Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Sound of Bamboo, The Sight of Peach Blossoms

One time, while Zen Master Kyōgen Chikan was training at Mount Dai-i in the community of Zen Master Isan Reiyū, Isan said to him, “You are sharp and bright, and you have wide understanding. So, without quoting from any text or commentary, speak a phrase for me in the state you had before your parents were born.”

However many times he tried, Kyōgen was unable to do so. Deeply ashamed of himself, he consulted all the books and their commentaries that he had amassed over the years, but he was still left at wit’s end. Finally, he took a torch and burned the writings he had previously collected, saying, “A rice cake in a painting will never satisfy one’s hunger! I swear that I will no longer crave after the Buddha-Dharma in this lifetime. I will just be a kitchen monk who serves up the rice and gruel.” And so he served up the rice and gruel as the months and years went by.

After having worked in this way for many years, he said to Isan, “I am dull in body-and-mind and cannot express the truth. Would the Master say something for me?" Isan responded, “It is not that I refuse to say anything for your sake, but I fear that later on you would come to resent me for it.”

And so, several more years passed, and Kyōgen went to visit the site where the National Teacher Nan-yo Echū had lived. Arriving at Mount Butō, he collected grass and built himself a hermit’s hut on the spot where the National Teacher’s hermitage had stood. He planted some bamboo, which served as his sole companion. One day, while intent on sweeping his walkway clean, he accidentally sent a piece of tile flying, which hit the bamboo. Upon hearing the knocking sound it made, he suddenly had a great awakening. He bathed himself and turned in the direction of Mount Dai-i to offer incense and reverently bow. Then, as though facing Isan himself, he said, “Great Master Isan, if you had explained it to me before, how would this thing have been possible? The depth of your kindness surpasses even that of a parent."

He composing a song about the experience:

At a single stroke, I have forgotten all that I learned.
No longer need I practice self-discipline.
I make my way along the Old Path,
Never looking down in despair.

There is no trace anywhere:
The state is dignified action beyond sound and form.
Those everywhere who have realized the Way,
As one, praise this supreme moment.

When he heard this song, Isan said, “This disciple is complete.”

Zen Master Reiun Shigon had trained and practiced for thirty years. Then one day, while on a ramble in the mountains, he took a rest at the foot of a hill and viewed a village in the distance. It was spring at the time, and, glimpsing the peach blossoms in bloom there, he suddenly awoke to the Way. He, too, composed a song, and presented it to Master Isan:

For thirty years, I sought for a sword of wisdom:
How many times have leaves fallen and the buds sprouted?
But at one glance at those peach blossoms,
I have arrived directly at the present and have no further doubts.

Isan said, “The person who enters the Way by relying on external conditions will never retreat from it nor lose it.” This is his affirmation. Is there anyone who has not entered by way of some external condition? Is there anyone who, once having entered, would retreat from this place, or lose it? This is not something that applies to Reiun and Reiun alone. Ultimately he inherited the Dharma from Isan. If the form of the mountains were not the Pure Body of Buddha, how could a thing like this be possible? (from Shobogenzo Keisei-Sanshiki by Zen Master Dogen, 1240)

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