He is lively as a fish in the water, with neither root nor stem
Try to catch him, he cannot be seized; try to push him away, you can’t shake him off
The harder you strive after him the farther away he is
When you stop striving after him, he is right in front of you – Lin-chi
“Ne te quaesiveris extra.” – Persius, Satire 1, line 7
From the High Seat, the master said: “Here in this lump of red flesh there is a true man of no rank who ceaselessly goes in and out through the gates of your face. Those who have not yet recognized him, look! Look!”
A monk came forward and asked: “What is he, this true man of no rank?”
The master descended from the meditation cushion, grabbed him and said: “Speak, speak!”
The monk hesitated. The master released him and said: “What a shit-stick, this true man of no rank!” Then he withdrew to his quarters.
Lump of red flesh: the heart. Psychology Press (2004). A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms (first published in 1937).
True man (Chen-jen) is a Taoist term deriving from Chuang Tzu and signifying an enlightened person; it was often used in Buddhist writings as a translation for the word buddha. (Watson, 1993, p. 13)
Gates: your sense organs
Shit-stick: a stick used in the latrine. Zen masters used to liken the Buddha to a shit-stick.
From the High Seat the master said: One is on the road for eons without ever leaving the householder’s life; one leaves the householder’s life without ever taking to the road. Which one is worthy to receive the offerings of men and gods?
On the road: traveling from one monastery to another. Householder’s life: fearing death and seeking comfort in the phenomenal world.
The master said: Behold the puppets prancing on the stage; see the man behind the scenes who pulls the strings.
The Master instructed the group, saying: Today’s students of the Buddha-Dharma need to attain genuine insight. If you have genuine insight, birth and death will not affect you and you will come and go freely. Nor do you need to strive for good things—they will come of themselves.1
Followers of the Way, the masters of old had ways of bringing out the true man. Do not let yourselves be deluded by anyone; this is all that I teach. If you want to make use of it, then use it right now, without delay or doubt.
Students nowadays do not succeed because they suffer from lack of self-reliance. Because of this lack you run busily here and there, are driven around by circumstance and kept whirling by the ten thousand things. You cannot find deliverance thus. If you can only stop this mind that ceaselessly pursues things, you will be no different from the Buddha and the patriarchs. Do you want to know the Buddha? He is none other than the one who is here among us right now, listening to the Dharma. It is only because you lack self-reliance that you turn outward and run about seeking. Even if you were to find something out there, it would be only words and letters, never the living spirit of the patriarchs. Do not be deceived.
Make no mistake, Ch’an students: if you do not meet him in this life you will go around in the triple world for a thousand births, for ten thousand eons. And pursuing agreeable circumstances, you will be reborn in the wombs of asses and cows.
Followers of the Way, as I see things we’re no different from Shakyamuni. Today in your manifold activities, what is it that you lack? The wonderful light of the six powers 2 has never for a moment ceased. Who can see it like that is, for the rest of his life, one who has nothing to do.3
Followers of the Way, there is no safety in the triple world; it is like a burning house.4 This is no place for you to linger for long! The murderous demon of impermanence strikes in an instant, without preference for high or low, old or young.
If you want to be no different from the patriarchs and the Buddha, do not seek anything outside of yourselves. The clean pure light in a moment of your mind—that is the Dharma-body (dharmakaya) of the Buddha dwelling in you. The undifferentiated light in a moment of your mind—that is the reward-body (sambhogakaya) of the Buddha dwelling in you. The undiscriminating light in a moment of your mind—that is the transformation-body (nirmanakaya) of the Buddha dwelling in you. The three bodies (trikaya) are you, the person who stands before me now listening to this lecture on the Dharma!5 Just do not rush around seeking anything outside of yourselves, and you will command these wondrous faculties.
The expounders of the sutras and treatises take the triple body as absolute, but in my view that is not so. This triple body is nothing but mere names, robes. A master of old said: “The [triple] body is postulated to explain the Dharma; the [Buddha] lands are postulated to explain the Dharma.”6 Understood clearly this Dharma-body and these Buddha-lands are no more than light-shadow.7
Followers of the Way, get to know the one who plays with this light-shadow. He is the original source of all the Buddhas. Knowing him, wherever you are is home. Your physical body, formed of the four elements, cannot understand the Dharma you are listening to; nor can your spleen, stomach, liver or gall, nor your body cavities. Who, then, can understand the Dharma, who can listen to it? The one here before your very eyes, brilliantly clear and shining without any form—there is he who can understand the Dharma you are listening to. If you can really grasp this, you are no different from the Buddhas and patriarchs.
He is right here, a constant presence. However, “When passions arise, wisdom is disrupted; when thoughts wander, the Dharma departs.”8 This is the cause of transmigration in the triple world with its suffering. But as I see it, there is not one of you who is incapable of profound realization, not one of you who is incapable of emancipation.
Followers of the Way, this thing called mind has no fixed form; it penetrates all the ten directions. In the eye we call it sight, in the ear we call it hearing; in the nose it detects odors; in the mouth it speaks words; in the hand it grasps; in the feet it runs along. Basically it is a single bright essence, but it divides itself into these six functions. And because this single mind has no fixed form, it is everywhere in a state of emancipation. Why do I tell you this? Because you followers of the Way seem to be incapable of stopping this mind that goes rushing around everywhere looking for something. Thus you get entangled in the (teaching) devices of the old masters.
In my view we should cut off the heads of the Sambogakaya Buddha and the Nirmanakaya Buddha. Those who have fulfilled the ten stages of bodhisattva practice are no better than serfs; those who have attained the enlightenment of the fifty-first and fifty-second stages are fellows in cangue and chains;9 arhats and pratyekabuddhas 10 are filthy latrines; bodhi and nirvana are hitching posts for asses. Why do I speak of them thus? Because you followers of the Way fail to realize that this journey to enlightenment that takes an immeasurably long time to accomplish is pointless; these things become obstacles in your way. If you were truly proper men of the Way you would never let that happen.
Just get to the state in which you can go along with circumstances and get rid of your old karma. At the proper time, put on your robe. If you want to walk, walk. If you want to sit, sit. But never for a moment set your mind on seeking buddhahood. And why? A man of old said, “If you try to generate good karma in order to become a buddha, truly this buddha will be one that will keep you in the realm of birth and death.”
Fellow believers, time is precious! You rush off frantically on side roads, studying Ch’an, studying the Way, clinging to words, clinging to phrases, seeking the Buddha, seeking the patriarchs, seeking a good friend (shan-chih-shih—a teacher), scheming, planning. But make no mistake. Followers of the Way, you already have one set of parents—how many more do you seek? You need to stop and take a good look within. A man of old tells us that Yajnadatta thought he had lost his head and went looking for it, but once he had put a stop to his seeking mind he found he was perfectly all right. (Watson, pp. 23-27)
1. “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than they? Which of you by worrying can add one hour to his lifespan?” (Matt. 6 : 25 NKJ)
2. Our five senses plus our thoughts are the six faculties (for meaning, see the editor’s note below).
3. Nothing to do: The Pao-tsung lun, attributed to Seng-chao (384-414) states, “With regard to the Way, the worthy man in every age is he who has nothing to do. With regard to the Way, when one is mindless, all things proceed effortlessly.” (Watson, 1993 p. 30)
4. Bodhidharma, The Long Scroll, “Bodhidharma’s Method for Quieting the Mind.”
5. The concept of the threefold body of the Buddha is a fundamental doctrine in Mahayana Buddhism. The Dharmakaya, or Essence-body, is the Buddha as pure Dharma or suchness, transcending personality. The Sambhogakaya, or Bliss-body, is the Buddha endowed with infinite attributes of bliss or reward gained through his practices as a bodhisattva. The Nirmanakaya, or Transformation-body, is the Buddha taking different forms as appropriate for the various beings to whom he appears. (Watson, 1993, p. 27)
6. I.e., these are merely given for illustrative purposes. Lin-chi is apparently referring to a saying attributed to Tz’uen K’uei·chi (632-682). (Watson)
7. I.e., the body and world are only what is seen of Mind.
8. A quotation from the Hsin Hua-yen-ching tu, chapter 1, by Li T’ung-hsuan (639-734). (Watson)
9. Cangue: A large wooden collar worn by petty criminals as a punishment.
10. Arhat: (“Worthy One”) an enlightened sage of Theravada Buddhism; Pratyekabuddha: a hermit-buddha.
The Master instructed the group, saying: Followers of the Way, what is important is to approach things with a true and proper understanding. Walk wherever you please in the world but don’t let yourselves be muddled or misled by that bunch of goblin spirits. The worthy man is the one who has nothing to do.1 Don’t try to do something special—just be ordinary. You look outside of yourselves, going off on side roads searching for something, trying to get your hands on something. That’s a mistake. You keep trying to look for the Buddha, but Buddha is just a name, a word.
Do you know what it is that everyone is running around looking for? All the buddhas and patriarchs of the past, present, and future and in all the ten directions make their appearance in this world just so they can seek the Dharma. And you followers of the Way who have come to study, you are here now just so you can seek the Dharma. Once you get the Dharma, that will settle things; but until you do, you will go on as before, being reborn again and again in the five paths.2
What is this thing called Dharma? Dharma is the Dharma of the mind. The Dharma of the mind has no fixed form; it penetrates all the ten directions. It is in operation right before our eyes. But because people don’t have enough faith they cling to words, cling to phrases. They try to find the Dharma of the buddhas by looking in written words, but they’re as far away from it as heaven is from earth. (Watson, pp. 29-30)
Followers of the Way, when I preach the Dharma, what Dharma do I preach? I preach the Dharma of the mind. This pervades everything: it is in the worldly and the sacred, in the pure and impure, the fine and the coarse. The most important thing is that you do not attach labels such as fine or coarse, worldly or sacred, and think that by naming things you now know them. The fine and the coarse, the worldly and the sacred, cannot be known to man simply by name. Followers of the Way, grasp this and make use of it (i.e., know the superior from the lowly), but do not attach labels to it, for naming obscures.
1. The Pao-tsung lun, attributed to Seng-chao (384-414) states, “With regard to the Way, the worthy man in every age is he who has nothing to do. With regard to the Way, when one is mindless, all things proceed effortlessly.” (Watson, 1993 p. 30)
2. The realms of hell, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, and heavenly beings.
Followers of the Way, the Buddha-Dharma needs no skilled application. Just be your ordinary selves with no more seeking. Move your bowels, piss, put on your robe, eat your rice, and if you become tired, lie down. Fools laugh at me, but the wise understand.
A master of old said: “Turning to outward things and making an effort is a stubborn fool’s errand.” If, wherever you are, you take the role of host, then whatever place you stand in will be the right one. Then whatever comes, you can never be pushed about. Even if you’re faced with bad karma left over from the past or the five crimes that bring on the hell of incessant suffering, these will themselves become the great sea of emancipation.
A man who has left the household life should know how to see clearly and calmly, should know Buddha from Mara (the Evil One), the true from the false, ordinary men from sages. If he has gotten this knowledge, he can truly be called one who has left the household life. If he does not know Buddha from Mara, then he has left one household only to enter another, and is what is called a karma-producing living being. He cannot truly be called one who has left the household life.
Followers of the Way, cast aside Buddha and Mara. For as long you love sages and despise ordinary men, you will continue to rise and sink in the sea of birth and death.
A monk asked: “What are Buddha and Mara?”
The Master said: A moment of doubt in your heart is Mara. But if you can grasp that the ten thousand things are unborn and that the self is like a phantom, then no thing, even of the size of a speck of dust, exists—everywhere is purity. This is Buddha. Buddha and Mara just refer to two states, one impure, one pure. Buddha and Mara merely represent the pure and the impure state.
As I see things, there’s no Buddha, no living beings, no past, no present. If you want to get it, you’ve already got it—it isn’t something that requires time. There’s no practice, no enlightenment, no gain, no loss. At no time is there any other Dharma than this. If anyone claims there is a Dharma superior to this, I say it must be a dream, a vision. All I have to say to you is simply this.
Followers of the Way, the one who at this moment stands alone, listening, clear and vibrant right before the eyes, this one is not limited to any place. Unhindered he penetrates everywhere and moves about freely in the triple world. Entering all kinds of circumstances, he is never affected by them. In an instant he descends to the lowest realms. Meeting the Buddha, he talks with the Buddha; meeting patriarchs, he talks with patriarchs; meeting arhats, he talks with arhats; meeting hungry ghosts, he talks with hungry ghosts. He goes everywhere, roaming through the realms and talking with living beings, yet never strays for a single thought from his shining purity. Penetrating the ten directions, to him the ten thousand things are of one suchness.
And after six days, Jesus takes with Him Peter, and James, and John his brother, and brings them up into a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with him. (Matt. 17, Berean Literal Bible)
Followers of the Way, the superior one knows right now that from the first there’s never been anything that needed to be done. It’s because you don’t have enough faith that you rush around moment by moment looking for something. You throw away your head and then hunt for a head: you can’t seem to stop yourselves.
Such are the bodhisattvas of the Sudden School . . . who turn to the Pure Land School, hating the worldly and loving the sacred. They have not forgotten discrimination: their minds still grasp purity and impurity. The Ch’an School doesn’t see things thus: true insight is right now, not some time in the future.
Everything I am saying to you is for the moment only, medicine to cure the disease; ultimately it has no true reality. If you can see things in this way, you will be true men who have left the household life, free to spend ten thousand in gold each day.1
If one is a true learner of the Way, one does not search for the faults of the world, but speedily applies oneself to attain genuine insight. If only one can see with perfect clarity, then all is completed.
1. That is, worthy of the alms you receive. (Schloegl)
Someone asked: What do you mean by a true and proper understanding?
The Master said: You enter all sorts of states of the common mortal or the sage, of the defiled or the pure. You enter the lands of the various buddhas, you enter the halls of Maitreya, you enter the Dharma-realm of Vairochana,1 and everywhere all these lands are manifest, coming into being, existing, declining, and passing into emptiness. The Buddha appears in the world, turns the wheel of the great Law,2 and then enters nirvana, but you cannot see any trace of his coming and going. If you look for his birth and death, in the end you can never find it. You enter the Dharma-realm of no-birth.3 Wandering everywhere through various lands, you enter the Realm of the Lotus Treasury,4 and you fully see that all phenomena are empty of characteristics, that not one has any true reality.
You, listening to the Dharma, if you are men of the Way who depend on nothing then you are the mother of the buddhas. This is because the buddhas are born from the realm that depends on nothing. If you can awaken to this depending on nothing, then there will be no Buddha to get hold of. If you can see things in this way, this is a true and proper understanding.
But students don’t push through to the end. Because they seize upon words and phrases and let words like ‘common mortal’ or ‘sage’ hinder them, their eyes are blinded to the Way and they cannot perceive it clearly. Things like the Twelve Divisions of the Canon 5—all speak of superficial or external matters. But students don’t realize this and immediately form their understanding on the basis of such superficial and external words and phrases. All this is just depending on something, and whoever does that falls into the realm of cause and effect and hasn’t yet escaped the triple world of birth and death.
If you want to be free to be born or die, to go or stay just as one would put on or take off a robe, then you must understand right now that the person here listening to the Dharma has no form, no characteristics, no root, no beginning, no dwelling place—yet he is vibrantly alive. All the ten thousand kinds of conditioned events operate in a place that is in fact no place. Therefore the more you search the farther away you go; the harder you seek the farther astray you go. This is what I call the mystery of the matter.
Followers of the Way, do not trust yourselves to a companion who is only a phantom and a dream (the body): sooner or later it will return to impermanence. What means of deliverance can you find in this world? Eat a handful of rice to keep going and pass the time, but it behooves you to see a good teacher. Do not procrastinate and chase after pleasures. Time is precious, and the moments are fleeting. On the material plane you are limited by earth, water, fire and air. On the mental plane you are limited by the four conditions of all compounded forms: birth, subsistence, deterioration, and death. Followers of the Way, right now realize that the four elements are devoid of characteristics and escape from being driven by circumstance.
1. Maitreya is a bodhisattva who at some far distant time in the future is destined to appear on Earth as the next buddha. Vairochana, The Radiating One, is a buddha described in the Avatamsaka Sutra; he is an integration of the Dhyani buddhas or is the original buddha.
2. To turn the Dharma wheel is to liberate beings by teaching the Dharma.
3. The realm of nondualism where all distinctions such as birth and death are transcended.
4. The world created through the vows and practices of Vairochana Buddha, where cause and effect exist simultaneously like the flower and seed of the lotus.
5. The twelve sections into which the Buddhist scriptures are divided.
Someone asked: What do you mean by four elements that are without characteristics?
The Master said: A moment of doubt in your heart is your being fettered by earth; a moment of desire in your heart is your drowning in water; a moment of anger in your heart is your burning in fire; a moment of joy in your heart is your being carried off by the wind. If you can realize this, you will no longer be at the mercy of the elements but will command the elements wherever you are—rise in the east and set in the west, vanish in the north and appear in the south, vanish on the horizon and appear in the center, vanish in the center and appear on the horizon. Then you walk on water as if it were land and on land as if it were water. Why is this so? Because you have come to understand that the four elements are like a dream or a vision.
Followers of the Way, he who is now listening to the Dharma, he is not the four elements; he is the one who can command the four elements. If you can see it thus, then you will be liberated from coming and going.1 As I see things, there is not one thing to be hated. But if you love the sacred, the sacred, too, becomes a mere word and a fetter.
1. Coming and going: rebirth and death.
Followers of the Way, if you want to be constantly in accord with the Dharma, you’ll have to begin by learning to be first-rate fellows. If you are weak-kneed and wishy-washy and you’ll never get there. No vessel with cracks in it is fit to hold ghee. If you want to be a truly great vessel, you must never be led astray by others. Wherever you are, play the host and then any place you stand will be the right one.
Whatever confronts you, don’t let it get the better of you. If you entertain even a moment of doubt, the devil will enter your mind. Even a bodhisattva, when he starts doubting, is prey to the devil of birth and death. Learn to put a stop to thoughts and never look for something outside of yourselves. Whenever an object appears, shine your light on it. Just have faith in this thing that is operating within you right now: outside of it, nothing else exists.
Your mind, in one instant of thought, creates the triple world. Because of your conditioning you experience its multifarious environments, and it divides itself to become the six dusts.1 Knowing that right now you respond and command it,2 what do you lack? Awakened, in the space of an instant you will enter purity or enter defilement, enter the halls of Maitreya or enter the lands of the Three Eyes. You will wander everywhere with ease, for you will see that these are all empty names.
1. Six dusts (from the Sanskrit, rajas – impurities): Sights, sounds, sensations, odors, tastes and thoughts.
2. Command the triple world.
Followers of the Way. the really good friend is someone who dares to speak ill of the Buddha, speak ill of the patriarchs, pass judgment on anyone in the world, throw away the Tripitaka, revile those little children, and in the midst of opposition and agreement search out the true person. So for the past twelve years, though I’ve looked for this thing called karma, I’ve never found so much as a particle the size of a mustard seed.
These Ch’an masters who are as timid as a new bride are afraid they might be expelled from the monastery or 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 men of worth. If everybody approves of you wherever you go, of what use can you be? Hence the saying, “Let the lion give one roar and the brains of the little foxes will split open.”
Followers of the Way, here and there you hear it said that there is a Way to be practiced, a Dharma to become enlightened to. Will you tell me then just what Dharma there is to become enlightened to, what Way there is to practice? In your present activities, what is it you lack, what is it that practice must mend? But those little greenhorn monks don’t understand this and immediately put faith in that bunch of wild fox spirits, letting them spout their ideas and tie people in knots, saying, “When principle and practice are in accord with one another and proper care is taken with regard to the three types of karma of body, mouth, and mind, only then can one attain buddhahood.” Men who go on like that are as plentiful as spring showers.
A man of old said, “If along the road you meet a man of the Way, whatever you do, don’t talk to him about the Way.” Thus it is said:
If one tries to attain the Way
One cannot walk the Way
Ten thousand wild notions arise
Chasing each other in the head
When [Manjusri’s] sword of wisdom flashes
There is nothing at all
Before the bright signs manifest themselves
The dark signs will have become bright
Therefore an ancient master (Ma-tsu) said, “The ordinary mind: that is the Way.”
Fellow believers, what is it that you seek? This man of the Way who depends on nothing, here before my eyes now listening to the Dharma, his light shines clearly; he has never lacked anything. If you want to be no different from the patriarchs and buddhas, learn to see it this way and never give in to doubt or uncertainty. If your mind moment by moment never differentiates, you may be called the living patriarch. If your mind differentiates, your true nature and the world are set apart. But so long as it does not differentiate, your true nature and the world are not separated. (Watson, pp. 44-45)
Someone asked: What do you mean by the mind that moment by moment does not differentiate?
The Master said: The moment you ask such a question differentiation has already taken place: your true nature and the world have been set apart.
Followers of the Way, make no mistake! The myriad things in this and other worlds are all devoid of true nature, of a nature that can cause things to be manifested.1 They are empty names, and the characters with which they are written [the scriptures or ching] are likewise empty. If you take these empty names as real, you make a serious mistake. For even if they exist, they change depending on circumstances, like robes that are shifted. There is the robe of bodhi, the robe of Nirvana, the robe of emancipation, the robe of the threefold body, the robe of things, the robe of the bodhisattva, the robe of the Buddha.
Things like the Three Vehicles 2 and the twelve divisions of the cannon—they’re all so much old paper for wiping shit. The Buddha is a phantom body, the patriarchs are nothing but old monks. You were born of women, weren’t you?3 If you seek the Buddha, you’ll be seized by the buddha-devil. If you seek the patriarchs, you’ll be fettered by the patriarch-devil. As long as you seek anything it will only lead to suffering. Better to do nothing.
There are a lot of shorn-heads who tell students of the Way that the Buddha represents the ultimate goal; that one must spend myriad eons performing and perfecting all the religious practices before one can gain complete understanding of the Way.* Followers of the Way, if you say that the Buddha represents the highest achievement, then why, after living just eighty years, did the Buddha lie down in the grove of trees in Kushinagara and die?4> Where is the Buddha now? From this we know clearly that in the realm of birth and death he was no different from us.
(*I.e., that one should aspire to be like the earthly Shakyamuni Buddha, who, according to mythology, practiced the disciplines for ages before attaining enlightenment.)
You say that someone with the thirty-two major marks and the eighty minor marks is a buddha; but then the wheel-turning sage king is also a Tathagata.5 So we know clearly that the Buddha is a phantom. A man of old said,
The three bodies of the Tathagata
Were postulated for those with worldly perception
Lest they fall into nihilism
Empty names are expedient means
Thirty-two major marks and eighty minor marks are spoken of
These are empty sounds
The physical body is not the body of bodhi
No-form is the true form 6
You say the Buddha has the six transcendental powers and that these are marvelous,7 but all heavenly beings, immortals, asuras, and powerful demons also have transcendental powers.8 Does this mean they are buddhas? Followers of the Way, make no mistake: when the asuras fight against the god Indra and are defeated in battle, they lead their host of eighty-four thousand followers and all take refuge in the hollow stem of a lotus. Is this not miraculous?9
As I see things, all those supernormal powers are karmic and dependent. They are not the six supernormal powers the Buddha possessed: entering the realm of seeing without being deluded by forms; the realm of hearing without being deluded by sounds; the realm of smelling without being deluded by scents; the realm of taste without being deluded by tastes; the realm of feeling without being deluded by sensations; the realm of thinking without being deluded by thoughts. Therefore the six sense-fields of form, sound, scent, taste, sensation and thoughts are all empty; they cannot bind the man who depends on nothing. Though the five skandha are leaky* by nature, when mastered they become your supernormal powers here on earth.
Followers of the Way, the true Buddha is devoid of form; the true Dharma is devoid of characteristics. You are striking poses and donning robes all because of a mere phantom.
A true student of the Way never attaches himself to the Buddha, never attaches himself to the bodhisattva or the arhat, never attaches himself to the finest things of the threefold world.10 Utterly independent, alone and free, he is never entangled in things. Heaven and earth could turn upside-down and he would not be perturbed. All the buddhas of the ten directions could appear before him and he would experience not a moment of joy; the three realms of hell could suddenly open before him and he would experience not a moment of alarm.11 And why? Because he sees all things as devoid of characteristics. If there is stirring, there is existence. If there is no stirring, there is nothing. The threefold world is nothing but mind; the ten thousand things are nothing but discrimination. “Dreams, illusions, flowers in the air—why try to to grasp them?”
Cast out all grief so that perpetual joy reigns in your heart. Thus the child is born. And then, if the child is born in me, the sight of my father and all my friends slain before my eyes would leave my heart untouched.” Meister Eckhart, Sermon Seven
Followers of the Way, the one right here before your eyes listening to the Dharma is he who enters fire without being burned, enters water without drowning, enters the three realms of hell as though strolling in a garden, enters the realms of the hungry ghosts and the animals without evil karma being attached to him.14 How can he do all this? Because he has no aversions to anything.
To love sages and despise ordinary mortals
Rising and sinking in the sea of birth and death
Worldly passions exist because of the mind
Without the mind, to what can worldly passions attach themselves?
Don’t labor to discriminate, to grasp characteristics
Without effort you’ll gain the Way in a moment 15
If you rush off frantically on side roads, studying in hopes of gaining something, then for myriad ages you will remain in the realm of birth and death. Better to do nothing, just sit on your seat here in the monastery with your legs crossed.
Followers of the Way, those who have left household life need to study the Way. In my case, years ago I turned my attention to the Vinaya,19 and I also delved into the sutras and treatises. But later I realized that these are just medicines to cure the sickness of the world, expositions of surface matters. So finally I tossed them aside and sought the Way through Ch’an practice. Later I encountered an excellent friend and teacher, and then my Dharma eye at last became keen and bright and for the first time I could judge the old priests of the world and tell who was crooked and who was straight. But I wasn’t born with this understanding—I had to probe and polish and undergo experiences until one morning I could see clearly for myself.
Followers of the Way, if you wish to gain an orthodox understanding, do not be deceived by others. Inwardly or outwardly, if you encounter any obstacles, lay them low right away. If you encounter the Buddha, slay him; if you encounter the patriarch, slay him; if you encounter the arhat or the parent or the relative, slay them all without hesitation, for this is the only way to deliverance. Do not get yourselves entangled with any object, but stand above, pass on, and be free. As I view those so-called followers of the Way from all over the country, there are none who come to me free and independent of objects. In dealing with them, I strike them down any way they come. If they rely on the strength of their arms, I chop them right off; if they rely on their eloquence, I shut them up; if they rely on the sharpness of their eyes, I strike them blind. There are indeed so far none who have presented themselves before me all alone, all free, all unique. They are invariably found caught by the idle tricks of the old masters. I have really nothing to give you; all that I can do is to cure you of the diseases and deliver you from bondage. (Suzuki, 1949, p. 347)
“I did not come upon earth to bring peace but a sword, to cut away all things, to part you from sister, brother, mother, child and friend that in truth are your foes.” – Eckhart (in Walshe, Vol. I, p. 20)
“And everyone that has forsaken houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Matt. 19:29)
O you followers of the Way, show yourselves here independent of all objects; I want to weigh the matter with you. For five or ten years I have waited in vain for such, and there are no such yet. They are all ghostly things, haunting the woods or bamboo-groves, wild fox spirits, frantically biting into every piece of shit they happen on. Blind fools, shamelessly accepting alms from all the ten directions, declaring, “I’ve left home!” Thus is their understanding.
I tell you, there’s no Buddha, no Dharma, no practice, no enlightenment; yet you go off like this on side roads, trying to find something. Blind fools! Will you put another head on top of the one you have? What do you yourselves lack?
Followers of the Way, what you are making use of at this very moment is none other than what makes a patriarch or a buddha. But you don’t believe it and go searching for something outside of yourself. Make no mistake: there’s no Dharma outside of you, and even what is on the inside can’t be grasped. You hang onto every word that comes out of my mouth, but it would be better if you stopped everything and did nothing. Things already underway, don’t continue with them. Things not yet underway, don’t begin them. That’s better for you than ten years traveling around on pilgrimages.
The way I see it, there’s no call for anything special. Just be ordinary, put on your robes, eat your rice, pass the time doing nothing. You who come from here and there, you all have a mind to do something. You search for Buddha, search for the Dharma, search for emancipation, search for a way to get out of the threefold world. Fools, trying to get out of the threefold world! Where will you go?
Buddha, patriarchs—these are just words of piety and entanglement. Do you want to know what the threefold world is? It is nothing other than the mind-ground on which you, listening at this moment to the Dharma, are standing. When you have a moment of greed in your mind, that is the world of desire.24 When you have a moment of anger in your mind, that is the world of form. When you have a moment of ignorance in your mind, that is the world of formlessness. These are the furnishings in your own house.
The threefold world did not name itself. Followers of the Way, it is the one clearly manifested and vibrant in front of my eyes who illuminates the ten thousand things and sizes up the threefold world; he it is who assigns names to them.
Fellow believers, this body, made up of the four major elements, has no permanence. Things like spleen and stomach, liver and gall, hair, nails and teeth, are simply evidence that all phenomenal things are devoid of fixed characteristics. When your mind has learned to cease its momentary seeking, this is called the state of the bodhi tree; but while your mind is incapable of ceasing, this is called the tree of ignorance. Ignorance has no fixed abode; ignorance has no beginning or end. As long as your mind is unable to cease its moment-by-moment activity, then you are up in the tree of ignorance. You enter among the six realms of existence and of the four types of birth 25 wearing fur and with horns on your head. But if you can learn to cease, then you’ll be in the world of the clean pure body. If not one thought arises, you’ll be up in the bodhi tree, using your transcendental powers to take different forms in the threefold world, assuming any bodily shape you please, feasting on Dharma bliss and meditation delight,26 illuminating things for yourself with the light from your own body. Think of clothes and you’ll be swathed in a thousand layers of fine silk, think of food and you’ll be provided with a hundred delicacies, and you will live to a ripe old age. Bodhi has no fixed abode: that’s why it cannot be taken hold of.
Followers of the Way, the true man—what doubts does he have? He who functions right before my eyes, who is he? Seize it and use it, but do not attach a name to it. It is called the hidden meaning. When you can see it thus you will have no aversion to anything. An old master said:
The hsin turns with the ten thousand things
Its turning is truly mysterious
Following the flow, perceiving its nature
There is neither joy nor sorrow 28
Followers of the Way, truly difficult it is. The Buddha-Dharma is a deep mystery, but when it is understood, how easy it is!
Finding the Self is the easiest thing in the universe when you do it. When you don’t do it, when you continuously keep looking away from it, you can never see it. And then it is the most difficult thing in the universe. – Lester Levenson
Day after day I tell people what it is, but students do not grasp my meaning. They take a thousand, ten thousand steps, enveloped in utter darkness. It has no shape or form, yet how brightly it shines in its solitariness! But students lack faith, so they cling to words and phrases and try to find the meaning of these words. Year after year—up to half a century—they run here and there carrying their sacks of shit, their staffs and bundles. One day Yamaraja will surely exact a price for all the sandals they have worn out!
Fellow believers, when I say that there is no Dharma to be found outside of yourselves, students misunderstand and immediately begin to search within. They sit by a wall, tongue pressed to the upper palate, and so remain motionless. They think this is the way taught by the patriarchs—a great mistake! If you take the state of motionless purity for the Tao, you have made ignorance your master. Says an ancient master, “Bottomless, inky black is the abyss—truly a place to make one shudder.” This is what he meant. If you take motion to be the Tao, all of the plants and trees know how to move, and so they should possess the Tao. When they move, it is the element of air; when they are motionless, it is the element of earth. Neither their motion nor their stillness comes from a self-nature.
If you try to grasp it in motion, it will stand in stillness, and if you try to grasp it in stillness, it will stand in motion. It is like a fish hidden in a lake, revealed by the movement of the water on the surface.36
Fellow believers, motion and stillness are simply two kinds of environment. It is the man of the Way who depends on nothing who commands motion and stillness.
When students come from here and there, I classify them into three categories according to their basic ability.37 In such cases, if a student of inferior ability comes to me, I snatch away the scriptures (ching) but leave concepts (Chinese fa; Sanskrit dharma). If a student of better-than-average ability comes to me, I snatch away both scriptures and concepts. If a student of truly superior ability comes to me, I do not snatch away anything–neither scriptures nor concepts nor person (jen). If a student appears whose understanding surpasses all these categories, then I reveal my whole body and take no account of his basic ability.
Fellow believers, if a student has reached this stage, if he is so firm and strong that there are no outflowings (asrava), suddenly a spark flies from flint, a lightning flash. If he blinks his eyes, all is lost. The moment the mind is applied, it disappears; the moment a thought arises it turns away. One who understands keeps it always before him.
The Great Way surpasses all that is;
It can go West or East.
Spark does not fly from flint so fast,
lightning does not flash as far. – Lin-chi (Section 66)
Fellow believers, you carry your bowl and your sack of shit (body) and rush about looking for the Buddha and the Dharma. Do you know him who thus runs about seeking? He is lively as a fish in the water, has neither root nor stem. Try to catch him, he cannot be held on to; try to push him away, you cannot shake him off. The harder you strive after him the farther away he is. When you stop striving after him, he is right in front of you. His supersensuous voice fills your ear. Those without faith labor for a hundred years to no purpose.
Followers of the Way, it is he who enters in an instant of thought into the realm of the Lotus-womb, into the Land of Vairochana, into the Land of Emancipation, into the Land of Supernatural Powers, into the Land of Purity, into the Dharma-realm. It is he who enters into the worlds of defilement and purity, into the worlds of ordinary men and of the sages. It is he who enters into the realm of animals and of hungry ghosts. Wherever he may enter, we cannot discover any trace of his birth and death, however hard we try to locate him. What we have is no more than empty names. “Dreams, illusions, flowers in the air—why try to grasp them? Gain and loss, right and wrong—cast them out at once!” (Suzuki, 1960, p. 41)
Fellow believers, the karma of sounds and words finds outward expression; the objects of the mind are manifested within. Because of mental processes, thoughts are formed, but all of these are just robes. If you take the robe that a person is wearing to be the person’s true identity, then though endless eons may pass, you will become proficient only in robes and will remain forever circling round in the threefold world, transmigrating in the realm of birth and death. Better to do nothing. An old master states:
I meet him yet know him not
I converse with him yet I know not his name
Fellow believers, you rush around frantically from one place to another—what are you looking for, tramping till your arches have fallen? There is no Buddha to be sought, no Way to be carried out, no Dharma to be gained. Seeking outside for some Buddha possessing form–this hardly becomes you! If you wish to know your original mind, don’t try to join with it, don’t try to depart from it.47
Followers of the Way, the true Buddha is without form, the true Way is without a single entity, the true Dharma is without distinctions. These three things mingle and blend, resolving in one place. But because you fail to perceive this, you let yourselves be called creatures muddled by karma-created consciousness. (Watson, pp. 47-62)
Notes (Burton Watson)
1. All things in the phenomenal world arise from and are dependent on various causes and conditions; thus they lack an inherent nature capable of manifesting the phenomenon.
2. Three vehicles to enlightenment: that of the sravaka, or disciple of a living buddha; that of the pratyeka, who practices on his or her own, and that of the bodhisattva.
3. Being born of a woman is an example of the kind of conditioned and dependent state that Lin-chi is talking about here.
4. The death of Shakyamuni Buddha as described in the scriptures. Kushinagara was in northeastern India near the Nepal border.
5. The thirty-two features and eighty auspicious characteristics are various unusual physical marks possessed by a buddha. They derive from earlier Indian thought, where they were said to distinguish a wheel-turning king (Chakravarti Raja) or ideal ruler.
6. From the “Hymn on the Diamond Sutra” by Fu Ta-shih (497-569).
7. The power of transformation, celestial hearing, knowing the mind of others, knowing previous existences, celestial vision, supramundane teaching abilities. (http://chinabuddhismencyclopedia.com/en/index.php/The_Six_Supernatural_Powers_of_Buddha)
8. The asuras are angry demons of lndian mythology who continually fight with the god Indra.
9. Accounts of such legendary battles between Indra and the asuras are found in Avatamsaka Sutra and other Buddhist works.
10. The five aggregates, which come together temporarily to form a human being, are matter, sense-perception, conception (cognition or knowledge of good and evil), volition, and consciousness.
11. The hells of fire, of blood, and of knives.
14. Hell, the realm of hungry ghosts, and the realm of animals constitute the lowest of the six realms of existence.
15. This section is quoted from Pao-chih’s “Hymns of the Mahayana” already quoted in section 11.
19. The section of the Tripitaka dealing with precepts and monastic discipline. The other two sections contain the sutras and treatises respectively.
24. The threefold world is made up of the world of desire, the world of form, and the world of formlessness, and is equivalent to the six realms of existence in which unenlightened beings transmigrate. Beings in the world of desire are dominated by desires for sensual things. Beings in the world of form have material form but no desires. Beings in the world of formlessness are free from the restrictions of form but are still within the realm of the unenlightened.
25. The six realms, as noted earlier, are those of hell, hungry ghosts, animals, asuras, human beings, and heavenly beings. The four types of birth are birth from the womb, birth from an egg, birth from dampness and birth by a process of transformation. Insects were believed to be born from dampness and heavenly beings and hell-dwellers to be born through a process of transformation.
26. Dharma bliss and meditation delight are two of the five kinds of supermundane or nonmaterial foods by which enlightened beings are nourished.
28. From the hymn by the Twenty-second Indian Patriarch Manorhita, as recorded in Pao-lin chuan.
36. The simile is taken from the Chinese translation of Vasubandhu: “By the transformations of external motions, one is shown the intentions in the hearts of living beings, as one discerns a fish living hidden in a lake through the transformations of the waves.”
37. This section, like section 10, deals with four procedures that Lin-chi uses with different types of students. In that section he spoke in terms of ching (scriptures) and jen (person). Here he adds a third term, fa, which is Chinese for dharma. A dharma can be a physical thing or a thought-thing.
47. Quoted from a hymn by the Eighth Indian Patriarch Buddhanandi recorded in Pao-lin chuan. Since the original mind is identical with the Buddha-nature inherent in everyone, there is no need to make any special effort to join with it, nor of course to separate from it.
Those who go off to live all alone on a solitary mountain, eating only one meal a day at dawn, sitting in meditation without lying down through the six periods—such persons are only producers of karma. Then there are those who renounce their head and eyes, marrow and brains, their domains and cities, wives and children, elephants, horses, the seven precious things–giving them all away. People who think thus are all inflicting pain on their body and mind, and in consequence will invite a painful retribution. Better to do nothing, to be simple, no more. Then even the Bodhisattvas who have completed the ten stages will be seeking the traces1 of you, Followers of the Way, and will not find them. All the devas rejoice, the spirits of the earth support your feet, and all of the Buddhas of the ten directions do not withhold their praise. And why? Because this man of the Way who is now listening to the Dharma acts in a manner which leaves no traces.”
1. Traces: karma.
“Followers of the Way, even if you can understand a hundred sutras and treatises, you’re not as good as one simple monk who does nothing.”
When you get hungry, eat your rice;
when you get sleepy, close your eyes.
Fools may laugh at me,
but wise men will know what I mean.6
6. From the poem by Ming-tsan, or Lan-tsan, of Mount Nan-yueh, already quoted in section 13.
1. Watson, Burton (1999). The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi. New York: Columbia University Press. (https://cup.columbia.edu/book/the-zen-teachings-of-master-lin-chi/9780231114851)(download)
2. Schloegl, Irmgard (1975). The Zen Teaching of Rinzai: Translated from the Chinese by Irmgard Schloegl. Berkeley, California: Shambhala Publications. (Rinzai Schloegl)
3. Erich Fromm, D. T. Suzuki, Richard de Martino (1960). Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis. New York: Harper Colophon Books.
4. Suzuki, D. T. (1949). Essays in Zen Buddhism (First Series). New York: Grove Press.
Note by the editor:
This is a liberal combination of the work of three eminent translators. The extremely laconic nature of classical Chinese lends itself to multiple renditions into English, and often to different meanings; however the Master had only one meaning in mind. Two mistaken notions can mar some translations from Chinese and Sanskrit. The first is the belief that one can whimsically insert one’s assumptions about reality; the second is the idea that some passages were intended to be obscure to serve as subjects for meditation. Regarding the second, the task of a master is to make the truth clear, not to obscure it. There is usually a straightforward translation that will make a seemingly obscure passage clear, so it is the translator who needs to increase his insight.
In the matter of interpretation I always prefer Suzuki, but, as far as I know he only translated parts of the Record. I like the translations of Watson and Schloegl equally well because they are scholarly, literal (as opposed to liberal), and use appropriate English renderings. Schloegl is more laconic, allowing for more interpretation by the reader, while Watson is more verbose and commits himself to specific meanings. Both translations contain a few interpretive errors, but happily either one or the other provides a good translation in most cases.
Burton Watson has a prejudice against the supernormal powers of a Buddha. In Chapter 19, when Lin-chi states that an enlightened sage may have all that he or she wishes in the way of fine food and clothing, Watson explains, “Lin-chi is not suggesting that monks should take up luxurious ways, but is referring to conventional descriptions of the delights of the Buddhist Pure Land or paradise.” But that is not what Lin-chi means at all: a tathagata is the master of matter and energy.
On his part, Irmgard Schloegl has a prejudice against the state of non-doing of the sage. In Chapter 14, Watson translates a line thus: “the superior man knows now that from the first there’s never been anything that needed to be done.” Schloegl translates this as “if you know that fundamentally there is nothing to seek, you have settled your affairs.” Again, in Chapter 11, when the master says, “Who can see it like that is, for all his life, a man who has nothing further to do,” Schloegl renders it, “a man who has nothing further to seek.” He explains in his footnote that “‘Nothing further to do’ has a connotation of inactivity”; however, the the enlightened state is indeed characterized by inactivity.
Be that as it may, both translators take pains to document ambiguities in their footnotes, and it is only because they have done such a superb job that the reader has the luxury of considering different meanings.
Lin-chi says something interesting in Chapter 11:
“Followers of the Way, as I look at it we’re no different from Shakyamuni. Today in your manifold activities, what is it that you lack? The wonderful light of the six faculties has never for a moment ceased to shine” (Watson).
Both translators take the six faculties to be the six senses, but the master explains what he means in Chapter 19:
As I see things, all those supernormal powers are karmic and dependent. They are not the six supernormal powers the Buddha possessed: entering the realm of seeing without being deluded by forms; the realm of hearing without being deluded by sounds; the realm of smelling without being deluded by scents; the realm of taste without being deluded by tastes; the realm of feeling without being deluded by sensations; the realm of thinking without being deluded by thoughts. Therefore the six sense-fields of form, sound, scent, taste, sensation and thoughts are all [empty]; they cannot bind the man [who depends on nothing]. Though the five skandha are leaky by nature, when mastered they become your supernormal powers here on earth. (Chapter 19)
Of course, the six powers of a buddha are wonderful–they are free of karma and not dependent. But here Lin-chi tells us to forget about them and directs us instead to our six senses to show us that we already possess magical powers. We are born creating reality with every thought (expectation), and Lin-chi is saying that when we have mastered our minds, there is no limit to the ways in which we can manipulate reality.
– The Editor