Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Case 70: The First Exchange

Pai Chang first asked Kuei Shan, "With your throat, mouth, and lips shut, how will you speak?" 
Kuei Shan said, "Please, Master, you speak instead." 
Pai Chang replied, "I don't refuse to speak to you, but I fear that if I did, in the future I would be bereft of descendants."   
There's a lot going on in this exchange, but before considering that all that, let's first examine the characters. Pai Chang is more familiar, at least to my ears, as Chan Master Baizhang (720-814), known in Japanese as Hyakujo and the central character in the famous Zen koan Hyakujo's Fox.  His student Kuei Shan is more commonly known as Guishan and also became a famous Master in his own right and appears in many koans as well.

But getting back to the current koan, Case 70 in The Blue Cliff Record, in the first half of his reply, Pai Chang is basically saying to Kuei Shan to say that he won't speak to him ("I don't refuse to speak to you, but . . ."). That's a clever way of talking to someone without speaking to them. 

It's easy to misunderstand the second part.  He's not vainly worrying about his own legacy, fearing that if he fell into the trap of speaking first that Kuei Shan had tried to lay out for him, his students would abandon him. That attitude hardly seems fitting of an awakened teacher.

I think he's saying that the truth of the Buddha-Way is beyond the duality of words.  By definition, words are, well, definitions.  Each word isolates some aspect of the infinite, interconnected Universe from everything else.  The word "tree" does not mean rain, or soil, or sunlight, yet all are integral parts of what gives rise to a tree and are therefore intimately part of "tree," but the one word misses that aspect.  The name "Kuei Shan" does not mean Pai Chang, or you, or me, but on close examination there is no separation of any of these.  

If Pai Chang were to speak to Kuei Shan and explain to him with words the question that he had just posed, then there would be no realization of the truth of the matter on the part of Kuei Shan.  Or for that matter, by anybody later hearing of the exchange, including you and I.  For the teaching to be passed down, Kuei Shan needs to realize an answer for himself, you and I need to realize an answer for ourselves, and that is the only way for there to be any descendants of the realization of Pai Chang.  

It is not that Pai Chang feared he would lose his students and be bereft of descendants, it is that Pai Chang was concerned that he would not be teaching the truth of Buddhism, which would not result in the passing down of the teaching.          

No comments: