like Fifth patriarch deceive people by erasing master Hui Neng’s verse? In addition, he praised the bad verse and criticized the good one? If one don’t read the history, we don’t understand the cause.
If master Hui Neng held a high position in sangha, then the Fifth patriarch perhaps wouldn’t react in such way. The bad part was master Hui Neng was a layman. How should the Fifth patriarch resolve the situation when a layman attained realization and monastics had not yet attained realization? To calm the disciples, he had no option but to react in such way.
After erasing the verse, the Fifth patriarch expounded Diamond sutra to master Hui Neng in his chamber and later, passed on his robe and bowl. Then he escorted master Hui Neng to leave the temple. Three days later, the Fifth patriarch was still in his chamber. His disciples came to check on his health. The patriarch said that he was fine, but the robe and bowl were gone to the south. They were shocked by knowing that master Hui Neng already had left the temple. Some couldn’t accept the fact as they ran after him. The first time I heard about it, I couldn’t accept their behavior. How could monastic arise jealousy? But now, I sympathize with them. If I transfer the ownership to a layman, who’s just been here for several months, would my disciples be mad? Of course they would. It’s the human nature. The Fifth patriarch had to deceive them or else, they would have taken the robe and bowl back from master Hui Neng. People form today’s society would behave the same way as ancient people. Knowing this would help us to realize that the patriarchs and masters had different ways to perform the mind transmission. We should not stand on one side and say that the Fifth patriarch’s action was wrong. And we should not even imitate his method with a negative intention.
That is my brief overview the history of patriarch Hui Neng and master Sheng Hsiu.
Nan Quan Pu Yuan slashed a cat, observed the monk’s mind (11)
This is the story of Nan Quan and a cat. One day, master Nan Quan saw two groups of students fighting each other over a cat. To check if any of them had attain realization, the master said, “Tell me, tell me. If you can tell me, I pardon this cat. Else, I slash it.” Everyone was lost. With no choice, he had to slash the cat.
Who did he do that for? The successors accused him for committing the killing. But in Buddhism, one violates the killing precept only when he/she does it for a self-gain or for other people’s gain. In this case, the mater did it because he wanted to examine his students. If any of them attained realization, he/she would say or behave in a way that would save the cat. But because no one could do it, he had to kill the cat.
Moments later, master Chao Chou came in. Master Nan Quan told him the situation and asked, “What would you do if you were here?” Master Chao Chou took off one shoe and put it on his head. Then he walked out. Master Nan Quan replied, “You could have saved the cat if you were here.”
In Zen, we don’t accept two sides. There’s no sagehood and manhood. The head is the most valuable part of the body, while the feet are the lowest part. By putting the shoe on his head, master Chao Chou wanted to say that in realization, there’s no differentiation. And it’s indescribable. He already attained realization in order to give such reaction. Master Nan Quan’s reply indicated that he unintentionally killed the cat.
So the purpose of killing the cat was to access the mind of his students.
Master Hu drove away the dog to test the visistors (12)
Master Tzu Hu was a disciple of master Nan Quan Pu Yuan. In front of his temple was a big sign that said, “Tzu Hu mountain has a dog that could take a man: the head, body, and legs. Who’s hesitant would loose his life.” Later, a monk paid a visit. Master Tzu Hu asked, “Beware of the dog.” If the monk couldn’t answer it, the master asked him to leave. This is the unique teaching method of master Tzu Hu. What is his purpose of scaring people with the dog? To test the visitors’ attaining level.
How expensive the rice at Lu Lang, no bargain allows (13)
This is a story about master Qing Yuan at Xing Si mountain. A monk came with a question, “What is the principle of Buddhist dharma?” The master replied; “How much does the rice cost at Lu Lang?” The intention of this question is to terminate monk’s thinking, instead of asking for the real price of the rice.
The road at Shi Tou was slippery, it’s hard to ask (14)
This is Zen mater Xi Qian at Shi Tou mountain. There were a few people who could understand his answers. That’s why people said the road at Shi Tou was slippery.
Master Ying Feng was master Ma Tzu’ disciple. Noticed the uniqueness of master Shi Tou Xi Qian, he asked Ma Tzu’s permission to pay a visit. Master Ma Tzu said, “The road at Shi Tou is slippery” Master Ying Feng replied, “I have a rod I can play around” When he arrived at Shi Tou, he circled around the master’s bed one time, then pressed the rod on the ground with a question:
- “What is the principle?”
- “The blue sky, the blue sky.” Replied master Shi Tou.
Master Ying Feng couldn’t answer. Therefore, he came back to tell Ma Tzu. The master said, “To back to him, if he said “blue sky”, then say “nothing, nothing”
Master Ying Feng returned to Shi Tou with the same questions. But this time, master Shi Tou said, “nothing, nothing” Master Ying Feng had to quietly return to master Ma Tzu. The master said, “I already told you that the road at Shi Tou is slippery.”
Po Tsao threw the flags, stepped in the holy shrine (15)
Master Po Tsao was a disciple of master Nin Tou. One time, he traveled with his student to Tung Shan mountain, where he witnessed many people made food offerings at a shrine. People said the Kitchen saint at this shrine was divided because all of their wishes were granted. The master entered the shrine and saw a clay stove that was highly worshiped. The master lightly pounded it with a cane and said, “This is a comprise of earth, water, fire, and air. Where did the divinity come from?” He then smashed the stove. This is why people titled him. “Po Tsao To”, means that he broke the stove. He also took down all flags. This act demolished the divinity of the Kitchen saint.
The master walked out of the shrine. People believed that he would die for the bad act. But nothing happened. A moment later, a man in blue outfit prostrated at the master and said, “I’m the Kitchen saint. Because of you, I terminated my role and I’m able to reborn in heaven. Thank you very much”
The Kitchen saint was ignorant to think that the stove was himself. However, the stove was made by clay that mixed with water. The hear was caused by fire. The gasp in between were for the air to go through. Therefore, the stove was made by earth, fire, water, and air. But the saint was ignorant to think that the stove was himself so he showed off his power to the people. When the stove broke, he was awakenedto free himself from the stove. He was able to reborn in heaven.
Even though this story is a bit tailing, it’s a good way to help us realize our own life. Master Po Tsao gave no lecture, but just asked the question and broke the stove. Imagine if someone asks us “Where is your body come from?” Are we enlightened by this question?
Is our body, the solid elements are the earth, the fluid is the water, the respiration is the air, and the body temperature is the fire. These four elements make up the body. They are senseless, but this body has consciousness. So where does the consciousness come from? If it comes from the senseless four elements, then it’s illogical. The consciousness is the vital element that controls those four elements.
It’s typical that we don’t discern the true nature and misperceive this body as real. Indeed, we try hard to maintain it and pay more attention to it. Much affliction exist because we misperceive this body as real. Although it’s true 100% that we don’t look good, we still feel upset with negative comments. On the other hands, we feel pleased with a complement even though it’s a lie. When we realize that this body is unreal, all false perceptions immediately disappear. Once we let the body go, we have no regret.
Ju Shi raised a finger to follow the master’s habit (16)
Master Ju Shi always raised a finger to reply people with any kind of questions. How come? Because his master, Tian Long, did the same thing when he was asked a question. He was enlightened by this method.
The slash of Lin Chi’s sword, the rod of Chang Wu, the monks are pleasant (17)
Master Lin Chi had a different method. He shouted at everyone who asked a question. In Zen, his shouting was like a sword that terminated all obstinacy in the people.
This talks about master Chang Wu at Wu Tai Shan, where Manjuri Bodhisattva controlled a wild dragon. Every time a person asked a question, he said, “Who told you to renounce? Who told you to wander? Whether you can answer it or not, you’re still beaten with this stick. Tell me quick, tell me quick.” Everybody was so afraid of the beating. This is the unique method of master Chang Wu.
“The monks are pleasant” means master Chang Wu and Lin Chi were pleasant in their teaching. Nothing could surrender them.
The lion Duan, the ox of Lin Yu, the Buddhist should never be arrogant (18)
This is a story of master Xi Yuan, who made a lion costume by using colorful threads. Once in a while, he wrote it. At Chuan Zi, he said, “The lion at Lin Shan roars in the clouds. The Buddhist dharmas are unexpectable.”
In Buddhism, lions represent Buddhist dharmas. All wild animals fear of lions and their road. In Buddhism, we use it to indicate that Buddhist are truthful and no one can turn it down. All other religions are aware of this symbol.
Thus, master Xi Yuan’s saying at Chuan Zi implies that Buddhist dharmas are solid and sublime in such a way that is unexpectable.
The ox of Lin Yu – This implies the ox of master Lin Yu at Gui Shan. Before his extinction, he asked, “I will be reborn as an ox at the food of the mountain. On my back is label “Gui Shan Lin Yu”. At that time, should you call me Gui Shan Lin Yu or an ox?” This is something special about him. We usually see a difference between humans and animals. But the truth is they’re not dual. Humans and animals all have the same Buddha nature. Many people mistakenly think that he was reborn as an ox. Therefore, they oppose the practice Zen. They have not yet understood this matter.
The patriarch used the stories of master Xi Yuan and Lin Yu to remind us not to be arrogant.
Raised the fan and bamboo tablet, examined Six senses of practitioners (19)
One time, during a lecture, master Wen Yan at Yun Men raised his hand fan and said, “This fan shoots through 33 realms and ends up hitting Sakka (a God). A fish in the East sea got hit by a stick that caused heavy rain. Understand?” Do we understand it? This statement is like a mantra. It doesn’t make any sense. We just pay attention to his words and ignore the hand fan. That’s why we’re deceived by his words.
Talking about the bamboo tablet, the First patriarch reminds us the story of masterGui Sheng and Shen Nian. Master Gui Sheng visisted Sheng Nian to study dharmas. Master Sheng Nian raised the bamboo tablet with a question, “If we call it “bamboo tablet” it’s incorrect. What should we call it?” Master Gui Sheng grabbed the tablet and threw it to the ground. He asked, “What is it?” Master Sheng Nian replied, “Blind” Immediately, masterGui Sheng attained realization.
We have heard two different methods. One raised his hand fan and the other raised his bamboo tablet. The purpose is to corner the inquirers and to examine the six senses of their students as if the senses are pacified. Whoever attains realization has their senses pacified.
Threw three wooden balls, held dipper, Zen masters tried to show off (20)
This reminds the conversation between master Xuan Sha Shi Bei and master Yi CunXua Feng. Master Xuan Sha asked, “Here I am, what should you do?” Master Xue Feng threw three wooden balls, while Xuan Sha was in a posture of catching them. Master Xue Feng praised, “You can do that because of your presence at Lin Shan.” There’re such peculiar teaching methods in Zen.
About the dipper, I have not yet found its historical story. The last part of this phrase means that both Zen masters used different teaching methods to awake their students.
The boatman rowed, the blue sea was still impure (21)
This talks about master De Cheng at Chuan Zi, who was a disciple of master Yao Shan. His title was “The boatman” His peers were masters Yun Yan Tan Sheng and Dao Wu Yuan Zhi. He preferred excursion than teaching. Therefore, he became a boatman. Before his departure, he said, “ Brother Dao Wu, if you know someone unique, tell him to see me.”
One day, master Dao Wu visited master Shan Hui Jia Shan during his lecture. A monk asked:
- What is the dharma body?
- “It’s formless”, replied master Shan Hui
- What are the dharma eyes?
- “They leave no trace” replied mater Shan Hui.
Master Dao Wu laughed out loud. Later, master Shan Hui approached Dao Wu and said, “If I answered it wrong, please teach me.”
Dao Wu replied, “You’re ranked number one for knowing Buddhist dharmas. But you’re not yet attainted” Master Shan Hui asked, “What should I do then?” Master Dao Wu said, “I won’t tell you. Why don’t you do to the Boatman, he will tell you.”
Master Shan Hui immediately visited the Boatman to inquire dharma Master De Cheng said, “Dump all thoughts to the bottom of the river. Say it, say it”
When Shan Hui opened open mount, he was beaten by master De Cheng. Master Shan Hui immediately attained realization.
Thus, master De Cheng had used the beating to help Shan Hui attain realization. The last part of the phrase means that master De Cheng couldn’t enjoy his life as a boatman because he still owned his disciple, master Shan Hui, a mind transmission.
Dao Wu danced with ivory tablet, how bizarre he looked (22)
Master Dao Wu Yuan Zhi had a bizarre appearance each time he gave a lecture. He wore a lotus hat, sword on his shoulder, and a tablet in his hand.
Wen Yan’s dragon swallowed the universe, we speechlessly witnessed with fear (23)
Zen master Yun Men raised his rod and said. “This rod transforms into a dragon that swallows the whole universe. So, where is the universe?” Can you tell where it is? It would say at the head of the rod.
Yi Cun’s snake crossed the world, whoever saw it spread the rumors (24)
During the lecture, master Yin Cun at Xue Feng said, “In the East mountain, there’s a big snake. All of you should cleverly look at it.”
Master Chang Ching stepped out and said, “Someone is going to die today.” Master Yun Men threw his rod to ground, in front of master Yi Cun. He was silent, but looked scared.
People who could witness it would spread the rumors.
Cypress three is the mind, mistaken the East (25)
This talks about master Chao Chou Tsung Shen. One time, a person asked, “What is Buddha?”, replied, “The cypress tree in the front yard.” The inquirer got no clue.
Mistaken the East – means that the master meant the west, but the inquirer misunderstood that it was the east. In other words, the master pointed at the tree to illustrate the true mind. But the inquirer kept looking at the tree instead of returning to his true nature.
Five God is fire, still look in the North (26)
This is a story about a disciple of master Fa Yan, who was a head monk at the time. Being there for a long time, but he never raised a question. One time, master Fa Yan asked:
- “Why don’t you come in?”
- “Because of master Ching Lin, I was awakened.”
- “Tell me about it”
- “I asked him: What is the Buddha? He said, “Fire God came to ask for fire.”
- “Such a clever answer, but you might misunderstood him. Why don’t you tell me again?”
- “Fire God is fire. But when fire asks for fire, it’s same as me, a Buddha look for a Buddha.”
- “For sure, you misunderstood his answer.” Replied mater Fa Yan.
The disciple left. Later, he came back. Master Fa Yan saind:
- “Why don’t’ you ask me, I will tell you”
- “What is Buddha?”
- “Fire God asks for Fire”
Immediately, the disciple attained realization
Fire God is fire, but we don’t realize it so we look elsewhere. It reflects in the last part of the phrase “We look in the north.”
The tea of Chao Chou, the cake of Shin Yang, Zen practitioners were still hungry and thirsty (27)
Each time a visitor came, master Chao Chou asked a question, “Have you been here before?”
The visitor replied, “Yes.” He then said, “Drink this tea.”
Other time, he asked the same question and the visitor replied, “Never been here before” He gave the same answer, “Drink this tea.” Noticed this strange behavior, a student asked the master, “You offer the visitors a cup of tea, whether they have been here or not. How come?”
Master Chao Chou called out:
- “Drink this tea”
That’s why the First patriarch mentioned the tea of Chao Chou because he offered tea to everyone
The cake of Shin Yang - He mentioned about the sesame rice cake of master Yun Men. He usually offered this cake to visitors.
Even though Zen practitioners were offered tea and cake, they were still hungry and thirsty.
The plantation fields at Tao Chi, the garden at Shao Shih mount, monastics still abandoned them (28)
In Tao Chi, where patriarch Hui Neng lived, there were many crop fields. At Shao Shih mountain, where Bodhidharma resided, there was a big garden. Monastics have abandoned them. This phrase meant to say that the patriarch had already showed us the Way, but we didn’t take it seriously. Therefore, it’s our fault for being ignorant.
Placed a bunch of fire woods, bounced the lamp, questioning was resolved (29)
“Placed a bundh of fire woods” tells a story of master Yi CunXue Feng before his attainment. One time, he visited master Dong Shan. The mater said. “Say something when you come in” Master Yi Cun replied, “I don’t have a mouth.” The master said, “If you don’t have it, then give me an eye” Master Yi Cun quietly left a bunch of woods in front of Dong Shan. The master asked, “How heavy is it?” Master Yi Cun replied, “No one could lift it.”
Balance the lamp – I have not yet found the story for this one.
Questioning was resolved – means that after a long time of pondering. Zen practitioners discerned the master and attained realization.
Looked at the flowers, listened to the bamboo tab, the enlightened Master was radiant (30)
Master Lin Yun, a disciple of masterGui Shan, attained realization by viewing peach blossoms. Master Xiang Yang attained realization by listening to a tap on a bamboo tree. Both masters looked delighted after attaining realization.
So, in this section, the First patriarch had used many Zen stories to point out the difference in their teaching methods. Even though they’re different, the ultimate goals were the same. To make practitioners realize their true nature without thinking or arising differentiation. Understanding this won’t help them to get to the upmost stage. Practitioners have to practice to get the result.
From this section, we can see that as a king, he had read many Zen books. Nowadays, we also have read many of them, but still, we don’t know all historical events that the First patriarch had mentioned. The First patriarch’s accomplishments in practice were great and respectable.
The goal is to attain Emptiness
Each person has different habits and attainment level
Because of untamed mind, we can’t discern the patriarch’s teachings
No secret at all in their methods
Hinayana practitioners haven’t yet understood the dharmas, no distinction between Buddha vehicle and Arahat vehicle
Bodhisattvas already discerned this matter, no one sets the practice should be in mountains or cities
Deserted mountains and forests, where hermits enjoy
Quiet temples, the real places for practitioners to relax
Ride on horse wagon, king of hell doesn’t care the background
Live in jade palace, the hell guards like to visit
Like fame and arrogance, such typical humans
Enjoy morality, transform the body and mind, surely that’s sagehood
Eyebrows and noses, different forms but still the same
Kind mind and evil mind, are extremely different
Enjoy the Way and live with what comes in life
Eat when hungry, sleep when tired.
Our house already has a treasure, so no need to search
Dealing with all matters with no false mind, no need to ask about Zen.
All practitioners: (1)
The goal is to attain Emptiness (2)
Each person has different habits and attainment level (3)
All practitioners have the same goal of attaining the Emptiness. But because each has different karmas, they have different levels of attainment through different methods.
Because of untamed mind, we can’t discern the patriarch’s teachings (4)
No secret at all in their methods (5)
Our mind can’t be bright because of its obstinacy in impurities. The Buddha and patriarchs are direct and truthful in their teachings. However, because of our obstinate mind, we can’t understand their words.
Hinayana practitioners haven’t yet understood the dharmas, no distinction between Buddha vehicle and Arahat vehicle (6)
The Buddha didn’t make any distinction and between the Buddha vehicle and Sravaka vehicle (Sound-hearing). It’s just that Hinayana practitioners haven’t yet fully attained. The ultimate stage is the same, but only different in terminologies.
Bodhisattva already discern this matter, no one set the practice should be in the mountains or cities (7)
Bodhisattvas are enlightened, so they fully understand this matter. Nobody wants to separate practitioners to practice either in the cities or mountains. Once they’re enlightened, they can be at any place. The practicing location of each person is different depending on his or her preference.
Deserted mountains and forests, where hermits enjoy (8)
Quiet temples, the real places for practitioners to relax (9)
The quiet mountains and forests are the most relaxing hermitage to practice. The peaceful environment at the temples is also perfect for monastics to enjoy and practice.
Ride on horse wagon, king of hell doesn’t care the background (10)
Live in jade palace, the hell guards like to visit (11)
In the past, high officials usually commuted in horse wagons. They live in luxury. But after death, they’re nobody to King of Hell. They’re visited by hell ghosts. Thus, doesn’t matter how powerful we are in this life, we don’t know what happens to us when we see the king of Hell. Wealthy people, who make bad deeds, will be punished by hell ghosts.
Like fame and arrogance, such typical humans (12)
Enjoy morality, transform the body and mind, surely that’s sagehood (13)
Mankind tends to prefer fame and rivalry. They’re practitioners out there who put on a mask, while indulging in fame and self-gaining. They’re just typical humans, not moralists. Those who transforms their mind and deeds from bad to good are sages.
Eyebrows and noses, different forms but still the same (14)
Kind mind and evil mind are extremely different (15)
Everybody has eyebrows horizontally drawn and their nose in vertical angle. They might be different in skin colors, heights, and weights. They are basically the same in physical aspect. However, their mind falls into two types typical or sage. Both are miles different. How come? When the topic of fame is mentioned, one might react in joy, while other stays calm. In other words, these two people have the same face structure, but one is interested in fame, and the other is not. Their minds are mils apart. Let’s make another example. Two people walk out of a temple in time a man approaches them with heavy cursing. He calls them robbers. One of them gets mad as he wants to beat the guy. The other one smiles calmly. So, how different are these two people? Physically, they’re the same, but their minds are different.
Humans get angry easily when facing with undesired matters. Conversely, sages stay calm. Thus, I often said that the practicing levels of the people depend on their good karmas from previous life times. Some attain realization and some don’t during their time of reading sutras, listening to lectures and meditation. Who is better? An attained person who is mad with undesired matters or an unattained person who stays calm? This is the important point that we need to measure carefully. Thus, lip-talks are vain. Only when you can do it, it’s real.
To conclude this verse of “Enjoy the Way in Life”, the first patriarch wrote:
Enjoy the Way and live with what comes in life
Eat when hungry, sleep when tired
Our house already has a treasure, so no need to search
Dealing with all matters with no false mind, no need to talk about Zen.
These four lines are the heart of this entire paean.
Enjoy the Way and live with what comes in life
Even though living in this impure life, we still enjoy the Way. This is unique, but to enjoy the Way, we should adapt to conditions. How so? The next line explains.
Eat when hungry, sleep when tired,
Such conditions are easy, right? Actually, they’re not. Why?Because people don’t eat when they’re hungry or sleep when they’re tired.
One time, a person approach Zen master Hui Hai with a question:
- “How do you practice?”
- “When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m tired, I sleep.” The master replied.
- “Everybody does the same. Do they have the same practice as yours?”
- “How come?”
- “Because when hungry, they don’t eat what they have. They crave tasty foods. At the sleeping time, they think of many thing.”
Are we the same? Let say at lunch time, we are served with untasted food. Are we willing to eat it when we’re hungry? If we do, then we would unpleasantly eat. Sometimes, we don’t even like to eat cold food. When we’re tired, we’re supposed to go to sleep. However, we can’t. If we’re dealt with an important issue during the day, we can’t go to sleep at night because our mind ponders about it.
Thus, “adapt to conditions” means to eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired. If we can’t eat and sleep when we’re supposed to, we haven’t yet adapted to conditions. If so, how an we enjoy the Way? Thus, to enjoy the Way in this life, we need to adapt to conditions such as eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired. Don’t ask any more questions.
I need to press this important point about “adapting to conditions.” so you could remember. These two words are flexible. Who knows to adapt to conditions would life an easier life. Else, it’s more difficult to live. There’re two ways to adapt to conditions: 1) Adapt to conditions logically 2) Adapt to conditions illogically. For instance, let’s say every once in a while, some monks travel to the city and meet their friends. When they’re invited to eat in a restaurant, they immediately accept the offer. This is called “adapt to conditions illogically”. We should adapt to conditions logically instead of doing whatever other people suggest without rationalizing whether it’s right or wrong. Then we blame our teacher for teaching us the concept of “adapting to conditions”. This is a big mistake.
Our house already has a treasure, so no need to search.
Each of us has the bright mind (the enlightened nature) It always exists like a precious germ in a house. We should aware of its existence and stop looking for it. This phrase teaches us to return to ourselves because the Buddha is already in us. Don’t look elsewhere.
Dealing with all matters with no false mind, no need to ask about Zen
To all views that we see (nice, ugly, pleasant, or unpleasant…), our mind should be tamed. If we can do that, there’s no question about Zen. We see that he defined Zen in a very simple way. What is Zen? It’s when our mind is tamed during the contact between our Six organs and Six sensual objects. Don’t search for Zen definition any more. This verse concludes perfectly with the excellent method for us to practice.
If someone ask “What is Zen?” What should we say? Only say “When Six organs are unattached to Six sensual objects, it is Zen” If he asks “Are you a Zen student? We should reply: “I’m a Zen student” If he ask: “As a Zen student, are your organs and sensual objects attached to each other?” What is the answer for this question?
It’s a difficult question. If they’re attached, it’s not Zen. There’s a reason that we should claim that we’re just Zen students. Zen is a practicing process of attaining the stage of unattachment between Sensual organs and Sensual objects. If we’re Zen masters, we should be able to do that. So our answer should be “Yes, I’m a Zen student”. If they ask, “Are your organs attached to Sensual objects?” Your answer should be “No”. If he immediately curses at you and you’re still tamed, you’re a real Zen practitioners. But if you face turns red, you’re a fake.
Overall, is it easy or difficult to practice Buddhism? It seems to be easy to sit alone in a temple without conflicting with others. But a real practice is not that simple. We should strive to achieve it no matter how difficult it is. Don’t back off because of the challenge. This is my reminder to all monks and nuns, especially, those who live in the Zen monasteries.
End of Chapter 2, section 9 & 10.
Type date & sent –March 31-2019
(Columbia, Missouri, U.S.A)