(The complete “Treasury” – approx. 130 pgs. – should be finished soon, and will be posted on our new website, which we still believe will be appearing any day now.  Maybe.)

Treasury of the Forest of Ancestors

Part One: Dialogue Stories (Public Cases)

Once at Vulture Peak in India, before an assembly of innumerable beings gathered to hear the Dharma, The World-Honored One, Sakyamuni Buddha, simply held up a flower in silence.  The venerable ascetic Mahakasyapa broke into a smile.  The Buddha then said, ”I have the treasury of the true Dharma-eye, the wondrous mind of nirvana, which I now entrust to Mahakasyapa. Spread it though the future, never letting it die out.”

Langye Huijue said: Mahakasyapa did not know the World-Honored One’s samadhi.  Ananda did not know Mahakasyapa’s samadhi.  Sanavasin did not know Ananda’s samadhi.  Up to now, although I have samadhi, you  do not know it.

Eihei Dogen said: The World-Honored One  did not know the World-Honored One’s samadhi.  Mahakasyapa did not know Mahakasyapa’s samadhi.  Ananda did not know Ananda’s samadhi.  Sanavasin did not know Sanavasin’s samadhi.  I have samadhi, but I do not know it.  You  have samadhi but you do not know it.  (EK 4-278)

Dogen also said: Mahakasyapa’s face breaking into a smile has not yet ceased.  (EK 4-334)


Great Master Bodhidharma came from South India to China.  He traveled and taught widely in the Yangtse and Luoyang regions.  Once he met with the emperor Liang Wu Di (in Nanjing, on the lower Yangtse). The emperor, a devout supporter of Buddhist monasticism, asked him, “With all the temples I’ve built and monk ordinations I’ve sponsored what merit is there?”
Bodhidharma said, “No merit.”
The Emperor said, “Then what do you say is the deepest understanding of the sacred truth?”
Bodhidharma said, “Vast emptiness, nothing sacred.”
The Emperor demanded, “Who are you before me?!”
Bodhidharma said, “Don’t know!”

The emperor didn’t understand and Bodhidharma soon left and returned to the north.

When Bodhidharma was living in a cave beneath Shaoshi Peak on Mt. Song (in the Luoyang region), the monk Huike came to meet him. He asked the master, “My mind is not yet at peace. Would the teacher bring my mind to peace?”
Bodhidharma said, “Bring me your mind and I will set it at peace.”
After a pause Huike said, “Seeking my mind, I cannot grasp it anywhere.”
Bodhidharma, “There, I have brought your mind to peace.”
Huike had a deep realization.

After nine years on Mt. Song, Bodhidharma wanted to move on.  With the construction of Shaolin Temple nearby, a new government-supported Buddhist community was moving in.

Calling together his disciples he said, “The time to leave here is at hand.  Each of you say something to demonstrate your understanding.”
The senior disciple named Dao Fu said, “As I see it, it is not bound by words or phrases, nor is it separate from words and phrases.  This is the function of the Tao.”
Bodhidharma said, “You have attained my skin.”
The nun Zong Chi said, “According to my understanding it is like a glorious glimpse of the realm of Akshobhya Buddha* Seen once, it need not be seen again.”
Bodhidharma said, “You have attained my flesh.”
A disciple named Dao Yu said, “The four elements are all empty and the five skandhas are without actual existence. As I see it, there is not a single dharma to be grasped.”
Bodhidharma said, “You have attained my bones.”
Thereupon Huike bowed and stood up straight.
Bodhidharma said, “You have attained my marrow.”

Dogen said:

Later people believe that these are shallow and deep levels, but this is not the ancestor’s meaning. “You have my skin” is like speaking of lanterns and standing pillars. “You have my flesh” is like saying, “This very mind is Buddha.” “You have my bones” is like speaking of the mountains, rivers, and the great earth. “You have my marrow” is like twirling a flower and blinking the eyes. There is no shallow or deep, superior or inferior. If you can see like this, then you see the Ancestral Teacher, you see the Second Ancestor, and you can receive transmission of the robe and bowl.

The power of the buddha ancestor’s Dharma Wheel is great, turning the entire universe and turning each atom.
Even though the robe and bowl were transmitted into Huike’s hands, the Dharma is heard by and universally pervades every man and woman.

*Akshobhya means immovable, eternally steadfast & constant

Dazu Huike

Master Huike was from Wulao City, Henan. He entered monastic life at Dragon Gate Monastery on Fragrant Mountain in Luoyang. There he studied under a Zen Master named Baojing. When he learned about Master Bodhidharma, he went to meet him on Mt. Song, and stayed as his disciple for six years. After leaving the Luoyang region with his teacher and heading southeast toward the lower Yangtse, Huike settled on his own on Si Kong Mountain (in modern Anhui province) and practiced there for many years. On the mountain he met a lay practitioner who had a skin disease.

Once the layman asked Master Huike, “This diciple’s body is is bound up in illness. Master,

please help me repent for my sins.”

The master said, “Bring me your sins and I will absolve them for you.”

After a pause the layman said, “Looking for my sins, they are ungraspable.”

The ancestor said, “There, I have absolved your sins. From now on live in reliance on your true nature, on practice, and on spiritual community.”

Master Huike ordained the layman and gave him the name Sengcan. His illness subsided, and he later became Huike’s most famous disciple.

Huike eventually traveled north and west to the new capital of the Eastern Wei Dynasty called Ye (in modern Hebei Province). There he taught publicly, but also intermingled with lay society, including visits to wine-houses and brothels. He was sometimes seen living as a household servant. Once he gave a talk before the front gate of a temple while another lecture was going on inside, and a large crowd was drawn to hear him. He soon found himself resented and criticized by other religious teachers, and near the end of his life was condemned and persecuted by the local government. Later masters called it the “payment of a karmic debt” and Master Huike was said to bear his adversity with profound equanimity.

Dayi Daoxin (580-651) & Daman Hongren(602-675)

Master Jianzhi Sengcan lived a life of wandering in the mountains. At one of his retreats in the “Hidden Mountains” (the Chienshan range), the novice Daoxin, at age fourteen, once came seeking the teaching. Making prostrations he said, “I entreat the master, with your compassion, to give me the Dharma gate of release and liberation.”

The master said, “Who has bound you?”

The novice said, “Nobody bound me.”

The master said, “Then why are you seeking liberation?”

Daoxin, hearing these words, experienced a great awakening. He stayed with the master as a disciple for nine years.

Dogen’s verse:

A phoenix chick is born from a phoenix, but they are not the same.

A dragon gives birth to a dragon child, but they are not separate.

If you want to know the meaning of a wheel freely spinning,

Only someone turning somersaults can show you.

After leaving Master Sengcan, Daoxin spent ten years at Great Woods Temple on Hermitage Mountain (Lushan, in northern Jiangxi). This monastery was a famous center of learning for the Tiantai School, and for the study of the Prajna Paramita literature, both of which influenced Daoxin’s practice and teaching.

Eventually Master Daoxin was invited to teach in the Huangmei (Yellow Plum) region just north of the Yangtze in Hubei. He established and led a Zen training center at Secluded Abode Temple on Twin Peaks Mountain there for almost thirty years.

Up until that time, the newly emerging Zen movement was propagated amongst a small number of forest yogins and wandering mendicants. Daoxin helped bring Zen teaching and practice into the formal Buddhist monastery, combining it with the conventional practices of chanting, bowing, ritual and scripture study, and the observance of the vinaya codes of discipline. The Lankavatara Sutra was already influential in Zen circles, and Daoxin added an emphasis on the Prajna Paramita scriptures, particularly the Heart and Diamond Sutras. Master Daoxin was also known as a skilled practitioner of traditional medicine and healing arts.

Upon Daoxin’s death, he was succeeded by his most important disciple, Daman Hongren, a native of the region who had been with Daoxin from the beginning. Master Hongren continued Daoxin’s work of establishing a monastic community focused on the study and practice of Zen. As the reputation of the master and community spread, the population greatly increased, and Hongren started another center nine miles east at Fengmaoshan, which also came to be known as “East Mountain.” His community was known as the “East Mountain School” and out of this group came many prominent masters who spread the Zen movement throughout China including Shenxiu, Hui’an, and Huineng.

Niutou Farong (594-657) & The Oxhead School

Zen Master Niutou Farong came from Yanling in Runzhou (Jiangxi). While still a teenager he became well versed in Confucian classics, as well as Doaist ritual and philosophy, and traditional medicine. Upon reading the Prajna Paramita scriptures he had a deep realization and turned his attention to the Buddhadharma. He went to study with a master of the Sanlun school on Thatch Mountain and soon received ordination from him (the Sanlun school focused on the “Madhyamaka” tradition from India). Later, Farong went to live in a cave on Mt. Niutou (Ox Head Mountain) south of Hangzhou. His reputation for devoted practice began to spread, and, according to legend, he was once visited by Master Daoxin, who came to check out his understanding.

Master Daoxin found Farong sitting outside his cave hermitage near Secluded Perch Temple. Farong remained sitting perfectly still, taking no notice of the master even as he came up beside him. Daoxin asked, “What are you doing?”

Farong said, “Concentrating on mind.”

Daoxin asked, “Who is it who concentrates? And what is mind?”

Farong was stuck and couldn’t answer. He got up and paid respects to the master with a deep bow. As the two made their acquaintances and began to talk, a tiger and a wolf, wild friends of Farong, emerged from the woods. Daoxin raised his arms and gasped. Farong said, “Are you still like that?”

Daoxin said, “Like what?”

Farong was silent.

Daoxin went over to the rock on which Farong had first been sitting and scratched the character

“Buddha” with a stone. Farong raised his arms and gasped. Daoxin said, “Are you still like that?”

Farong said nothing. Then he asked the master to explain the meaning. Daoxin gave a teaching

(see Part 2 – Teachings) and Farong experienced a clarity that resolved his remaining doubts, and brought his understanding to maturation.

It was said that before Niutou Farong met Master Daoxin, birds would visit his hermitage and drop flowers on him. After his meeting with the master, this

never happened again.

Once a monk asked the later Master Nanquan, “Before Niutou Farong met

Master Daoxin, why did hundreds of birds bring flowers in their beaks

and offer them to him?”

Nanquan said, “Step by step Niutou climbed the buddha-ladder.”

The monk then asked, “Why didn’t the birds offer flowers after Niutou met

Master Daoxin?”

Nanquan said, “Even if he hadn’t climbed the buddha-ladder, he’s still on

Teacher Wang’s single road.”

Once a monk asked Master Deshan Yuanmi (a disciple of Yunmen),

“How was it before Niutou met Master Daoxin?”

Yuanmi said, “In the autumn, yellow leaves fall.”

The monk asked, “How was it after he met him?”

Yuanmi said, “In spring, green grass grows of itself.”

Farong remained on Oxhead Mountain and, as students sought him out, he began to teach. Several generations later the practice community on the mountain that remained inspired by his example became known as the “Oxhead School”of Zen, and had a strong influence on the wider Zen movement.

In the eighth century an Oxhead School teacher named Daoqin (or Faqin) established a practice center on Mt. Jing in the same Hangzhou region as Oxhead Mountain. Here many students gathered to study with him, including the monks Daowu and Tianran, to whom he was an important early influence. Both these students later went on to study with the great masters Shitou and Mazu, and eventually became influential teachers themselves. Master Mazu was known to have corresponded with Master Daoqin, and most likely recommended to someof his students to visit his center.

Another important Oxhead teacher was a Dharma brother of Daoqin’s named Wuxing Fahai. He is thought by some scholars to have been the real author of the famous “Scripture from the Teaching-Platform of the Sixth Ancestor” that was traditionally attributed to Dajian Huineng, and contains both the teaching of Master Huineng and his legendary autobiography.

A famous disciple of Master Daoqin’s was the hermit-monk Daolin. He was said to practice sitting-zen high in the branches of an evergreen tree, and thus earned the nickname “Master Bird’s Nest”. For a while the well-known poet and government official Bo Juyi was his student, and once he came to visit the master at his tree-sit. Bo asked, “Master, isn’t it dangerous up there”

The master replied, “Isn’t your position more dangerous?”

Later Bo asked, “What is the essence of the Dharma?”

The master replied, “Never do any evil, always do good, and purify the mind.”

Bo said, “Yes, but any child of three knows enough to say that.”

The master said, “A three-year-old can say it, but a man of eighty still doesn’t practice it.”

Songshan Hui’an (582-709)

Zen Master Hui’an (also known as Lao’an) was from Zhijiang in Jingzhou (modern Hubei). As a young man he became a monk without government sanction or official connection to a monastery, and during a government crackdown against such ordinations he fled to the forests and began a life of wandering in the mountains. During a period of food shortages associated with a major canal construction project, Hui’an, still in his twenties, began to collect extra food to distribute to the needy. From this work his reputation began to grow, and eventually he was invited to receive honors at the royal court. Hui’an turned down the offer, and instead returned to a life of backcountry retreat. He entered the Heng Mountains in Hunan and focused on meditation there for many years. Eventually, already in his fourties or fifties, he decided to investigate the growing Zen community at Huangmei, and arrived there at the end of Master Daoxin’s life. Staying on to study with Master Hongren, Hui’an’s understanding and practice came to maturation , and he became recognized as a prominent teacher of the “East Mountain” School.

When Hui’an was again invited to court for honors, he again refused , and, like before, decided to drop out of view by returning to the wandering yogi life in the mountains. He first went to live in a cave retreat on Zhongnan Mountain south of Chang’an for several years, and then moved to a hut in the misty mountains of Huatai near Luoyang. By imperial edict a monastery was built near his hut for Hui’an to lead, but the aging master declined the post and instead resumed his wandering. After first spending some time at the famous Jade Spring Monastery in Jingzhou where his now well-known Dharma brother Shenxiu was teaching, Master Hui’an finally settled on Mt. Song and began to teach at Virtuous Gathering Temple.

During this time the Empress Wu Zetian had ascended to power, and she proved an enthusiastic supporter of the many disciples of Master Hongren who were spreading the East Mountain School teachings of Zen. As Master Hui’an was one of the senior teachers of this circle, the Empress made a personal visit to Virtuous Gathering Temple. Once again invited for honors at court, the master finally relented, and his subsequent visit yielded some memorable Zen stories.

While staying at the royal palace, Master Hui’an was offered a bath by the Empress to be administered by attractive female attendants. Unperturbed and with complete composure, Hui’an went about enjoying his bath. The empress (assumingly watching) was deeply impressed, and she was said to remark, “Only through seeing him enter the water can you learn of the existence of a superior man.”

Another time at the court, the empress requested an audience with Master Hui’an during which she asked him his age. The master replied, “I don’t remember.”

The empress said, “Really? How could that be?”

The master said, “This body is subject to birth and death in cycles without beginning or end. What is the point of noting progress in years? Awareness flows like water – grasping at the arising and disappearing of bubbles is just deluded thinking. Life from birth to death is just the same – why mark it with months or years?” The empress had a deep understanding and bowed in gratitude.

Master Hui’an returned to Mt. Song and lived out the last few years of his long life at Shaolin Monastery. He was said to have lived to the extraordinary age of 128. Days before his passing he asked his disciples to take care of his body after death by simply leaving it in the forest and entrusting it to nature.

Hui’an’s practice legacy was characterized by a deep reverence for nature and the hermit life, much like the Daoist tradition, and also notable in the Oxhead School of Zen. His influence also inspired a lifestyle of freedom and independence from social regulation and hierarchy. When Hui’an’s disciple Fuxian Renjian was called before Empress Wu he refused to speak, instead only presenting her with a collection of his poems, and then refusing the gifts she offered in return. One of the poems had the line, “Today I entrust all to destiny, cavorting freely,” from which came his nickname Tengteng (“Freely Cavorting”).

Another of Hui’an’s disciples, Jingzang, spent more than ten years with his teacher until the master’s death, and then traveled south to study with Hui’an’s more obscure Dharma brother Huineng. After several years with Huineng, Jingzang returned north, eventually settling back on Mt. Song, at a sub-temple of Virtuous Gathering Monastery that had been built as a memorial to Master Hui’an. Here he eventually began to teach. Despite his time spent with Huineng, who would later become legendary, Jingzang remained dedicated to the memory of his original teacher Hui’an.

A monk named Huairang was another student of Hui’an’s who, perhaps on the master’s advice, also traveled south to study with Huineng. Huairang, however, remained in the south after his time with Huineng, and became an important figure in the later history of Zen as the teacher of the influential Master Mazu.

Dajian Huineng (638-713)

Master Dajian Huineng was from the far southern city of Guangzhou. Unlike most teachers in the Zen tradition, he was from a poor family, and also was likely a member of the Hmong, or Miao, ethnic minority. His father had died when he was a small child, and as a youth he collected firewood from the hills and sold it to support his mother and himself.

One day in the market he happened to hear a monk reciting the Diamond Sutra, and when he heard the line, “A Bodhisattva should arose awareness without dwelling on anything,” he had a sudden realization of his true self. Inspired to practice, he asked the monk where he might go to deepen his understanding, and the monk told him of his teacher Master Hongren in Huangmei. The young man made some arrangement for the welfare of his mother, perhaps with the aid of this monk or another local Buddhist supporter, and soon set off northward for Huangmei.

When he arrived at the East Mountain Monastery and asked for the master’s instruction, he was simply put to work with the field laborers winnowing rice. Several months later, he heard that Master Hongren had invited all the monks of the monastery to try composing a verse that would show their understanding of the Way of Awakening. The verses were to be written on a certain wall in the temple. The young wood-seller, being illiterate, asked a friendly monk to read him what the head monk had written. The head monk’s verse read:

The body is the Bodhi Tree,

the mind is the stand for a bright mirror-

at all times diligently polish

to remain untainted by dust.

He then asked the monk to help him write his own verse on the wall:

Bodhi has no tree,

nor is there a stand for the mirror.

Our true nature is forever pure,

so where can dust gather?

When Master Hongren read the first verse, he praised the head monk’s sentiments. When he read the young man’s verse he recognized the deep realization behind it, but pointed out to those present that, “This is still not complete understanding.” Later that night, however, he met privately with the young Huineng and expressed approval for his insight. He then instructed the young man to leave the monastery to avoid contention, and practice in seclusion. Huineng then went to live with hunters and woodsmen in the forest, as well as workers and merchants in towns, and remained in obscurity for sixteen years.

(Another, later version of Huineng’s famous poem has a different third line.

It changes the positive, Yogacarya-like view of the oldest surviving

version above, to a more negating Madhyamaka-like view:

Bodhi has no tree,

nor is there a stand for the mirror.

Originally there is not a single thing,

so where can dust gather?)

One day many years later in the south of China, the priest Yinzong, who had studied with Master Hongren, was giving a lecture on the Mahaparinirvana Scripture at Dharma Uprising Monastery. During the talk a storm began brewing and the wind grew strong. Seeing the monastery banner flapping in the wind, a monk asked if it was the wind that was moving, or the flag. One monk said “It’s the wind that moves,” and another said , “It’s the flag that moves.” The two stuck to their viewpoints and asked Yinzong to say who was right. But Yinzong was unable to resolve it. Huineng, who had been sleeping under the eaves of the temple, offered to help.

“Neither the wind nor the flag is moving,” he said.

“Then what is it that is moving?” asked Yinzong.

“Your mind is moving,” said Huineng.

In a later time the nun Miaoxin said:

“It is neither the wind nor the flag nor the mind that is moving.”

Yinzong soon ordained Huineng as a monk, and then became his disciple. Huineng finally began to teach at Precious Woods Monastery at Cao Creek (Caoxi), east of the town of Shaozhou in the southern province of Guangdong. (The Monastery is today called Nanhua – “Southern Blossom”).

Qingyuan Xingsi (660-740)

There is little recorded about the early life of Master Xingsi of Qingyuan Mountain. He was from central Jiangxi, and like many monks he left home at a young age to become a novice. We are told that whenever there was a gathering that discussed the Way, he always remained silent. At some point he traveled south to study with Master Huineng at Caoxi.

Once Xingsi asked the master, “What is the practice that does not fall into stages?”

The master said, “What have you been doing?”

Xingsi said, “I don’t even practice the four noble truths.”

The master said, “What stages have you fallen into?”

Xingsi said, “Without even studying the noble truths, what stages could I have fallen into?”

The master said, “Just so, just so. You should maintain it well.”

After studying with Master Huineng, Xingsi returned to his native region and settled at Quite Abode Temple on Qingyuan (Green Origin) Mountain in Jizhou (modern Ji’an in Jiangxi Province). When the monk Xiqian came to study wit him, Master Qingyuan Xingsi asked him, “Where have you come from?”

Xiqian said, “From Caoxi.”

The master held up his whisk and said, “Do they have this in Caoxi?”

Xiqian said, “Not in Caoxi, nor even in India.”

The master said, “You haven’t been to India, have you?”

Xiqian said, “If I had been there, it would have been there.”

The master said, “If you haven’t been there, how can you say that? Try again!”

Xiqian said, “Master, you should say something. Don’t rely on your disciple for all of it.”

The master said, “It’s not that I mind saying something, but I fear that there will be no one to

carry on my practice.”

(Xiqian later became the most illustrious disciple of Master Qingyuan)

The monk Shenhui once came to visit Master Qingyuan.

The master asked, “Where have you come from?”

Shenhui said, “From Caoxi.”

The master asked, “What is the essential doctrine of Caoxi?”

Shenhui suddenly stood up strait.

The master said, “So, you’re still just carrying around common clay tiles.”

Shenhui asked, “Does the master have any gold here to give people?”

The master said, “I don’t have any. Where would you go to find some?”`

Once a monk asked Qingyuan, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from India?”

The master said, “It’s just like this!”

The monk asked further, “What do you have to teach these days?”
The master said, “Come closer.”

The monk moved closer.

The master said, “Keep this in mind.”

Nanyue Huairang (677-744)

Master Huairang of Nanyue first left home at the age of fifteen to become a novice. He later received full ordination at Jade Spring Monastery in Jingzhou (Hubei). Huairang stayed on for some time at this prominent monastic center, which was famous for the study of religious discipline (vinaya) and the philosophy of the Tiantai School. At this time Zen practice was also being taught there by Master Shenxiu, one of the most well-known disciples of Master Hongren of the East Mountain School. Not satisfied with the teaching he found there, Huairang heard about the aging Master Hui’an, an older Dharma brother of Shenxiu, and he traveled to Mt. Song to study with him. In this new community Huairang’s practice began to mature, but after some time he grew interested in checking out other teachers. Learning about Master Huineng, perhaps from Master Hui’an himself, Huairang decided to travel south and investigate the teaching and community at Caoxi.

When Huairang first arrived, Master Huineng asked, “Where did you come from?”

Huairang said, “From Mt. Song.”

The master asked, “What is it that has come?”

Huairang was stuck and couldn’t answer. He then decided to stay and practice there.

Eight years later Huairang one day said to Master Huineng, “Now I have an understanding.”

Huineng asked, “What is it?”

Huairang said, “To say or do anything misses the mark.”

Huineng asked further, “Then is there any real practice and awakening?”

Huairang said, “It’s not that there isn’t practice and awakening, it’s just that they can’t be defiled.”

Huineng said, “Just this that can’t be defiled is what is upheld and sustained by all the awakened ones. You are like this, I am like this, all the ancestors in India were like this.”

After serving Master Huineng for several more years, Huairang traveled northwest and settled on South Peak (Nanyue) in the sacred Mt. Heng area of Hunan. Many spiritual practitioners, both Daoist and Buddhist, had long gathered in these hills and built their huts and temples. Here Huairang would meet both of the monks who would later become the two most influential masters in the development and spreading of the Zen tradition in Tang Dynasty China. To one he would become an important teacher, and to the other he was most likely at least a supporter and friend.

Nearby Huairang’s temple on South Peak, a young monk named Daoyi had built a hermitage and was gaining a reputation as a diligent meditation practitioner. Master Huairang went to visit him to examine his understanding, and found him sitting outside near his hermitage. Huairang asked him, “What does your worthiness intend to accomplish by sitting in meditation?”

Daoyi said, “I intend to become a buddha.”

Huairang then picked up a piece of ceramic roofing tile from the ground and began grinding it on a rock.

Daoyi asked, “What are you doing?”

Huairang said, “I’m polishing this tile to make a mirror.”

Daoyi asked, “How are you going to make a mirror by polishing a tile on a rock?”

Huairang said, “How are you going to make a buddha by sitting in meditation?”

Daoyi was taken aback. After a pause he asked, “What is the correct way?”

Huairang said, “Think about driving an ox-cart. When it stops moving do you whip the cart or the ox?”

Daoyi didn’t answer.

Then Huairang said, “Is your sitting an attempt to practice Zen, or to be an awakened one? If you really understand what Zen-sitting is, you’d know that Zen is not about sitting or lying down. If you want to know the sitting of an awakened one, then you must understand that awakening has no fixed form. In this ephemeral, changing world, you should give up both grasping and rejecting. If you sit in order to become awakened, you destroy awakening. If you’re attached to the form of sitting, then you haven’t yet reached the essential understanding.

When Daoyi heard this, he felt like he had drunk sweet nectar.

Dogen said:

Polishing a tile to make a mirror is diligent effort.


Polishing a tile to make a mirror is our reward for accumulating merit and virtue.

He also said:

Instead of hitting the ox, you should hit the cart.


When one cart is hit, many carts go quickly.

Once a monk asked Master Nanyue Huairang, “If a bronze mirror is melted down and cast into a statue, where does the bright reflection go?”

Huairang said, “Venerable, your face when you were a child and hadn’t yet left home – where has it gone?”

The monk said nothing. Then after a pause he asked, “After the statue is completed, how come it doesn’t reflect and illuminate any more?”

Huairang said, “Although it doesn’t reflect and illuminate, it’s not deceiving you.”

Nanyang Huizhong (676-776)

Little is recorded about the early life of Master Huizhong, but he was a student of Master Huineng, and after leaving Caoxi he settled in the Nanyang region of Hunan and remained there for forty years, becoming a prominent teacher.

Once a monk asked Master Huizhong, “What is the original body of Vairochana Buddha?”

The master said, “Bring me the water jar.” The monk went and got the water jar. Then the master said, “Now put it back where it was.” The monk put it back and then asked the same question.again.

The master said, “The old buddha has been gone for a long time.”

As Master Huizhong’s reputation spread, he was eventually summoned to the royal court in Chang’an by the Tang Emperor Xuanzong. There he was installed as the “National Teacher” and served as spiritual mentor to three successive emperors.

Once the emperor asked Master Huizhong, “What is a person whose ‘ten bodies’ are complete?”

The master stood up and said, “Do you understand?”

The emperor said, “No, I don’t.”

The master said, “Your majesty, please pass the water jar.”

Once a spiritual teacher from India (later remembered as “Big Ears”) who was said to have the ability to read minds, was visiting Chang’an and was invited to the court. Emperor Suzong called on Master Huizhong to test the visitor’s powers. Huizhong asked the psychic, “Where do you say I am right now in my thoughts?”

The psychic said, “Although the master is a teacher of the nation, he has gone to watch boat races on the West River.”

Huizhong asked again, “Now where do you say I am?”

The psychic said, “Although the master is a teacher of the nation, he has gone to Tianjin Bridge and is watching monkeys playing.”

Then Huizhong asked a third time, “Now where do you say I am?”

This time the psychic said nothing.

Huizhong shouted, “You wild fox–spirit! Where is your mind-reading power now?”

A monk once asked the later master Zhaozhou where Master Huizhong

was the third time. Zhaozhou said, “He was on the psychic’s nose.”

A monk asked the master Xuansha why, if Huizhong was on the psychic’s

nose, he couldn’t be seen. Xuansha said, “Exactly because he was so close.”

(Master Haihui Shouduan said, “Huizhong was inside the psychic’s eyeball.”)

Xuansha also questioned, “What did the psychic really see the first two times?”

Dogen said:

On behalf of the psychic (when questioned by Huizhong) I would say,

“This autumn morning the frost is cold. I humbly wish that the teacher’s

health and activities will be filled with blessings.”

Dogen also said:

Do you want to understand the awakened ancestors’ supernatural abilities?

The manifestation of spiritual powers is bringing a basin of water and

making tea.

Master Huizhong lived a long life of a hundred years, during which several generations of aspiring teachers came to visit him to check their understanding. He was severe and uncompromising in his responses:

When the monk Baoche came to visit Master Huizhong, the monk circled the teacher’s seat three times, then struck his staff on the ground and stood there upright. The master said, “You are thus. I also am thus.”

Baoche struck his staff on the ground again.

The master said, “Get out of here, you wild fox-spirit!”

When Master Huizhong was nearing death, the Emperor Daizong asked him, “After you have gone, how should your disciple memorialize you?”

The master said, “Please build me a seamless monument.”

After a long silence he asked the emperor, “Do you understand?”

The emperor said, “No.”

The master said, “After I’m gone my disciple Yingzhen can help you. Please ask him about it.”

Shitou Xiqian (700-790)

Great Master Shitou Xiqian grew up near Guangzhou in the far south. As a small child he visited a Buddhist temple with his mother, who brought him in front of the Buddha image, told him to bow down, and said, “This is Buddha.” After he bowed, the child looked at the image for awhile and then said, “This is only a human being, If he is called a Buddha, then I want to be one too.”

In his village there were animal sacrifices performed to appease demons, and as a boy the master would go into the woods, destroy the ceremonial alters, free the animals,and drive them away. This went on for several years and the village elders were never able to stop him.

At only thirteen years old Xiqian traveled to Caoxi and became a novice under Master Huineng. Soon after the master passed away. Most likely Xiqian then stayed in the area, and was eventually ordained at the relatively late age of 28 at the famous Luofu Mountain in Guangzhou. He then traveled north to study with Master Qingyuan Xingsi, the disciple of Huineng, in central Jiangxi..

One version of his first meeting with Master Qingyuan goes like this:

The master asked, “Where have you come from?”

Xiqian said, “From Caoxi.”

The master asked, “What did you bring with you?”

Xiqian said, “That which had never been lost even before I went to Caoxi.”

The master said, “Then why did you go there at all?”
Xiqian said, “If I hadn’t gone there, how could I have realized that it had never been lost?”
The master approved.

Then Xiqian asked him, “Did you know the master of Caoxi?”

The master said, “Do you know me now or not?”
Xiqian said, “Though I might know you, how can I fully realize it?”

The master then welcomed Xiqian into the community.

Xiqian had a profound awakening on reading a passage from the commentaries of Seng Zhao (a disciple of the Indian translator Kumarajiva). The passage read: “The ultimate self is empty and void. Though it lacks form, the myriad things are all of its making. One who realizes that the myriad things are one’s own self is no different from the sages.”

One day Master Qingyuan said to Xiqian, “Everyone’s saying that something’s going on in Lingnan.” (the “southern mountains”, where the Zen movement was growing).

Xiqian replied, “There is someone who doesn’t say that something’s going on in Lingnan.”

The master said, “If so, then where do you say all the teachings come from?”

Xiqian said, “They all come from this right here, and nothing is lacking.”

The master approved.

After Master Qingyuan”s passing, Xiqian traveled to the Mt. Heng region in Hunan, and built a grass-thatched hut for himself on a stone ledge that was exposed on the side of a hill. Because of his hermitage on the rock, Xiqian soon became known as Shitou Hoshang (Monk “Rocky-Top”).

Having settled close to his Dharma uncle, Nanyue Huairang, the two were almost certain to have been in contact. One account (in the Zutangji) records a conversation between Xiqian and Master Huairang:

Xiqian asked, “What do we do when teachers are no longer needed, but one’s understanding hasn’t been recognized?”

Huairang said, “That’s difficult. How about asking something more simple?”

Xiqian said, “Even being reborn endlessly, we can’t reach liberation by following others.”

Master Huairang was silent. Xiqian departed.

Later an attendent monk came and reported to Master Huairang, “The monk who came to ask you questions recently – the one who was quite disrespectful – he’s now practicing on a rock ledge to the east of here.”

The master told the attendant, “Go over and tell him that a person of such strong intention would be welcome to practice here in our temple.”

The attendent delivered the message, but Xiqian declined the offer.

Huairang said, “Nobody will ever get the better of this man.”

Master Huairang later helped to arrange the building of a small temple for Xiqian near the site of his hut. Xiqian soon began to attract students, and , known as Master Shitou, eventually became one of the most influential teachers in the Zen tradition.

Once a monk asked Master Shitou, “What’s the significance of Bodhidharma’s coming from India?”

The master said, “Ask the post over there.”

The monk said, “I don’t understand.”

The master said, “I don’t understand either.”

Once a monk named Shili asked, “What are monks supposed to do?”

Master Shitou said, “What are you asking me for?”

Shili said, “If I don’t ask you, how can I find the truth?”

Shitou said, “Are you sure you’ve lost it?”

The monk Daowu once asked, “Who has attained the essential principle of the teacher of Caoxi?”

Master Shitou said, “The one who understands the teachings of Buddhism.”

Daowu asked, “Then have you attained it?”

The master said, “I haven’t attained it.”

Daowu asked, “Why not?”

The master said, “Because I don’t understand Buddhism.”

Another time Daowu asked, “What is the fundamental teaching of the Buddha Way?”

Master Shitou said, “Not attaining, not knowing – you already have it.”

Daowu asked, “Is there anything beyond this?”

The master said, “White clouds pass freely through the vast sky.”

When the monk Baotong first came to study with Master Shitou, the master asked him, “Can you show me your mind?”

Baotong replied, “That which distinguishes your words is my mind.”

The master shouted and drove him away.

Later Baotong again approached the master and said, “If what I said last time isn’t my mind, then what is?”

The master said, “Without raising your eyebrows or blinking your eyes, show me your mind.”

Baotong said, “I don’t have any particular mind to show you.”

The master said, “Originally you do have a mind, so why say you don’t? If you deny it, it’s just lying.”

At this Baotong had a realization.

Another time Baotong asked Master Shitou, “An ancient said that it’s mistaken to believe in the Way, and also mistaken to believe that there isn’t a Way. I ask the master to please explain.”

Master Shitou said, “There’s not a thing here; what do you want me to explain?”

Baotong was silent. Then the master said, “Throw away your throat, mouth, and lips and let’s see what you can say.”

Baotong said, “There’s nothing left.”

The master said, “If that’s really so, then you’ve entered the gate.”

A monk named Huilang once asked Master Shitou, “What is the awakened one?”

The master said, “You don’t have awakened mind.”

Huilang, dejected, said, “I’m just human. I know I run around and have all kinds of ideas.”

The master said, “Active people with ideas still have awakened mind.”

Huilang asked, “Then why don’t I ?”

The master said, “Because you’re not satisfied to be just human.”

Huilang had a deep realization.

The monk Changzi Kuang once returned from a pilgrimage to continue his study with Master Shitou. The master asked him, “Where have you been?”

Kuang said, “To Master Huineng’s memorial shrine at Caoxi.”

The master asked, “Did visiting there bring you any merit?”

Kuang said, “I’ve had some insight, but I haven’t been able to ‘open the eyes’ of the awakened one.”

The master said, “Do you want to ‘open the eyes’?”

Kuang said, “Please, master, help me do so.”

The master suddenly kicked out his leg right at the monk.

Kuang had a deep realization, and made a prostration.

The master asked, “Why do you bow?”

Kuang said, “It’s like a flake of snow landing on a red-hot furnace.”

The monk Lingmo once came to study with Master Shitou and said, “If you can give me one phrase of awakening I will stay; if not, I will leave.”

The master ignored him.

Lingmo shook out the sleeves of his robe, and walked away. When he got to the temple gate, the master called out, “Venerable!”

Lingmo turned his head.

The master said, “From birth till death, just this! Why are you still searching?”

Lingmo had a deep awakening.

Mazu Daoyi (709-788)

Great Master Mazu Daoyi came from Hanzhou, near Chengdu city, in the far western province of Sichuan. He entered monastic life in his teens and studied first with Master Chuji, a prominent teacher of Zen in Sichuan. Chuji was a disciple of Master Zishen, who had studied with Master Hongren of the East Mountain School at Huangmei. The young Daoyi most likely also studied with, or at least knew, the prominent Sichuan Zen teacher Wuxiang (originally from Korea), who was an older disciple of Chuji.

Daoyi received full ordination at age twenty in his home province, and not long after he traveled to the east to meet other teachers. He first stayed at Bright Moon Mountain in Jingzhou (in present Hubei province) where he focused on meditation. Continuing his pilgrimage, he traveled south to the Mt. Heng region in Hunan and settled on South Peak. There he met Master Huairang and became his disciple.

After several years practicing with Master Huairang, and possibly meeting Master Shitou, Daoyi left South Peak and headed east. He first settled at Buddha Footprint Grotto in Jianyang (Fujian province) and began to teach. As his family name was “Ma,” he was soon known as Master Ma, and later as Mazu (Ancestor Ma).

A monk asked, “What is the essential meaning of the Buddhadharma?”

Master Ma said, “What is the meaning of this moment?”

Master Huairang, upon hearing that Daoyi had begun to teach, asked the community, “Has Master Ma spoken the Dharma to the assembly?”

The monks said, “He has.”

Huairang sent a monk to Master Ma’s place, instructing him to wait for the master to give a teaching in the Dharma Hall, and then to ask him, “How is it?” and bring back the response.

The monk did as he was asked, and reported, “Master Ma said, ‘Since leaving confusion behind many years ago, there has never been a lack of salt and soy sauce.’”

Huairang approved.

The monk Huihai was among the earliest of Mazu’s students who would later come to prominence as a teacher. When he first came to see Master Ma, the master asked him, “Where are you coming from?”

Huihai said, “From Great Cloud Monastery in Yuezhou.”
The master asked, “What is you intention in coming here?”

Huihai said, “I have come here to seek the Buddhadharma.”

The master said, “Without looking at your own treasure, for what purpose are you leaving your home and wandering around? Here I do not have a single thing. What Buddhadharma are you looking for?”

Huihai bowed and asked, “What is my own treasure?”

The master said, “That which is asking me right now is your own treasure – perfectly complete, it lacks nothing. You are free to use it, why are you seeking outside?”

Upon hearing this, Huihai realized the original mind without relying on knowledge and understanding. He stayed with the master as his disciple for six years.

Later he returned to Yuezhou to care for his original teacher who was aging. When Master Ma saw his writings he said to the community, “In Yuezhou there is a great pearl; its brilliance shines freely without obstruction.” Thereafter Huihai was known as “Dazhu” (Great Pearl).

After some time Master Ma left Fujian and moved west into Jiangxi, first teaching at Xili Mountain in Linchuan (Riverview). There he met his future disciple Huizang:

One day a hunter, who disliked monks, passed by Master Ma’s hermitage as he was chasing a herd of deer. The master greeted him. The hunter asked, “Has the Venerable seen a herd of deer passing by?

The master asked, “Who are you?”

The hunter replied, “I’m a hunter.”

The master asked, “Do you know how to shoot?”

The hunter said, “Yes, I know.”
The master said, “How many deer can you shoot with a single arrow?”
The hunter said, “With a single arrow I can shoot only one.”

The master said, “You don’t know how to shoot.”
The hunter asked, “Does the Venerable know how to shoot?”
The master said, “Yes, I know.”
The hunter asked, “How many can the Venerable shoot with a single arrow?”
The master said, “With a single arrow I can shoot the whole herd.”
The hunter said, “They all possess life; why shoot the whole herd?”
The master said, “If you know that, then why don’t you shoot yourself?”
The hunter replied, “You ask me to shoot myself…I can’t do that.”
The master said, “Ah, this person. All his ignorance and defilements accumulated over vast ages have today suddenly come to an end.” At that point the hunter destroyed his bow and arrows and cut off his hair with a knife. He was ordained the monk Huizang with Master Ma and went to work in the monastery kitchen. Eventually he became a teacher at Mt. Shigong.

After teaching at Linchuan for several years, Mazu moved south and headed a monastery on Gonggong Mountain in Qianzhou. There his reputation began to spread and he attracted many students including the future masters Baizhang Huaihai, Yanguan Qi’an, and Xitang Zhizang as well as the local official Pei Xu who became an important supporter and patron.

Finally Master Ma, leaving the center at Gonggong Mountain in the hands of his disciple Zhizang, moved north to Hongzhou City (present day Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi) with the rest of his senior students when he was appointed abbot of a prominent monastery there. This monastery had recently been renamed Open Source (Kaiyuan)Temple by Emperor Xuanzong, and was included as part of a network of state sponsored monasteries of the same name. (Today this monastery is known as Youmin Temple). Here in Hongzhou Master Ma spent the last twenty years of his life teaching a large number of students; the new disciples joining him here included the future masters Nanquan Puyuan, Fenzhou Wuye, and Guizong Zhichang. Master Ma became the most famous Zen Master of his era, and the network of his students, known as the “Hongzhou School”, emerged as the most prominent force in the Tang dynasty Zen movement.

The monk Wuye came to visit Master Ma and said, “I have studied the Three Vehicles and have been able to roughly understand their meaning. But when I’ve heard about the teaching of the Zen school that ‘mind is Buddha’ – this is something that I have not yet been able to understand.”

Master Ma said, “This very mind that does not understand is it. There is no other thing.”

Wuye asked further, “What is the mind-seal that Bodhidharma has secretly transmitted from India?”

Master Ma said, “The venerable sounds rather disturbed right now. Go and come back another time.”

As Wuye was just about to step out, the master called him, “Venerable!” Wuye turned his head and the master asked, “What is it?” On hearing this Wuye experienced an awakening. He bowed to the master, who said, “This stupid fellow! What is this bowing all about?”

One day Master Ma sent out a messenger with a letter to Master Jingshan Daoqin (of the Oxhead School) in Hangzhou. In the letter was a single circle. Daoqin made one horizontal stroke within the circle, sealed the envelope again and sent it back. When Master Nanyang heard about this he said, “Teacher Daoqin is still misled by Master Ma.”

The monk Huaihai once asked the master, “What is the essential import of this school?”
The master said, “It’s just the place where you let go of your body and life.”

One evening the monks Zhizang, Huaihai, and Puyuan were out viewing the moon with Master Ma. The master asked them, “At just this moment, what is it?”
Zhizang said, “A perfect offering.”

Huaihai said, “Perfect Practice.”

Puyuan shook his sleeves and walked away.

The master said, “The sutras enter the treasury (zang); Zen returns to the ocean (hai); only the universal vow (puyuan) goes beyond things.”

Dogen comments:

Making offerings, cultivating practice, shaking his sleeves and leaving;

these three people are just right to complete one full moon. (EK 1, 13)

Toward the end of his life Master Ma left Open Source Monastery to live at Writing Pool Temple on the quiet and secluded Stone Gate Mountain. When he became ill, the temple director came to check on him and asked, “How is the master’s health today?”

The master said, “Sun-faced Buddha, moon-faced Buddha.”

Yaoshan Weiyan (745-828)

Great Master Yaoshan Weiyan came from Jiangzhou (now Xinjiang City) in the northern province of Shanxi. He left home at seventeen and traveled south, eventually becoming a novice under the Zen teacher Huizhao in the southeastern province of Fuzhou. (In this community the future master Baizhang Huaihai also trained as a young novice at around this time, and the two were likely students together). After a few years, Weiyan traveled to the famous Heng Mountain region in Hunan for his full ordination, and then remained there to study the scriptures and the codes of monastic discipline. Feeling the limitations of this approach, Weiyan resolved to find a true teacher, and so went to investigate Master Shitou who was living in the same region.

At their first meeting Weiyan said, “I have a general understanding of the ‘Three Vehicles’ and the ‘Twelve Divisions of Scripture’. Now I’d like to find out about this ‘southern’ teaching of pointing directly at mind, seeing self-nature, and becoming awakened. I’m not clear about this approach – I ask for the master’s compassionate instruction.”

Master Shitou said, “You can’t attain it this way. You can’t attain it some other way, either. Trying to attain it this way or that way, it can’t be attained. What will you do?”

Weiyan didn’t understand, and said nothing. Feeling that this young monk’s affinity at this point might be elsewhere, Shitou suggested that he might go visit the famous Master Ma in Jiangxi. Weiyan took the advice and set off.

After entering Master Ma’s community, Weiyan asked the master the same question he had asked Shitou: “I’m not yet clear about the teaching of pointing directly at mind, seeing self-nature, and realizing awakening. I sincerely ask for the master’s instruction.”

Master Ma said, “Sometimes I teach it by raising my eyebrows and blinking my eyes. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes raising the eyebrows and blinking the eyes shows it. Sometimes it doesn’t. What is there to do?”

At these words Weiyan had a deep realization. He stayed on at the monastery and soon became Master Ma’s attendant. After three years the master sent him off on pilgrimage to visit other teachers, and Weiyan decided to give Master Shitou another try. He traveled back to the Heng Mountains and settled into Shitou’s community

One day, as Weiyan was sitting, Master Shitou asked him, “What are you doing here?”

Weiyan said, “I’m not doing anything.”

The master said, “Then you’re just sitting idly.”

Weiyan said, “If I were sitting idly, I’d be doing something.”

The master said, “Okay, you’re not doing anything. But what is it you’re not doing?”

Weiyan said, “Even a thousand sages don’t know.”

The master approved.

Once when Master Shitou was giving a teaching to the community he said, “Words and actions cannot reach the truth.”

Weiyan responded, “No words and no actions also cannot reach the truth.”

The master said, “In this place, even a needle cannot be stuck in.”

Weiyan said, “In this place, it’s like trying to plant flowers on a bare rock.”

The master approved.

After studying with Master Shitou, Weiyan eventually settled on Medicine Mountain (Yaoshan) in Lizhou (more northern Hunan), and began to teach a small community there. His place was known for the austere simplicity of the living conditions, and it was said that there were sometimes less than ten students living there, but their practice was wholehearted.

One of the rarely recorded instances of a classical master commenting on sitting practice occurred when a student asked Master Yaoshan Weiyan, “What do you think about when you’re engaged in steadfast, immovable sitting?”

Master Yaoshan replied, “I think of not thinking.”

The student asked, “How do you think of not thinking?”

Yaoshan said, “It’s beyond thinking.”

Dogen comments:

The present mind is already fading. No- mind has not yet appeared.

In the vitality of this lifetime, (the ground of) purity is the ultimate.

Dogen also said:

In beyond-thinking there is someone who sustains you.

Rumi said:

Out beyond theories of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

Once a monk asked Master Yaoshan, “How can I avoid being confused by all kinds of outside appearances?”

The master said, “Just leave them alone and they won’t bother you.”

The monk was unsatisfied with this. The master asked, “What ‘outside appearances’ are confusing you right now?”

A monk once asked Master Yaoshan, “What is nirvana?”

The master said, “What was your name before you were born?”

Once a monk said to Master Yaoshan, “I have doubt. I ask the master to resolve it for me.”

The master said, “Wait until I go into the hall tonight to speak. Then I’ll resolve it for you.”

That evening the master entered the hall. When the community had assembled he said, “Where is the monk who asked me today to resolve his doubt?”

The monk came forward. The master got down from the teaching seat, grabbed the monk, and said, “Everyone! This monk has doubt!”

The master then released the monk and went back to his room.

The community of Yaoshan had minimal resources; often they didn’t have an excess of lamp-oil.

Being frugal, the master would usually have the assembly gather in the dark. One such night the community gathered to hear the master speak.

Master Yaoshan said, “I have a single phrase (of teaching). I’ll tell it to you when the iron bull gives birth to a calf.”

A monk came forward and said, “An iron bull is giving birth to a calf right now. Why don’t you say it?”

The master exclaimed, “Light the lamps!”

The monk had already disappeared into the dark assembly.

For a long time Master Yaoshan had not entered the hall to give a talk. The monastery director appealed to him saying, “The community has been waiting eagerly to hear a teaching from you for quite a while.”

The master said, “Well, strike the bell.”

The bell was rung and the community gathered. The master ascended the teaching seat, sat there for a while, then got down and returned to his room.

The director followed after him and said, “Master you agreed to give a teaching to the community. Why didn’t you offer us a single word?”

The master replied, “There are scripture teachers for scriptures, and philosophy teachers for philosophy. What do you want from this old monk?”

A monk once asked Master Yaoshan, “Did the essence of the awakened way exist here before Bodhidharma came from India?”

The master said, “Yes, it did.”

The monk asked, “Then why did he come?”

The master said, “He came exactly because it was here already.”

Once a novice named Gao was visiting Master Yaoshan’s place. The master asked him, “Where are you coming from?”

Gao said, “From South Peak.”

The master asked, “And where are you headed?”

Gao said, “To Jiangling to receive the full ordination precepts.”

The master asked, “What is the point of receiving the precepts?”

Gao replied, “To become free of birth and death.”

The master said, “There is someone who doesn’t receive the precepts and has no birth and death to get free from. Do you know this person?”

Gao said, “Then what is the use of getting the precepts?”

The master was silent. Gao bowed and withdrew.

Then Yaoshan’s senior student Yuanzhi, who had heard the conversation, came up beside the master. Yaoshan said, “That novice has some life in him.”

Yuanzhi said, “I’m not completely convinced. Maybe you should test him again.”

When evening came Yaoshan entered the hall to give a talk. He asked, “Where is the novice I spoke with earlier today?”

Gao came forth, and the master said to him, “You’re a traveler – I hear that Chang’an is very busy. What do you think?”

Gao said, “My province is peaceful.”

The master said, “Is your attainment from reading scriptures or from hearing lectures?”

Gao said, “I didn’t attain anything from reading scriptures or hearing lectures.”

The master said, “Many people don’t read scriptures or listen to lectures. How come they don’t have realization?”

Gao said, “I wouldn’t say they don’t have it, only that they are not willing to accept it.”

One day the lay practitioner Pangyun, who had studied with Master Shitou, came to visit Master Yaoshan. The master asked him, “What is your understanding of the ‘one vehicle’?”

“Everyday I just feed myself,” said Pang. “How should I know about the ‘one vehicle’?”

Yaoshan replied, “Then I’d say you’ve never really seen Master Shitou. Is that true?”

Pang said, “You just drop one thing and pick up another. What kind of skill is that?”

Yaoshan said, “As abbott, I have many affairs to attend to.”

Pang got up to leave. Then Yaoshan said, “Dropping one thing and picking up another is actually quite useful.”

Pang said, “Now I see this question about the ‘one vehicle’ was skillful indeed. I’m afraid I’ve blundered and it’s gotten lost.”

Yaoshan agreed.

The monk Zun, who was serving as altar attendant in Yaoshan’s community, was washing buddha statues. The master came by and said, “I see you’ve washed this one; can you wash the other buddha, too?”

Zun said, “Please hand me the other buddha.”

The master stopped questioning.

Once a monk asked Master Yaoshan, “What is the most precious treasure of the way?”

The master said, “Not to flatter others for your own benefit.”

The monk asked, “What is it like to not flatter others?”

The master said, “”Even if an entire nation is offered, you turn it down.”

Once the local governor Li Ao paid a visit to Medecine Mountain to meet Master Yaoshan. He asked the master, “What is ethical conduct, meditative absorption, and transcendent wisdom?”

The master replied, “This impoverished monk doesn’t have such useless furniture.”

Another time Governor Li asked Master Yaoshan, “What is the way?”

The master replied, “Clouds in the blue sky, water in the bucket.”

Li Ao became a student of Master Yaoshan, and once wrote a poem

describing his teacher:

Living in a quiet, secluded place

fits your untamed character.

No need to welcome anyone, or see them off.

From the top of the mountain – a sudden shout

As the moon emerges from the clouds.

Danxia Tianran (730-824)

Master Danxia Tianran was from Dengzhou in Henan province. As a youth he was an avid scholar, and, as was expected of his class, he was headed for a career as a government official. On his way to the capital city of Chang’an to take the civil service examinations, he met a monk who greatly impressed him, and convinced him that the life of a bureaucrat was worthless compared to a life of practicing the Way. So the young man changed course and headed toward the Heng mountains where he met Master Shitou and joined his community.

Skeptical of the need to become an official monk, he worked as a layman in the temple kitchen for the three years of his training with Master Shitou.. Finally, at the end of his time there, he agreed to receive ordination from the master, and became the monk Tianran. Then he began a long period of traveling to visit other teachers. He visited and practiced at least briefly with many of the well-known masters of his day, including Master Ma in Jiangxi, Nanyang Huizhong in Chang’an, and the Oxhead School teacher Master Daoqin.on Jing Mountain in Hangzhou. He was also close friends with the traveling lay practitioner Pangyun, who shared his disdain for monastic piousness.

Master Tianran is most famous for the following story from his traveling days: One cold winter day while he was staying at the Wisdom Woods Monastery, Tianran, finding no firewood, took a wooden statue of the Buddha and burned it in the fire to get warm. The temple director saw this, got upset, and yelled, “Why are you burning the Buddha?”

Tianran pulled some embers from the fire and said, “I’m burning this buddha to get the sacred relics.”

The director said, “How can a wooden buddha have sacred relics?”

Tainran said, “Well, if it doesn’t, let’s burn a couple more of them!”

Tianran eventually returned to his home region of Dengzhou in Henan and settled on Danxia (Red Cloud) Mountain, where he began to teach. Once the monk Wuxue came to study with him. He asked the master, “What is the teaching of all the awakened ones?”

Master Danxia Tianran exclaimed, “Fortunately, life is fundamentally wonderful! Why do you need to take up a dust rag and broom?”

Wuxue retreated three steps.

The master said, “Wrong.”

Wuxue again came forward.

The master said, “Wrong. Wrong.”
Wuxue then lifted one foot in the air, spun around in a circle, and started to go out.

Master Tianran said, “Such an answer! It’s turning your back on all the awakened ones.”

Upon hearing these words, Wuxue had a clear understanding..

Tianhuang Daowu (748-807)

Master Tianhuang Daowu left home at age fourteen after fasting to demonstrate his resolve to his resistant parents. After ordaining as a monk, he first went to study with the prominent Master Daoqin of the Oxhead School on Mt. Jing in Hangzhou. Daowu was regarded as a devoted practitioner – he was said to sit in meditation for hours outside in a graveyard even during a fierce storm.

Daowu stayed with Master Daoqin for five years until, hearing about the famous Master Ma in Jiangxi, he decided to investigate, and headed south. Soon after arriving at Mazu’s monastery, Master Ma confirmed the young monk’s understanding, and Daowu stayed on to practice there for two years. Eventually he began to hear about the reclusive Master Shitou, and soon decided to check out this lesser-known but highly regarded master as well. And so he set off westward to the Heng Mountains in Hunan.

When he first arrived at Shitou’s mountain temple, he went to see the master and asked him, “By what method do you reveal liberating wisdom to people?”

The master said, “There are no slaves here. What do you want to be liberated from?”

Daowu then asked, “How can this be confirmed?”

The master said, “So you’re still trying to grasp emptiness?”

After a pause Daowu said, “From now on, I won’t do so again.”

Then Master Shitou asked, “When did you come from ‘that place’?”

Daowu replied, “I haven’t come from ‘that place’.”

The master said, “I already know where you’ve come from.”

Daowu said, “Master, how can you charge me without evidence?”

The master replied, “Your body is revealed, here and now.”

Then Daowu said, “Although that’s so, how will your teaching be demonstrated to those who come later?”

The master said, “Please tell me, who are those who come later?”

Upon hearing this Daowu experienced a deep realization that cleared up his remaining doubts.

After his practice with Master Shitou, Daowu began to teach on Ziling Mountain in Xingzhou. When his reputation began to spread, he was asked to become abbot of the Tianhuang (Emperor of Heavan) Monastery in Jiangling city (Hubei), which became his main teaching center.

Once a monk asked Master Tianhuang Daowu, “What is the matter that has been passed down through the generations?”

The master said, “Nothing else than knowing where you come from.”

The monk asked, “:How many can develop this wisdom eye?”

The master said, “Short grasses naturally become tall reeds.”

One day a monk asked Master Tianhuang, “How does one speak of the great mystery?”

The master said, “Don’t say that you’ve realized the awakened way.”

The monk then asked, “How do you deal with students who are stuck?”

The master said, “Why don’t you ask me?”

The monk said, “I just did!”

The master said, “Go! You’re not yet in the place where you can receive relief.”

In the town of Jiangling was a poor family of rice cake makers who made a daily donation of their cakes to Tianhuang Monastery. The master befriended them, and when they needed a new place to live, the master let them stay in a small house belonging to the monastery. He recognized the spiritual potential of the son, and when the boy would make his daily offering of ten rice cakes, the master would always return one and say, “This is for your descendants.” One day the boy asked the meaning of this, and the master said, “What’s wrong with returning to you what’s originally yours?”

The boy understood and became the master’s disciple.

Years later when the boy had grown, Master Tianhuang once said to him, “If you became a monk and serve as my attendant, then at some point I’ll reveal the wisdom gate of the mind essence to you.” So the young man decided to get ordained, became the monk Chongxin, and took on the life of the master’s attendant.

After a year had passed Chongxin said, “When I first became your attendant, you said that you would teach me about mind essence. But up to now, I haven’t received any instruction.”

The master said, “Since you’ve started this life, I’ve never stopped giving you instruction.”

Chongxin asked, “When has the master been teaching me?”

The master said, “When you greet me I join my palms; when I sit you stand by to wait on me; when you bring tea I receive it from you. When have I not given instruction about mind essence?”

Chongxin was silent for a while. Then the master said, “When seeing, just see! If you try to think about it you’ll miss it.”

Upon hearing these words, Chongxin had a deep realization.

Layman Pangyun (d. 808)

Master Pangyun was born and grew up in Xiangyang city, Hubei, the son of a government official. When his father was transferred to Hengyang in Hunan, the young man joined him, and in this new city he married and had a daughter. Disillusioned with conventional life early on, Pang resisted the bureaucratic life expected of him, and managed to avoid a government post. Instead he devoted himself to spiritual practice, building a hermitage beside his house where he could focus on meditation. As he became more committed to simplicity, and had been joined by his wife in this pursuit, they donated their house to be made into a temple, and moved into the hermitage. Then they loaded all their valuable possessions onto a raft and sank it in a nearby lake. When asked why he didn’t just give them away, Pang said that they had been a source of anxiety for him, and an impediment to the way. How could he wish that on someone else?

After this the Pang family began living off a meager income from crafting and selling bamboo utensils in the street. Soon the layman, already in his fourties, decided to travel to meet teachers, and he first set off for the Heng Mountains to the north. There he found his way to the practice place of Master Shitou.

Layman Pangyun once asked Master Shitou, “Who is the one who does not accompany the ten thousand things?”

Shitou immediately covered Pang’s mouth with his hand. Pang had a deep realization.

The layman stayed on to practice with Master Shitou. One day the master asked him, “Since seeing me what have your daily activities been?”

Pang said, “When you ask about my daily activities I can’t open my mouth.”

Shitou said, “Because I know you’re like that, I’m asking you.”

Pang said, “How wondrous, how miraculous – chopping wood and carrying water.”

Later Shitou asked weather the layman would like to shave his head, dye his clothes and become a monk, but Pang said, “I want to do what I like,” and he remained a layman.

Eventually Pangyun travelled to Jiangxi to meet Master Ma. He asked his old question, “Who is the one who doesn’t accompany the ten thousand things?”

Master Ma said, “When you swallow all the water in the West River in one gulp, then I’ll tell you.”

Hearing these words, Pang had another liberating awakening, and all his doubts were resolved. He practiced with Mazu for two years, and then continued his travels and encounters with other monks and teachers.

He stayed for awhile on Medecine Mountain with Master Shitou’s disciple Master Yaoshan, and also became close friends with another of Shitou’s disciples, the irreverent and free-spirited adept Danxia Tianran. Between excursions he would return to his wife and daughter in Hengyang.

Both his wife and daughter had also become deeply devoted to the spiritual path, and all three were eventually recognized for their clear wisdom. The layman was particularly close to his precocious daughter Lingzhao whose sharp wit could often outdo her father.

One day in his hermitage, Layman Pang asked Lingzhao, “An ancient said, ‘the bright clarity of the ancestral teacher’s mind is the bright clarity of the hundred grasstips.’ How do you understand this?”

“Such a venerable elder and yet you talk like this!” admonished Lingzhao.

“Well, what would you say?” asked the layman.

“The bright clarity of the ancestral teacher’s mind is the bright clarity of the hundred grasstips,” replied Lingzhao. The layman laughed.

Another time at the hermitage someone asked the layman if the practice of the Way was difficult or easy.

“Difficult, difficult,” said the layman, “like trying to cover a tree in sesame seeds.”
“Easy, easy,” said Pang’s wife, “just like touching your feet to the ground when you get out of bed.”

“Not difficult, not easy,” said Lingzhao, “On the hundred grasstips, the ancestor’s meaning.”

Toward the end of his life Pangyun traveled north toward his birthplace of Xiangyang with his beloved daughter Lingzhao, herself now an adept. The two found a cave south of Deer Gate Mountain in Xiang province, and there settled into retreat for the last years of Pangyun’s life.

Baizhang Huaihai (749-814)

Master Baizhang Huaihai was born to a powerful aristocratic family on the eastern seaboard province of Fuzhou (modern Fujian). Well-educated as a child, he entered monastic life as a teen under the teacher Huizhao, where the older novice who would become Master Yaoshan was also studying. After his full ordination at Mt. Heng, Huaihai moved to Lujian (in modern Anhui province) where he studied Buddhist scriptures. Then, while still in his twenties, he sought out Master Ma at Gonggong Mountain in southern Jiangxi and became his disciple.

One day Huaihai accompanied Mazu on a walk. A flock of wild geese flew past them. Master Ma said, “What’s that?”

Huaihai said, “Wild geese.”
The master said, “Where’d they go?”

Huaihai said, “They flew away.”
The master then grabbed Huaihui’s nose and twisted.”
Huaihai cried out, “Ouch!”
The master said, “Do you still say they flew away?”

Huaihai had a deep realization.

The next day Master Ma entered the hall to address the community. When the monks had all assembled, Huaihai went forward and rolled up the bowing mat in front of the teacher’s seat. The master then got down from the seat and returned to his room. Huaihai followed after him. The master turned to him and asked, “Why did you roll up the mat before I’d said a word?”

Huaihai said, “Yesterday you hurt my nose.”

The master said, “Where in your mind are you keeping yesterday’s matter?”

Huaihai said, “Today my nose doesn’t hurt anymore.”

The master said, “You understand today’s matter very well.”

When Master Ma moved north to Hongzhou, Huaihai accompanied him and continued his training at Open Source Monastery. After the master’s passing on nearby Stone Gate Mountain, Huaihai took up residence on the mountain and began to teach. Eventually he was invited to become the abbot of a monastery on Great Hero Mountain in a remote region southwest of Stone Gate. Because of the high and steep peaks on this mountain, it was also known as “Baizhang” (Hundred Fathoms) Mountain, and this name became Huaihai’s teaching name.

Once a monk asked Master Baizhang Huaihai, “What is the most rare and wonderful affair?”

The master said, “Sitting alone on Great Hero Peak.”

During his teaching career, Master Baizhang is said to have created a new code of monastic regulations for his students that was tailored to the needs of a Zen community, and differed substantially from the more general rules for Buddhist monks. The written text for this new code has never been found, and most scholars today doubt that it was ever written. However many teachers of Baizhang’s time wrote commentaries to the monastic codes which expressed their particular emphases and concerns. Although it is unlikely that Master Baizhang intended to replace the old code, it is probable that he encouraged, through writing or just orally, a characteristic lifestyle that had been developing from the practice and realizations of the Zen movement. This lifestyle, although perhaps not radically innovative within the world of Chinese Buddhism, did feature some broad shifts in priority. These included, famously, a de-emphasis on strict adherence to many particulars of classical

Indian vinaya, and a strong encouragement of farming for self-sufficiency and sustainability. Farm work also fostered humility, provided exercise, and helped keep the mind focused on the present. An awareness of the need to develop a meditative mind in all activities of life soon became a hallmark of the Zen tradition.

One day Master Baizhang was out working in the fields with his community. When the drum sounded ending the work period and announcing the noon meal, a monk held up his hoe and began to laugh. Then he went back to the monastery. The master said, “Wonderful. This is the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion entering the gate of essential wisdom.”

Later that day the master summoned the monk and asked him why he had laughed out in the field. The monk said, “I was hungry. As soon as I heard the drum, I knew it was time for the noon meal.”

The master laughed.

Whenever Master Baizhang would address the community in the Dhama Hall, there was an old man who would always come to hear the talk. When the community dispersed, he left as well. One day he didn’t leave. The master asked, “Who are you?”

The old man said, “A long time ago I resided on this mountain as abbot. Once a student asked me whether a great adept still falls into cause and effect. I answered that no, a great adept does not fall into cause and effect. As a result, I’ve been living as a wild fox for countless ages. Now I ask the master to please say a turning phrase for me so that I may be free of this fox body.” Then he asked, “Does a great adept fall into cause and effect or not?”

The master said, “A great adept does not ignore cause and effect.”

With these words the old man had a great awakening. He bowed and said, “I’ve been released from the wild fox body.”

Dogen said:

Whether (our view is) “not falling” or “not ignoring,” cause and

effect simply brings more cause and effect. Do you want to know

causes and understand effects?

(Dogen raised his whisk and said) Look, look. Cause and effect

are clear. (He then put down his whisk and got down from his seat).

Once the monk Da’an asked Master Baizhang, “This student yearns to understand awakening. What is it?
The Master said, “You are like someone searching for the ox while riding the ox.”

Da’an asked, “How is it after understanding?”
The master said, “It’s like a person returning home riding the ox.”
Da’an said, “I’m still not clear. How can I protect and care for it from beginning to end?”
The master said, “It’s like an ox herder holding up a staff to watch that the ox does not disturb people’s seedlings.”

From then on Da’an understood the meaning.

The monk Xiyun once asked Master Baizhang, “What method did the ancient sages use to teach people?”

The master sat still and remained silent.

Xiyun then asked, “If so, what will our descendants in later generations receive?”
The master said, “I had thought you were such a person.” Then he returned to the abbot’s room.

Many of the talks that Master Baizhang gave during his teaching career were written down by his disciples, and after his passing they were collected and published. This collection, called Baizhang’s Extensive Record, remains today as the earliest existing full collection of the teachings of a Tang Dynasty Zen master. (See Part Two: Teachings for excerpts).

Nanquan Puyuan (748-835)

Master Nanquan Puyuan was from the city of Xinzheng in southern Henan. His family name was Wang, and later, as a master, he sometimes called himself, “Old Teacher Wang.” He was already a seasoned monk, well-versed in the various philosophies and scriptures of Buddhism, when he traveled

to Hongzhou to study with Master Ma. Puyuan’s insight and confidence was already apparent during his training at Mazu’s monastery:

One day while Puyuan was serving rice gruel to the community, Master Ma asked, “What’s in the wooden bucket?”

“The old man should keep his mouth shut and not say such words,” replied Puyuan.

While practicing with Master Ma, Puyuan took some time to visit other teachers as well. Once he started out on a journey to visit the aging master Nanyang Huizhong in the capital of Chang’an, together with his fellow monks Zhichang and Baoche. Just after leaving the monastery, Puyuan stopped and drew a circle on the road. He then said to his companions, “What can you say? If you give a good response, we’ll be on our way. Otherwise, maybe we shouldn’t go.”

Zhichang sat down inside the circle. Baoche made a curtsy. Puyuan said, “Let’s not go.”

Eventually the group did make the trip to see Master Nanyang. When Puyuan entered the master’s room for an audience, the master asked him, “Where are you from?”

Puyuan said, “From Hongzhou.”

The master asked, “Do you come with the truth of Master Ma, or not?”

Puyuan said, “Just this is it.”

The master said, “But is there something behind your back?”

Puyuan immediately turned around and walked out.

Once Puyuan visited a master called “Priest Nirvana” (probably Master Baizhang Weizheng, an older disciple of Master Ma*). Priest Nirvana asked Puyuan, “Is there any teaching that hasn’t already been spoken by the ancient sages?”

Puyuan said, “It’s not mind, it’s not Buddha, it’s not a thing.”

Nirvana said, “Is that all?”

Puyuan said, “I’m like this. What about you?”

Nirvana said, “”I’m not a teacher. How should I know if there’s a teaching that has or hasn’t been spoken?”

Puyuan said, “I don’t understand.”

Nirvana said, “I’ve said enough for you.

*see the glossary for more about the mysterious identity of this character.

After the passing of Master Ma and a subsequent period of traveling, Puyuan entered the mountains for solitary retreat. He settled on a mountain called South Spring (Nanquan) in the area of Chizou (in modern Anhui Province). Here he built a thatched hut and remained alone for many years focusing on meditation. Eventually some monks began to visit seeking his guidance, including the monk Congshen, who would become his senior student. Finally, a prominent government official named Lu Gong came to study with Puyuan, and he invited the master to move to a local monastery and become the abbot, in order to teach more extensively. Puyuan accepted the offer.

Official Lu once requested of Master Nanquan Puyuan “I ask the master to expound the teaching for the sake of the community.”

Master Nanquan said, “What do you want this old man to talk about?”

Lu said, “Master, don’t you have some expedient method for entering the Way?”

Nanquan said, “What are those in the community lacking?”
Lu said, “What will you do about those in the four modes of birth and the six realms?”
Nanquan said, “This old monk doesn’t teach them.”

Once Master Nanquan addressed the community, “Master Ma was known to say, ‘This very mind itself is Buddha.’ Old teacher Wang doesn’t talk like this. I say – it’s not mind, it’s not Buddha, it’s not a thing. Is saying it like this a mistake or not?”

Nanquan’s senior disciple Congshen made prostrations and left.

Another time Nanquan said, “Mind is not Buddha. Wisdom is not the Way.”

A monk asked, “All past ancestors, including the great teacher from Jiangxi (Mazu), have taught that ‘mind is Buddha’ and ‘ordinary mind is the Way.’ Now you, master, say that mind is not Buddha, and wisdom is not the Way. I am uncertain about this – I ask the master to compassionately offer an explanation.”
Nanquan replied in a loud voice, “If you’re a buddha, how could you still have doubts and have to ask this old monk for explanations? What kind of buddha stumbles along the way, holding doubts like that? I am not a buddha, and I haven’t seen the ancestors. Since it is you talking about ancestors, you can go seek them by yourself.”

The monk then asked, “Since your reverence explains it like that, what kind of practical advice can you offer a student like me?”
Nanquan said, “Just now lift empty space with your palm.”

The monk said, “Empty space has no movable form. How can I lift it?”

Nanquan siad, “When you say it has no movable form, that is already movement. Does empty space say, ‘I have no movable form’? This is all just your particular conception.”

The monk asked, “Since mind is Buddha is not correct, is it that mind becomes Buddha?”

Nanquan said, “’Mind is Buddha’ and ‘mind becomes Buddha’ are just ideas created by your thinking…Do not conceive of mind and do not conceive of Buddha. Whatever you conceive of, it becomes an object of attachment…Because of that the great teacher from Jiangxi said, ‘It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not a thing.’ He wanted to teach you of later generations how to act. Nowadays, students put on religious robes and walk around contemplating things that are of no concern to them. Have you attained anything that way?”

The monk asked, “What does the master mean by ‘Mind is not Buddha, wisdom is not the Way?’”

Nanquan said, “Don’t conceptualize ‘mind is not Buddha, wisdom is not the Way.’ I have no mind to bring up – What are you going to attach to?

The monk said, “If there is nothing at all, then how is it different than empty space?”

Nanquan said, “Since it is not a thing, how can you compare it to empty space? And why bring up sameness and difference?”

Concerning “Mind is not Buddha, wisdom is not the Way”

Dogen said:

Great assembly, do you want to clearly understand this point?

The way for students is not to go to bed before your teacher. (EK5-381)

One day at Nanquan’s monastery the monks of the eastern and western halls were arguing over a cat. The master saw this and immediately grabbed a knife, picked up the cat, and said, “Someone say a true word and you’ll save the cat. Otherwise I’ll cut it in two!”

The monks were silent. The master made the gesture of cutting the cat, and walked away.

Later the senior monk Congshen returned from errands outside the monastery and went to see the master. The master told him the story of the cat. Congshen responded by taking off his straw sandals and placing them on his head (as a gesture of mourning). Then he walked out of the room. As he left, the master said, “If you had been there you would have saved the cat.”

Dogen said:

Nanquan knew how to cut into two, but he didn’t know how to cut into one…

If I had been Nanquan, when the students couldn’t answer, I would have

released the cat saying that the students had already spoken. (zuimonki 2 – 4)

Dogen also said:

His monks were refined, with voices like thunder. (EK9 – 76)

Once Master Nanquan said to the community, “All the buddhas of past, present, and future don’t know what it is. Cats and cows know what it is.”

Once the monk Xiyun came to stay at Nanquan’s monastery. He had already studied with Master Baizhang Huaihai, and was given the respect of an elder monk. One day at the noon meal as Master Nanquan entered the hall with his bowls, Xiyun, sitting in the head monk’s seat, didn’t stand up to receive him. Nanquan said, “Your reverence, how long have you been teaching the way?”

Xiyun replied, “Since before the era of Bhismaraja Buddha.”

Nanquan said, “Then you’re still the grandson of Old Teacher Wang! Get out of here!”

Another time Master Nanquan said to Xiyun, “There is a kingdom of gold and silver houses. Who do you suppose lives there?”

Xiyun said, “Sounds like the dwelling place of the sages.”

The master then said, “There is another person. Do you know in what country he lives?”

Xiyun folded his hands and stood still.

The master said, “You can’t answer. Why don’t you ask me?”

Xiyun said, “There is another person. Where does he live?”

The master said, “Oh, what a pity this is.”

Once at the start of a work period Master Nanquan asked Xiyun, “Where are you going?”

Xiyun said, “I’m going to gather some greens.”

The master asked, “What will you cut them with?”

Xiyun held up a knife.

The master said, “You understand how to be the guest, but you still don’t understand how to be the host.”

When Master Nanquan was finally slowing down with age, his senior disciple Congshen once asked him, “Where will the one who knows eventually go?”

The master said, “This person will go down the mountain to a donor’s house and become a water buffalo.”

Congshen said, “I’m grateful for that.”

The master said, “Last night at midnight the moon came in through the window.”

Yanguan Qi’an (750-843)

Master Yanguan Qi’an was from Haiting county in the modern province of Zhejiang. He grew up in a prominent wealthy family that had relations to the Tang royalty. Entering the monastic life in his youth at a local temple, he later received full ordination at Hengshan in Hunan. Soon after he traveled to Jiangxi where he first encountered Master Ma at Gonggong Mountain. He became a student of the master just before the master’s move north, and then followed him to the new monastery in Hongzhou. Studying with the master for many years, he became one of Mazu’s most senior disciples.

After the passing of Master Ma, Qi’an was invited to teach in several places, and he eventually settled in a monastery built for him in Yanguan (near Hangzhou in his native province). Helped, no doubt, by his family connections, he soon became a famous teacher and was visited by numerous scholars and dignitaries as well as training monks.

Once a scholar-priest came to visit Master Yanguan Qi’an. The master asked him, “What scriptures are your specialty?”

The scholar said, “I teach the ‘Flower Garland Sutra’.”

The master asked, “According to this sutra, how many kinds of ‘dharma realms’ are there?”

The scholar said, “Broadly speaking, there are limitless dharma realms. But they can be reduced to four types.”

Then the master held up his whisk and said, “What dharma realm is this?”

The scholar was at a loss, and sat there silently figuring how to answer.

The master said, “Knowing through thinking, understanding through contemplating – it’s all just making a living in a ghost cave. A single lamp, when put in the sunlight, loses all it’s brightness.”

Master Yanguan had a younger dharma brother named Fachang who had gone to live deep in the forest on Great Plum Mountain. Once a monk told Master Yanguan the story of someone asking Fachang about the essential principle of the awakened way. Fachang had said, “There is no essential principle.”

Master Yanguan responded, “One coffin with two corpses.”

Yanguan had a rhinoceros-horn folding fan amongst the treasures at his temple. One day he said to his attendant, “Bring me the rhinoceros fan.”

The attendant said, “It’s broken.”

The master responded, “If the fan is broken, then bring me the rhinoceros!”

Master Yanguan was once visited by a Japanese monk on a mission from the Empress Tachibana Kachiko of Japan. The monk asked Master Yanguan if he had a disciple he could send to Japan to instruct the Empress, who had become interested in Zen teaching after hearing about it from the monk Kukai, the founder of Japanese esoteric Buddhism (who had traveled in China). Master Yanguan sent his disciple Yikung, who thus became the first Zen teacher in Japan, and the Empress, who later became a nun, became the first Zen student. Yikung, however, eventually returned to China without establishing an enduring following in Japan.

Toward the end of Master Yanguan’s long life, the Emperor Wuzong came to power and began to implement a persecution of Buddhist institutions and clergy. Probably because of Yanguan’s high-placed connections, his monastery was relatively protected from destruction, and from the defrocking of monks that went on elsewhere. Li Chen, the expected future emperor, came to the safe haven of Yanguan’s monastery to keep a low profile for a while during the politically turbulent times. Greatly impressed by the master, when he eventually ascended to the throne and became Emperor Xuanzong, he ended the persecutions and became a generous supporter of the monastic order.

Damei Fachang (752-839)

Master Damei Fachang was from Huaiyang in Hubei Province. He left home at a young age to become a novice at Jade Spring Monastery in nearby Jingzhou. An avid scholar, he was known for his ability to memorize many scripture passages while still a novice, but later he became interested in Zen. After his full ordination, he soon sought out Master Ma in Hongzhou and became his student

One day Fachang asked Master Ma, “What is Buddha?”

The master said, “This mind itself is Buddha.”

Fachang had a deep realization. He immediately made prostrations and departed for the mountains to engage in solitary practice. First investigating the famous Buddhist center at Mt. Tiantai, Fachang then entered the more remote peaks of Great Plum (Damei) Mountain and built a hut deep in the wilderness. He was said to survive off wild food such as pine and cedar nuts, and to make clothes out of lotus leaves from the forest ponds, while leading a life devoted to meditation. Unlike masters like Yanguan, Fachang remained in seclusion for many years, unknown by rulers or officials, and not receiving the support of any patrons.

One day a monk was searching the woods for a staff when he accidentally came upon Fachang’s hermitage. After making acquaintances, he asked the hermit, “Master, how long have you been living here?”

Fachang replied, “I see the trees turn green in spring, and yellow in autumn, but don’t count the months and years.”

Later the monk asked, “Where’s the path down off the mountain?”

Fachang said, “Go following the stream.”

When the monk returned to his monastery, the news of the hermit began to circulate. When Master Ma heard about him, he sent a monk to find him, and to bring him a question. When the monk found him, he asked, “When you were with Master Ma, what did you come to understand that led you to dwell on this mountain?”

Fachang replied, “The master simply said to me that this mind itself is Buddha. Then I came to live here.”

The monk said, “These days the master’s teaching is different. Now he says, ‘No mind, no Buddha’.”

Fachang said, “That old man endlessly confuses people. He can keep ‘no mind, no Buddha’; as for me, it’s still just ‘This mind itself is Buddha’.”

The monk went back and reported this to Master Ma. The master said, “The plum has ripened.”

Eventually Fachang’s reputation began to spread, and students would travel into the mountain forests to receive his teaching, as he remained in his beloved wilderness home. Not until he was in his eighties did he allow his supporters to build him a larger, more accessible temple to accommodate his increasing number of students. Among his disciples was the master Hangzhou Tianlong, as well as a number of Korean monks who went on to become prominent teachers in their own country.

One day Master Damei Fachang said to his disciples, “When it comes it can’t be held back. When it goes it can’t be pursued.”

As the master paused, they all heard the sound of a squirrel. Then the master said, “It’s just this! Not something else! Each of you, uphold and sustain it well.”

After saying these words the master passed away.

Guizong Zhichang (no dates)

Master Guizong Zhichang came from Jiangling City in Hubei. Little detail is recorded about his life, but he became known as a prominent disciple of Master Ma, and a teacher with a severe style that influenced later masters such as Huangpo Xiyun. After his training with Mazu he lived and taught at Returning to the Ancestral Source (Guizong) Monastery at Hermitage Mountain (Lushan), a famous Buddhist center and scenic attraction in northern Jiangxi.

A monk once asked Master Guizong, “What is the essential mystery?”
Guizong said, “No one can understand it.”

The monk said, “How about those who earnestly seek it?”
Guizong said, “Those who seek it miss it completely.”

The monk asked, “How about those who don’t seek it?”

Guizong said, “Go! This is no place for you to use your mind.”
The monk persevered and said, “Then there’s no expedient gate through which you can help me enter?”

Guizong said, “The compassionate bodhisattva ‘Observer of the World’s Sounds’ has a sublime wisdom that can save the world from suffering.”
The monk asked, “What is this bodhisattva’s sublime wisdom?
The master tapped the top of his incense urn three times with his staff and said, “Did you hear that or not?”

The monk said, “I heard it.”
Guizong said, “Why didn’t I hear it?”
The monk was silent.

The master took his staff and got down from the seat.

A monk was leaving the monastery and came to say goodbye to Master Guizong.

Guizong asked, “Where are you going?”
The monk said, “I’m going traveling to study the five flavors of Zen.”
Guizong said, “Here I have one-flavored Zen.”

The monk asked, “What is one-flavored Zen?”
Guizong hit him.

The monk said, “I understand! I understand!
Guizong said, “Speak!”
The monk hesitated.

Guizong hit him again.

Governor Li Bo of Jiangzhou once came to study with master Guizong. He asked, “In the scriptures it says that a mustard seed fits inside Mt. Sumeru. This nobody would doubt. But it also says that Mt. Sumeru fits inside a mustard seed. Isn’t this simply untrue?”

Guizong said, “I’ve heard that Your Excellency has read hundreds of scriptures. Is this so?”

The governor said, “Yes, that’s true.”

Guizong said, “Your head is about the size of a coconut. Where did all those scriptures go?”

The governor couldn’t respond. He thanked the master, and from then on showed him great respect and served him as a disciple.

Another time the governor said, “I’m not asking about the three vehicles and the twelve divisions of scriptures. But what is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from India?”

Guizong held up his fist and said, “Do you understand?”
Li siad, “I don’t understand.”
Guizong said, “All your studying and you still don’t even understand a fist!”
Li said, “Please master, explain it to me.”
Guizong said, “If you truly meet a person of the Way; then you will receive everything. If you don’t meet anyone, then you just spread worldly truth.”

A monk asked Master Guizong, “What is the way?”

Guizong said, “You are it.”

Other Students Of Master Ma

Master Shigong Huizang had been a hunter when he first met Master Ma in Linchuan, early in the master’s career. As a hunter, he is one of the few examples of students not from the upper classes who are remembered in the annals of Zen history. After giving up hunting and becoming a monk, Huizang worked in the kitchen at Master Ma’s monastery in Linchuan, and then likely followed the master to his next teaching center on Gonggong Mountain. Eventually Huizang taught on Shigong Mountain in his native region south of Linchuan.

Once Huizang asked his younger fellow student Zhizang, “Do you know how to grasp space?”

Zhizang said, “Yes, I know.”

` Huizang asked, “How do you grasp it?”

Zhizang grabbed at the air with his hand.

Huizang said, “You don’t know how to grasp space.”

Zhizang asked, “How do you grasp it, elder brother?”

Hizang grabbed Zhizang’s nose and pulled. Zhizang yelled, “Ow! You’re pulling my nose off!”

Huizang said, “That’s how to grasp it.”

Master Panshan Baoji came from Youzhou in the northern province of Hebei, near modern Beijing. He traveled south to study with Master Ma in Hongzhou, after which he returned north to teach on Pan Mountain in his home region.

Once Baoji was walking through a market when he overheard a customer speaking to a butcher.

The customer said, “Cut me a good piece.”

The butcher put down his knife, folded his hands, and said, “Which piece is not good?”

Upon hearing these words, Baoji had a deep realization.

After becoming a teacher on Pan Mountain, Master Baoji once said to his community, “As to the moon of mind – it is lone and perfect; its light illumines the myriad phenomena. If the light does not shine on objects, the objects have no existence. But when both light and objects are forgotten – what is that?”

Among Master Panshan Baoji’s disciples was the eccentric, homeless monk Puhua, who later became a friend and mentor to the influential master Linji Yixuan, as well as the inspiration for a sect of wandering, flute playing religious mendicants.

Master Mayu Baoche was a prominent student of Master Ma who practiced with the community in Hongzhou. He also visited Master Nanyang Huizhong in Chang’an (probably traveling with his fellow student Puyuan, later of Nanquan) and was a good friend of Master Danxia Tianran. After his training Baoche became a teacher on Mayu Mountain in the northern province of Shanxi.

One day Master Mayu Baoche was fanning himself. A monk approached and asked, “Master, the nature of wind is eternal and there is no place it doesn’t reach. Why, then, do you fan yourself?”

“Although you understand that the nature of wind is eternal,” the master replied, “you don’t understand the meaning of it’s reaching everywhere.”

“What is the meaning of it’s reaching everywhere?” asked the monk.

The master just kept fanning himself.

(More to come – check back soon)

Part Two: Teachings

Bodhidharma (c.450-c.530) – The Two Entrances and Four Practices

There are many paths for entering the Way, but essentially they are all of two kinds – entering through principle and entering through practice.

To enter through principle means to directly awaken to the truth on the basis of the teaching. One must have a profound intuitive faith that all beings, whether ordinary or awakened, share the same one true nature, and that this only seems not apparent to ordinary people because of mistaken notions and attachments. If one abandons the false and takes refuge in the truth, dwelling steadily in wall meditation, one gives up thoughts of self and other, common person and sage, and abides in the present unmoving and unwavering, no longer chasing after scriptures and intellectual understanding, then one is in accord with the Principle. Here there is no discriminations, no willful effort; it is still and complete. This is entering through Principle.

Entering through practice involves four all-encompassing essential practices: the practice of bearing adversity, the practice of accepting conditions with equanimity, the practice of seeking nothing, and the practice of accord with the Dharma.

First – bearing adversity. When encountering difficulties those who practice the Way should reflect: “For innumerable aeons I’ve forsaken the fundamental and pursued the frivolous, tossed by currents and waves through various states of existence, making numberless mistakes and transgressions. Now, even if I seem to do no wrong, I am reaping the natural consequences of past actions. No one on heaven or earth can see the course it takes. I accept it patiently, with an open heart, without animosity or complaint.” A sutra says, “When encountering hardship, don’t be distressed; instead recognize the source of conciousness behind it, and open up to the fundamental.” Cultivating this approach, you are in accord with the Principle, and even in adversity one enters the Way.

Second is the practice of equanimity about conditions. All living beings, having no separate self, are continuously shaped by causes and conditions. Both hardship and ease are produced by conditions. If we experience such positive phenomena as attaining great achievements and acclaim, this is simply due to past causes and conditions. As soon as these conditions are played out, it will be gone. Why should you grasp it and celebrate it? Success and failure depend upon conditions, but the source of mind does not gain or lose. Those who remain unmoved even by the winds of good fortune are steadfastly in accord with the Way.

Third is the practice of seeking nothing. Because of delusion, people of this world are always longing for something – this is seeking. The wise awaken to the truth and abandon this conventional trend. Returning to peace in their hearts, realizing there’s nothing to do, they change according to seasons. The myriad forms of the world stir and swirl, but all are empty of substance, containing nothing worth desiring. The goddesses of good and bad fortune always travel together; the whole world caught in craving is like a burning house, but the virtuous remain at the source of forms, while abiding in the world. Pain inevitably comes with having a body – who can arrive at the state of accepting all with tranquility? If you arrive here, you cease all thoughts of other states of being, no longer seeking anything. A sutra says, “To seek is to suffer; to seek nothing is joy.” To know this and to let go of seeking anything is to truly practice the Way.

Fourth is the practice of being in accord with the Dharma (clear, awakened view). The Dharma is the truth of pure, essential nature – that all forms are empty of substance and are only expressions of one essential nature. There is no “defiled” to reject, or “sacred” to grasp, no “self” or “other.” The Vimalakirti Sutra says, “In the Dharma there are no beings, because there is freedom from the delusive concept of “beings.” In the Dharma there is no self because there is freedom from the delusive concept of “self.” When the wise understand and embrace this truth, they are practicing accord with the Dharma. Since in the Dharma there is nothing lacking, the wise can practice generosity, freely giving their bodies, lives and possessions without any regret. Fully understanding the emptiness of giver, gift, and recipient, they do no fall into bias or attachment. Abandoning all impediments, they harmonize with evolving life, naturally leading all living beings toward liberation without grasping at appearances or ideas. This is the practice benefiting self and others together, the majestic path of the Bodhisattva. In the same way they also practice the other five perfections (ethics, patience, whole-heartedness, focus, and primordial wisdom). While practicing these six perfections as the dropping off of delusion, the wise have no thought of practicing them – thus they practice nothing at all. This is practicing in accord with the Dharma.

* * * * * * * *

Master Bodhidharma also said, “When one does not understand, the person pursues phenomena; when one understands, phenomena pursue the person. When one is deluded, forms draw in consciousness; when one understands, consciousness draws in forms.”

Based on translations by Nelson Foster, Andy Ferguson, John R. McRae, and Bill Porter from a text by the monk Tanlin (probably a student of Huike) which presents a summary of Bodhidharma’s teaching. The text was probably composed around the mid sixth century. Last line from associated texts, based on Jeffrey L. Broughton’s translation.

Master Yuan (dates unknown)

Once someone asked Master Yuan, “Should we rely on traditional scriptural teachings, or on present teachers?”

Master Yuan said, “You should rely on neither teachers nor the traditional teachings. If you recognize your own bodily energy you can avoid the deceptions and delusions of both teachers and teachings. Then your spirit will remain unharmed.”

Another time someone asked, “Why do you not expound the teachings?”

Master Yuan said, “If I were to set up a teaching to expound, it would simply be deceiving you…

whenever there are terms and written words, it is all deception. If I spoke of it, what purpose would that serve?”

“Then what is the path?”

“As soon as you produce the thought of wanting to get on the path, clever mental figuring begins to arise, and you fall into having ‘mind’. When desiring the notion of ‘path’, crafty artifice will always arise.”

“What is ‘crafty artifice’?”

“It’s pursuing intellectual understanding and seeking names – when you do, a hundred schemes arise. If you want to cut off crafty artifice, don’t create the thought of enlightenment and don’t get involved in intellectual knowledge. If you can accomplish this, then for the first time you will experience bodily energy. If you have this spirit, and you refrain from esteeming intellectual knowledge or pursuing the teachings, then you will find some peace.”

Another time Master Yuan said, “If you are able to stop grasping at interpretations and cease the esteeming of knowledge, then you will be a peaceful person. Even if there is just one teaching that you esteem or value, this teaching will be the one most capable of binding you, and you will fall into having ‘mind’…If you do not seek special understanding, do not set yourself up as a teacher for others, and do not make the traditional teachings into your master, you will finally walk alone in spontaneity.”

Master Yuan also once said, “If you do not give rise to a demon mind, then I can guide you.”

Someone asked, “What is a ‘demon mind’?”

The master said, “Closing the eyes and entering concentrated absorption.”

The questioner continued, “What if I can gather the mind into an absorption so that it doesn’t move?”

The master said, “This is bondage absorption. It is useless. This is true even of the ‘four dhyanas’, each of which is merely one stage of quiescence from which you will just return to disturbance again. They are not to be valued. They are only artificially created phenomena, phenomena that will be destroyed again, not ultimate reality. If you can see that intrinsically there is neither quiescence nor disturbance, then you will be able to exist of yourself. The person who is not pulled into either quiescence or disturbance is a true person of spirit.”

No details about the identity of Master Yuan are known, although he is assumed to have been in an early circle of practitioners inspired by Bodhidharma, most likely a disciple of Huike. This text comes from a collection of early Zen writings found at Dunhuang, probably dating from the seventh century. This rendering is based on the translation by Jeffrey L. Broughton in The Bodhidharma Anthology.

Dayi Daoxin (580-651)

The hundred thousand gates of the Buddhadharma all return to the one heart. The source of the countless sublime practices all come from this one mind. All of the precepts and ethical guidelines, the practice of meditation, the Dharma gate of primordial wisdom and all its miraculous manifestations are all your natural possession, not separate from your mind. Every type of misfortune and karmic impediment is fundamentally empty and without substantial existence. All causes and effects are simply dreams and illusions. There are no suffering worlds to escape from and there is no awakening to search for. The original nature, and the outer appearance of humans and all beings, are identical. The great way is empty and boundless, free from thought and anxiety. If you have merged with this Dharma, where nothing whatsoever is lacking, what difference is there between yourself and Buddha? Here there is not a single teaching left. You are just free to abide in your own spontaneous nature. There is no need to contemplate your behavior, no need to practice purifying austerities. Free from desires, having a heart without anger or cares, completely at ease and without impediment; free to go in any direction according to conditions; with no need to deliberately take on any good or evil affairs. In walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, whatever meets your eyes is nothing other than the essential source; all of it just the sublime function of awakening; joyful and carefree. This is called “Buddha.”

From Wudeng Huiyuan – Five Lamps Merged in the Source (before 1253, using earlier materials). Based on translations by Andy Ferguson, Thomas Cleary, and C.H. Wu

Daman Hongren (601-674)

A monk asked Zen Master Hongren, “Why don’t we study the Buddhadharma in cities where there are many people, instead of at places deep in the mountains?”

Hongren answered, “The timbers needed to make a great building originally came from secluded mountain valleys. They can’t be grown where many people are congregated. Since they are far from crowds of people, they can’t be chopped down or harmed by axes, and are able to grow into great trees, which later can be used to make central beams and pillars. So in studying the teaching, one should find refuge for the spirit in remote mountain valleys, escaping far from the troubles of the dusty world. People should nourish their nature in deep mountains, keeping away from worldly affairs for a long time. When not always confronting common affairs the mind will naturally become at ease. Studying Zen in this way is like planting a tree, with the result that later it can bear fruit.”

During this era the great teacher Hongren only sat peacefully in an upright position and did not compile writings. He taught Zen orally to his personal disciples, quietly passing on the teaching to many others.

From The Record of the Lankavatara Masters (before 750), based on a translation by Andy Ferguson.

Shitou Xiqian (700-790)

Our wisdom-gate has been handed down from the ancient awakened ones. Without discussing levels of mystical absorbtion or effort at spiritual progress, we simply actualize the direct insight of awakening: mind itself is the truth.

Buddha and common people, awakening and delusion, are just different names for the same one body of experience. You should each recognize that your own mind’s aware essence is completely apart from ideas of finite or eternal. Your nature is altogether beyond “pure” or “defiled;” it is perfectly clear and totally complete, and exactly the same in sages and in ordinary people. It functions beyond the limits of any fixed patterns, reaches everywhere, an is not contained by the labels “mind,” “consciousness” or “thought.” The three realms of desire, form, and formlessness; and the six states of living beings, are all images coming from your own mind. They are like the moon reflected on water – how can there be any birth or death? If you realize this, you have all you need.

Based on translations by Andy Ferguson, Thomas Cleary, and James Mitchell & Yulie Lou

Song of the Grass-Roofed Hermitage

I’ve built a grass-roofed hut where there’s nothing of value.

After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap.

When it was first built, already weeds began to sprout.

Now that it’s been lived in, it’s covered in weeds.

The person in the hut is always home,

but you won’t find him inside or outside.

Places worldly people stay, he doesn’t stay.

Realms worldly people crave, he doesn’t crave.

Though the hut is small, it includes the whole universe.

In ten square feet, this old man illuminates the forms of nature.

A bodhisattva of the all-inclusive path is free of doubt,

but ordinary folk can’t help wondering:
won’t this shabby hut just fall apart?

Falling apart or not, the original master is present.

Not bound by south or north, east or west.

A solid foundation can’t be disturbed.

A bright window beneath the green pines –

jade palaces and vermilion towers can’t compare.

Just sitting, covered in a robe and hood,

all things are at rest.

This mountain monk doesn’t understand at all

and no longer works to get free.

No need to proudly advertise living here,

arranging seats to attract g uests.

Only turn the light to shine back home –

the boundless source can’t be grasped or turned away from.

Meet the ancestral teachers, listen to their teaching,

then gather some grass, build a hut, and live there without distraction.

Let go of hundreds of years and completely relax.

Open your hands and walk, innocent.

Thousands of words, innumerable explanations

are only to free you from obstructing ideas.

If you want to know the undying person in the hut,

don’t separate from this fragile body here and now.

Based on a translation by Taigen Dan Leighton & Yi Wu, with reference to James Mitchell

Danxia Tianran (739-824)

All of you here must take care of this practice place. The things in this place were not made or named by you – have they not been given as offerings? When I studied with master Shitou he told me that I must personally protect these things. There is no need for further discussion.

Each of you here has a place to put your cushion and sit. Why do you suspect you need something else? Is Zen something you can explain? Is an awakened being something you can become? I don’t want to here a single word about Buddhism.

All of you look and see! Skillful practices and the boundless mind of kindness, compassion, joy, and detachment – these things aren’t received from someplace else. Not an inch of these things can be grasped…Do you still want to go seeking after something? Don’t go using some sacred scriptures to look for emptiness!

These days students of spirituality are busy with the latest ideas, practicing various meditations and asking about “the way.” I don’t have any “way” for you to practice here, and there isn’t any doctrine to be confirmed. Just eat and drink. Everyone can do that. Don’t hold on to doubt. It’s the same everyplace!

Just recognize that Shakyamuni Buddha was a regular old fellow. You must see for yourself. Don’t spend your life trying to win some competitive trophy, blindly misleading other blind people, all of you marching right into hell, struggling in duality. I’ve nothing more to say. Take care!

Based on a translation by Andy Ferguson

Mazu Daoyi (709-788)

You who seek understanding should not seek anything. Outside of this mind there is no other essential nature. Outside of essential nature there is no other mind. If you stop chasing what you desire and pushing away what you don’t want, you can begin to see the empty nature of transgressions, you can understand that nothing is attained though laborious thinking, and you can realize that there is no separate substance of “self” – all the realms of the world are simply one mind. The myriad forms of the entire universe are the seal of the single truth. Whatever forms are seen, are just the seeing of the mind…whatever speech you make it is just phenomena which are the expression of the ultimate principle. Each matter you encounter constitutes the meaning of your existence, and all your actions manifest without hindrance, as does the fruit of the Way of Awakening…Realizing this, one acts according to circumstances – just wearing clothes, eating food, and naturally upholding the practice of a compassionate awakening being. If one practices like this, is there anything more to be done?

The Way needs no cultivation, just don’t create defilement. What is defilement? When, with a mind clinging to birth and death, one acts in a contrived way, then everything becomes defilement. If you want to know the Way directly – ordinary mind is the Way! What is meant by ordinary mind? No contrived behavior, no clinging to ideas of right and wrong, no grasping or rejecting, free of “temporary” or “permanent,” free of “worldly” or “sacred.” The Vimalakirti Sutra says, “Neither the practice of ordinary people, nor the practice of sages; that is the bodhisattva’s practice.” Just now, whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down – responding to situations and dealing with people as they come – everything is the Way.

The myriad phenomena are all born from the mind; the mind is the root of the myriad phenomena…if you realize this teaching then you are always free…The original source and the myriad phenomena are not different – everything is wonderful function and there is no other principle. All comes from mind…weather constructing or sweeping away, all is sublime function; all is oneself. There is no place to stand where one leaves the truth. The very place one stands on is the truth – it is all one’s own being. If that were not so, then who is this?

Walking, standing, sitting, or lying down – everything is always the inconceivable function of suchness…like a cloud in the sky that suddenly appears and then vanishes without a trace, like writing with your finger on water – not being able to establish being born or dying – that is the “great Nnrvana.”

Conditioned life is the functioning display of the unconditioned. The unconditioned is the essential nature of conditioned life…The mind can be spoken of as the realm of birth and death or as the realm of suchness. The mind as suchness is like a clear mirror that reflects various images…if the mind grasps at phenomena, at these images, then it becomes caught in causes and conditions, which is the meaning of birth-and-death. If the mind does not grasp at phenomena, then it is called “suchness.”

Although original nature is free from the limits of the particular, it manifests a function of infinite variety. When appearing as delusion, it’s called usual, worldly consciousness; when appearing as awakened clarity, it’s called wisdom. Realizing the essence is awakening; chasing after phenomena is delusion. Delusion is to be unaware of one’s original mind; awakening is to become aware of original nature. When awakened, one is awakened beyond time, and there is no more delusion. It’s like when the sun comes out, and all darkness disappears.

It is in contrast to ignorance that one speaks of awakening. Since essentially there is no ignorance, awakening doesn’t need to be established either. All living beings, have, since beginningless time, been abiding in the consciousness of truth-nature. In the consciousness of truth-nature they wear their cloths, eat their food, talk, and respond to things…Because of not knowing how to return to the source, they follow names and seek after forms. This gives rise to confused emotions and delusions, creating all kinds of karma. If one is able in a single moment to illuminate the essence, then everything is revealed as the sacred heart..

Self-nature is originally complete. If you are no longer hindered by ideas of good and evil, then you are one who practices the Way. Chasing after benefits and rejecting the unattractive, philosophizing about “emptiness” and pursuing special blissful states, all of these are simply worldly, deluded activity. If you seek outside, you move away form it. Just put an end to all mental struggling and figuring…when you no longer grasp a single thought, then the root of birth-and-death is dissolved, and the unexcelled treasury (of the Dharma King) is revealed.

Based on translations by Cheng Chien Bhikshu (Mario Poceski)and Andy Ferguson of Mazu Yulu

Layman Pangyun (740?-808)

My daily activity is not unusual;

I just remain in spontaneous harmony.

Not grasping or rejecting,

nothing left to assert or oppose.

What use are fancy titles

and expensive clothes of vermilion and purple?

This entire mountain is free

of even a speck of dust.

Supernatural powers and miraculous activity:
fetching water and carrying firewood

Not willing to let go of grasping and rejecting,

In vain you labor studying the spiritual path.

You read the prescription but you don’t take the medicine-

How can you be free from your sickness?

Grasp “emptiness” and it turns out to be form;

Grasping form it soon proves impermanent.

Form and emptiness – neither are my possessions;

Sitting erect, I see my native home.

The past is already past-

Don’t try to regain it.

The present doesn’t stay-

Don’t try to grasp it over and over.

The future isn’t here yet-

Don’t ponder it beforehand.

When the three times are revealed as non-existent,

mind is the same as awakened nature.

To quietly function relying on emptiness-

This is manifesting profound action.

Not even the least phenomena really exists-

Whatever comes to the eye, leave it be.

No rules to be kept, no filth to be cleaned;

With empty mind truly revealed,

All things no longer have birth or death.

When you are like this

The ultimate achievement is finished.

No-greed surpasses charity.

No-delusion surpasses concentration.

No-ill will surpasses morality.

No-self-centered thinking surpasses cultivating connections.

I follow an ordinary person’s affairs,

and at night sleep at ease.

In winter I use the fireplace

with the fire that’s free of smoke.

I neither fear the dark spirit of misfortune,

nor seek after her sister good luck.

Trusting in the flow, what’s needed comes.

We all ride together in the boat of wisdom –

if you have this understanding,

your merit has no bounds.

When the mind’s left as is,

the spirit is naturally empty.

Without a need for medicine,

ills disperse of themselves.

When ills disperse,

the jewel in the lotus appears.

Don’t worry over affairs,

don’t rush around!

The wise, seeing wealth and craving,

know them to be empty illusions.

Food and clothes sustain body and life,

but only for awhile.-

I advise you to learn being as is.

When it’s time I move my hermitage and go,

and there’s nothing left behind.

Based on a translation by Ruth Fuller Sasaki, Yoshitaka Iriya, and Dana Fraser, with reference to Cheng-Chien Bhikshu (Mario Poceski)

Baizhang Huihai (749-814)    *coming soon


The way of our practice is different (from usual worldly pre-occupations.  After the ancient worthies of the Way experienced realization they went to live in thatched huts and stone shelters.  They used old cauldrons with broken legs to cook their food, and passed twenty or thirty years in that way.  Unconcerned with fame or wealth, they never bothered to about money and accumulating savings.  Completely forgetting about conventional affairs, they concealed their traces among rocks and thickets.  When summoned by prominent famous people, they would not respond; when invited by the wealthy, they would not go.  How can they be compared to those who, craving fame and entranced by wealth, sink into worldly convention?  Those people are like peddlers who in seeking for quick profit lose a much greater wealth.

Based on a translation by Mario Poceski of Wuye’s record in Jingde Chuan Deng Lu

Guishan Lingyou

If you want to practice Zen and study the Way, then you should immediately go beyond the expedient teachings.  You should harmonize your mind with the path (before you), explore the sublime wonders (around you), make a final resolution (to enter) the ultimate understanding, and awaken to the source of truth.  (To accomplish this) you should extensively ask for instruction from those who have insight, and should stay close to virtuous friends.  The sublime wonder of this teaching is difficult to discover – one must pay very careful attention.  If you suddenly awaken to the clear origin then defilements are left behind.  The various realms and forms of existence; past, present, and future, are all shattered.  You then know that no phenomena, internal or external, are real.  Arising from mind’s transmutations, they are all provisional designations.  There is no need to anchor the mind anywhere.  When feelings simply do not attach to objects, then how can anything become a hindrance?   Let the nature of phenomena flow freely without trying to destroy or maintain anything.  The sounds you hear and the forms you see all remain ordinary.  Wherever you are, you freely respond to circumstances without any mistake.
The mind of a person of the Way is plain and straightforward without pretense.  There is no front or back; there is no deceit or delusion.  Every hour of the day, you remain aware of ordinary things and ordinary actions.  Nothing is distorted.  You do not need to shut your eyes or ears to remain unattached to things.  The sages of the past warned of the dangers of polluting conceptions – when delusion, biased views, and unwholesome thinking habits are abandoned, the mind is as clear and tranquil as the autumn stream…
When you hear the truth you penetrate immediately to the ultimate reality, the realization of which is profound and wondrous.  Mind is illuminated naturally and perfectly, free from confusion.  On the other hand, there are innumerable theories about spirituality advocated by those seeking reputation and praise.  But reality itself cannot be stained by even a speck of dust; no action can distort the truth.  When your approach to awakening is like the swift thrust of a sword to the center, then both worldliness and sacredness are completely cut off, and absolute reality is uncovered.  Thus the one and the many are revealed as identical.  This is the “suchness” of awakening.
A  monk asked master Guishan – Does a person who has experienced sudden awakening still need to cultivate (a practice)?
The master said – When you truly awaken, entering into the fundamental and realizing the nature of self and other, the cultivation and non-cultivation are just dualistic opposing ideas.
Right now, even if the conditions for the initial inspiration arrive, even if within a single thought you awaken to your own true reality, there are still habitual tendencies that have accumulated over endless ages that cannot be dispersed in a single instant.  You should certainly be taught to gradually let go of unwholesome tendencies and mental habits.  That is cultivation.  There is no other cultivation that needs to be taught.

Based on translations by Mario Poceski of Guishan Jingce and Ch’ang Chun-yuan and Poceski of Guishan’s records in Jingde Chuan Deng Lu.

Huangbo Xiyun (d. 850)

As to cultivating the six perfections (of character) and all the other self-improvement practices, and performing all sorts of virtuous activities to accumulate merit – since you are already complete, you cannot add to that perfection through practice.  You should perform practices when there is an appropriate occasion, and return to stillness when the occasion has ended.  If you do not clearly see tha this mind itself is awakening, but instead want to practice by attaching to forms and seeking rewards, then it is all delusion apart from the Way.
Awakening occurs as the nature of the mind, it doesn’t involve the six perfections and myriad practices.  These are all merely marginal activities for teaching and helping liberate others  in various states and according to circumstances.  “Enlightenment,” “suchness,” “ultimate reality,” “liberation”…all of these are expedient, temporary expressions, unnecessary to the awakened mind.

Based on a translation by John Blofeld of Huangbo’s “Mind Transmission (Chuanxin Fayao) and “Wanling Record.”

Linji Yixuan (d. 866)

Within true practice, there is no room for special exertion of effort.  It is just a matter or being ordinary, without concerns.  Shit, pee, wear your clothes, and eat your food.  When tired, lay down.  Fools laugh at me, but the wise understand.
From the point of view of this mountain monk, there isn’t much you need to worry about. Just be ordinary, wearing your clothes and eating your food, passing your time without concerns.  All of you coming from various directions, you all have minds fixed on something.  You seek the Buddha, or you seek the Truth; you seek liberation and transcendence of the mundane world. Fools!  If  you want to leave this ordinary world, where are you going to go?


Bodhidharma Anthology translated by Jeffrey Broughton
Record of the Lankavatara Masters (Lengqie Shizi J) (before 750) translated by Andy Ferguson
Baizhang’s Extensive Record (Baizhang Guang Lu) (c.814) translated by Mario Poceski
Guishan Jingce (c.850) translated by Mario Poceski
Record of Huangbo (Huangboshan Duanji Chanshi {Chuanxin Fayao Wanling Lu}) (before 860) translated by John Blofeld
Record of Mazu (Jiangxi Mazu Daoyi Chaushi Yulu) translated by Mario Poceski
Ancestral Hall Collection (Zu Tany Ji) (952)
Jingde Era Record of Transmission of the Lamp (Jingde Chuan Deng Lu) (1004)
Five Lamps Merged in the Source (Wu Deng Hui Yuan)

(More to come – Check back soon)


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