Sunday, June 05, 2005
One Bright Phrase
“With one phrase [that expresses the essence], a block of ice melts and a tile breaks. With one phrase, a ditch is filled and a valley is dammed. Within this one phrase, all the buddhas of the three times and the six generations of [Chinese] ancestors are born in heaven and descend from heaven, enter a womb and emerge from a womb, accomplish the way, and turn the dharma wheel. Therefore it is said, “The bright clarity of the ancestral teacher’s mind is the bright clarity of the hundred grass-tips.” Although it is like this, today in the Koshoji assembly I have one phrase that has never been presented by buddhas or ancestors. Do you want to thoroughly discern it?
After a pause Dogen said: The bright clarity of the ancestral teacher’s mind is the bright clarity of the hundred grass-tips.”
- Dogen, Dharma Hall Discourse No. 9, The Eihei Koroku, Dan Leighton & Shohaku Okumura, translators
“The bright clarity of the ancestral teacher’s mind is the bright clarity of the hundred grass-tips” is a saying of the famed eighth-century Chan Master Layman Pang to his daughter Lingzhao, herself a highly enlightened adept. During his study of the Way, Layman Pang spent much of his practice making pilgrimages throughout China, during which he and Lingzhao often traveled together. The relationship between father and daughter was quite close and affectionate. It is unfortunate that we don’t know more about her because she was obviously a very clear-eyed and high-spirited woman.
The Layman and Lingzhao were out selling baskets one day. As they were coming down off a bridge, he stumbled and fell. Lingzhao immediately threw herself down next to him. He said, “What are you doing?” She answered, “I saw Papa fall to the ground, so I’m helping.” Layman Pang laughed and said, “Luckily, no one was looking.” Although Lingzhao was close to her father, this story reveals an even greater intimacy, one where there can be no relationship at all, since there is no separation of self and other.
Layman Pang was with his daughter when he was preparing to die. He told her that his life was coming to an end and said, “Go out and see how high the sun is and report to me when it is noon.” His intention was to leave his body when the sun reached its zenith. Lingzhao went to the door, looked out, and called back to her father that the sun had already reached its high point and there was an eclipse. “Come, come quickly and see it,” she said. Layman Pang got up and walked to the window. As he stood there looking at the total eclipse, Lingzhao took his seat, sat in the lotus position, and passed away. When Layman Pang turned around and saw what had just happened, he smiled, patted her on the head and said, “My daughter has anticipated me.”
It’s hard to imagine a more non-dualistic exchange than that.
But getting back to the main case, Layman Pang once tested Lingzhao, asking “An ancient said, ‘Clear and brilliant are the meadow grasses. Clear and brilliant is the meaning of the ancestral teachers.’ How do you understand this?”
Lingzhao said, “So old and great, and yet you talk like this!”
Layman Pang said, “What would you say?”
Lingzhao said, “Clear and brilliant are the meadow grasses, clear and brilliant is the meaning of the ancestral teachers.”
Layman Pang laughed.
“The ancestral teacher” refers to Bodhidharma. Commenting on this statement, Dogen wrote:
Although wanting it all tied up, for tens of thousands of miles nothing holds.
Staying within the gate, do not wait for the brightness of others.
Without your caring, it is easy to lose the path of active practice.
Even those hard of hearing are moved by the sound of evening rain.
The first two lines of Dogen’s verse refer to a koan included in the Book of Equanimity. Zen Master Tozan, addressing his monks as they left the monastery at the end of a practice period, said “It’s the beginning of autumn and the summer’s end, my brothers. Some of you will go east, and some of you will go west. But straightaway, go to a place where there’s not an inch of grass for ten thousand miles.” After a pause he added, “But for such a place where there is no grass for ten thousand miles, how can you go there?”
Commenting on this statement, Master Sekiso said, “Go out the gate, and there’s grass.” A hundred years later, Master Taiyo added, “Don’t go out the gate, and there’s grass everywhere.”
Although to Westerners, “meadow grass” sounds pastoral and pleasant, to the Chinese and Japanese, grass is a weed. In the rock gardens of Japan, blades of grass are immediately removed, it’s just the gravel and rocks and trees that remain. “Go to a place where there’s not an inch of grass for ten thousand miles” means to go beyond the weeds, the delusions, the attachments.
So if you go outside the monastery gate, you enter the world of weeds, delusions and attachments. But if you don’t go outside the gate, you’re still confronted by weeds, delusions and attachments. The challenge, then, is what are you going to do?
In his excellent commentary on the Book of Equanimity, Garry Shishin Wick, a disciple of Maezumi Roshi, explains that the point is to see one’s true self and remain undisturbed both inside and outside. To be undisturbed outside means seeing the True Nature of phenomena without adding anything extra; to be undisturbed inside means seeing the True Nature of one’s self without sprouting delusions.
Ordinary mind is the way. Yet when we try to describe it, it eludes us. As soon as we try to describe it, grass springs up everywhere. Yet when you enter the zendo, walk to your seat, sit down on a zafu, and start to practice zazen, the true self reveals its face. However, thoughts continually arise and we miss this revelation. But if we look closely at our mind, we see there are gaps between the thoughts. Who are you when there are gaps between the thoughts?
So the place where there’s not an inch of grass for ten thousand miles is neither inside nor outside of the monastery gates, but in fact, is our own true self revealed.
To go back to Layman Pang’s statement then, the bright clarity of Bodhidharma’s mind perceived the True Nature of phenomena without adding anything extra, and the meadow grasses were no longer weeds, delusions and attachments. In fact, transcending the difference between self and other, the meadow grasses were also his clear and brilliant mind.
But this is not merely a verse in praise of Bodhidharma. It is also saying that the Buddha's truth is everywhere evident, even on the tips of meadow grasses, and although the grasses may ofter be considered to represent our delusions and attachments, the Buddha's truth is also in the recognition of our delusions. As Dogen said in Genjo-Koan, "Those who greatly realize delusion are Buddhas." The Buddha's truth is everywhere, it's all around us, both inside and outside (making the distinction between inside and outside yet another delusion). But Dogen warns us not to rely on the brightness of others to show this to us. We must see for ourselves. It is easy to lose the path of active practice by relying on words and teachings, "the brightness of others," but even those lost in delusion are still moved by the manifest reality of the Buddha's truth.
Layman Pang’s statement comes up in another story. One morning, when Layman Pang was relaxing in his hut with his wide and daughter Lingzhao, he said, “Difficult, difficult, difficult. Like trying to scatter ten measures of sesame seed all over a tree.”
Hearing this, his wife said, “Easy, easy, easy. Just like touching your feet to the ground when you get out of bed.”
Lingzhao then responded, “Neither difficult, nor easy. On the hundred grass tips, the ancestors' meaning.”
Geoffrey Shugen Arnold provides an excellent discussion of the meaning of this exchange, and I am indebted to him for his stories of Layman Pang and Lingzhao used herein.