Category Archives: Indian Thought

Zen Speaks by Tsai Chih Chung

Zen Speaks is a modern collection of Zen stories and koans by the author and artist Tsai Chih Chung that I highly recommend which contains wonderful cartoon renderings of many of the koans and stories we’ve already covered.  I just found out that you can watch the entire work as a cartoon in Cantonese with English subtitles on YouTube.

Zen Cake

zen garden birthday cakeIn Zen Buddhism, the 77th case of the Blue Cliff Record is cake.  A monk asked Yunmen, “What is talk that goes beyond buddhas and patriarchs?”  Yunmen said, “Cake.”  He makes us think of cake, imagining it’s sweetness, texture and satisfaction, a strange ghost that can be raised with a single word, somewhat like the ghosts of ancestors.  The thought of a cake is both a cake and not a cake, much as a rock is sometimes a rock and sometimes the thought of a rock, and thus not a rock.  Whether or not this has anything to do with the buddhas and patriarchs, it certainly has to do with cake.

Ssangbongsa

One Didn’t Get Wet

rain bridge japanese printA Zen master posed his monks with a problem: “Two monks went walking in the rain.  One didn’t get wet.  Why?”  The monks suggested that one had an umbrella, that the rain was scattered in places, that one walked under the cover of awnings, but the master said that the students were too focused on the words.  When the monks finally gave up, the master told them that both got wet.  “Two monks went walking in the rain.  One didn’t get wet.  Two got wet.”

The joke works just as well in ancient Chinese as it does in modern English because language has grey areas and ambiguities.  When the master said, “One didn’t get wet”, he could mean that it is the case that one didn’t get wet, such that one remained dry, or he could mean that it isn’t the case that one got wet, rather two got wet.  All of the solutions proposed by the monks assumed that one didn’t get wet, the first case, making them blind to the second.  It isn’t that the first case is the literal meaning of the words and the second metaphorical or derivative, but rather that we do not expect to hear about one monk and not the other if both got wet or both stayed dry.  The joke would also work if the master said both stayed dry, as one didn’t get wet, and the other didn’t get wet either.

Huineng & Bruce Lee Point to the Moon

Monkey reflection moon paintingThe nun and Chan master Wujin asked Huineng to explain passages of the Nirvana Sutra that she still couldn’t understand after long years of study.  Huineng asked Wujin to read the passages to him, as he never learned to read.  Wujin asked him how he understands the sutra without reading it, and Huineng famously replied that we can use a finger to point to the moon in the sky but don’t need a finger to see it.  Bruce Lee uses this to teach his student in the beginning of Enter the Dragon, telling his student to feel, not think, as if he focuses on the finger he will miss the moon and all its glory.  For Huineng, the sutra points to the experience, and for Lee the thought points to the action.  In both cases, experience in action is the point, not pointing to them.

Linji says Judge the Buddha

Linji Rinzai

Linji, the great Tang dynasty master of Zen Buddhism, said:

Followers of the Way, you take the words that come out of the mouths of a bunch of old teachers to be a description of the true Way.  You think, ‘This is a most wonderful teacher and friend.  I have only the mind of a common mortal.  I would never dare try to fathom such greatness.’  Blind idiots!  You go through life with this kind of understanding, betraying your own two eyes, cringing and faltering like a donkey on an ice road, saying, ‘I would never dare speak ill of such a good friend.  I’d be afraid of making mouth karma!’

Followers of the Way, the really good friend is someone who dares to speak ill of the Buddha, speak ill of the patriarchs, pass judgement on anyone in the world, throw away the Buddhist scriptures, despise those little children, and in the midst of disagreement and agreement seek out the real person.  For the past twelve years I’ve looked for this thing called karma, but I’ve never found so much as a particle of it the size of a mustard seed.

mu

Those Chan masters who are as timid as a new bride are afraid they might be expelled from the monastery of deprived of their meal of rice, worrying and fretting, but from times past the real teachers, wherever they went, were never listened to and were always driven out.  That’s how you know they were sages of worth.  If everyone approves of you wherever you go, what use can you be?  Hence the saying, let the lion give one roar and the brains of foxes will all split open.