~ Dharma Talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei~
Blue Cliff Record, Case 56
Quinshan’s One Arrowpoint Smashes Three Barriers
The buddhas never appeared in the world—there is nothing to be given to people. The Ancestor never came from the West—he never passed on the transmission by mind. Since people of these times do not understand, they frantically search outside themselves. They are far from knowing that the One Great Matter right where they are cannot be grasped even by a thousand sages.
Right now, where do seeing and not seeing, hearing and not hearing, speaking and not speaking, knowing and not knowing come from? If you are unable to apprehend clearly, then try to understand inside the cave of entangling vines. To test, I cite this: look!
The Main Case
Chan traveler Liang asked Qinshan, “How is it when a single arrowhead smashes three barriers?”
Qinshan said, “Bring out the lord within the barriers for me to see.”
Liang said, “So then knowing my fault I must change.”
Shan said, “Why wait any longer?”
Liang said, “A well–shot arrow doesn’t hit anywhere,” and (started to) leave.
Shan said, “Come here a minute.” Liang turned his head; Shan held him tight and said, “Leaving aside for a moment a single arrow- head smashing three barriers, let’s see you shoot an arrow.” Liang hesitated, so Shan hit him seven times and said, “I’ll allow this fellow will be doubting for thirty more years.”
The Capping Verse
I bring out the master within the barriers
You disciples who would shoot an arrow,
don’t be careless!
Take an eye, and the ears go deaf; Let go an ear, and the eyes both go blind. I can admire a single arrowpoint
smashing three barriers— The trail of the arrow is truly clear. You don’t see?
Xuansha had words for this:
“A great adept is the primordial ancestor of mind.”
“The buddhas never appeared in the world—there is nothing to be given to people” begins the pointer to this koan. This is a teaching we hear frequently in Zen practice; the teacher has nothing to give to the disciple. And yet, Yuanwu says, “Since people of these times do not understand, they frantically search outside themselves.” He’s speaking from more than a thousand years ago, and so we see that in this regard, not much has changed. In fact, I wonder if the frantic pace of our searching beyond ourselves hasn’t, in fact, become much greater. We’re so inundated with images from movies and advertising that show us a happiness, a love, a life that appears to be so much more than our own. Everywhere we turn—television, radio, the internet— we encounter pundits, experts and other confident people who seem to know so much and express their great certainty about all kinds of things.
The Buddha realized that being born human means we are in complete possession of that which we seek to find true contentment. But if this is true, then why don’t we know it in our bones? Why are our lives so marked with dukkha?
Qinshan originally studied with Yantou and Xuefeng, and at one point in their training the three of them went to study with Deshan. One day Qinshan asked Deshan, “Your master and your master’s master spoke this way about the dharma. How do you say it?” Deshan replied, “Try to cite what my teacher and my teacher’s teacher said.” And as Qinshan started to speak, Deshan pushed him into the nirvana hall. This is the place where monks go to die. Deshan was telling Qinshan, “What you’re doing is dead. There’s no life to it.” To this Qinshan answered, “You may be right, but you beat me too much.”
In this case, Liang approaches Qinshan and asks, “How is it when a single arrowhead smashes three barriers?” What these three barriers are, is not clearly specified; they could be the barriers of greed, anger and ignorance. Ultimately, this is not so important. Liang is really asking, is there one single arrowhead—one action, one realization—that can free one from all entanglements?
We often see different barriers as being distinct from each other. When we encounter greed within ourselves, we recognize that we have to be more generous. When we’re angry, we know we have to be calmer. In our ignorance, we strive for greater clarity. But barriers can’t be divided from each other. They all interpenetrate and arise from one place. They manifest in one body and mind, expressing one delusion that takes different forms at different times. They all arise from the attachment to a permanent self. What is the one single arrow that dissolves all forms of bondage?
photo by Alberto Uyarra
Qinshan says, “Bring out the master within the barriers for me to see.” In a moment of delusion or enlightenment, of heaven and hell, who is the master? Qinshan says, bring out the master for me to see. In the pointer, Yuanwu says, “Right now, where do seeing and not seeing, hearing and not hearing, speaking and not speaking, knowing and no knowing come from?” What is their source? Who is the master? Qinshan is not asking for an explanation of or justification for the barrier’s presence. He’s saying, go to the place before seeing and hearing, realize the self before the arising of any sound, sight, smell or idea.
When Qinshan was studying with Master Dongshan, Dongshan asked him, “Where did you come from?” Qinshan said “From Great Compassion [Temple].” Dongshan said, “Did you see the master of great compassion?” Qinshan said, “I did.” Dongshan pressed him further, “Did you see him before form or after form?” Qinshan replied, “It was not seen before or after.” Dongshan was silent. At this, Qinshan said, “Having left my master too soon, I didn’t get to the bottom of the meaning.” How refreshing, Dongshan must have thought, to encounter such honesty. Before or after form—right now, Dongshan was asking, show me the master of great compassion.
Yuanwu says, “Since people of these times do not understand, they frantically search outside themselves.” Searching outside is deceptive, because every time we search, we’ll find something. And if we already have a sense of what we’re searching for, we might very well find that very thing. This, in turn seems to confirm the search. But what does it mean to not search outside? Seeking outside doesn’t just mean looking to our external world. We can be looking within ourselves and still be seeking outside. At the moment when we understand our complete responsibility, there can be no more outside of ourselves.
Liang says, “So then knowing my fault I must change.” Yuanwu says this response was undeniably extraordinary. Knowing my fault I must change. This is the great pivot point of spiritual practice, the beginning of being responsible for the whole catastrophe, as my teacher would often say. It is here that practice begins. When we don’t understand, then both the problem and the solution are thought to be external.
Within adversity or injustice it is especially difficult to understand that if we want to get to the root of the suffering, we have to deal with both the creator and master of the suffering. It can be difficult when the problem seems so clearly located somewhere else. And, indeed, there may be a real problem. But if we want to get to the root of suffering, as Qinshan said, we have to bring out the master within that barrier. Because we’ll find that even when injustice has been rectified, even when inequality has turned to equality, the root of suffering persists. This is what the Buddha realized. This is the First Noble Truth, “Life is dukkha.”
“Knowing my fault I must change.” When we begin to really understand this truth, practice becomes easier, but it also becomes more difficult. It’s more difficult because as we stop trying to locate the problem somewhere else, as we face ourselves more honestly, our lives can seem to get harder, more painful. But because we’re now so much closer to the real heart of things, because we’re being honest, now we can really practice effectively.
In response to Liang’s statement Qinshan asks, “Why wait any longer?” Liang says, “A well–shot arrow doesn’t hit anywhere,” and then turns to leave. This statement may be true, but is it true for him? It’s one thing to say something you’ve read or heard, but is it true? That’s the challenge of expressing the dharma. That should be the question we ask ourselves every time we go to face to face teaching, particularly for koan students who are presenting their understanding of the dharma. What they say may be true, but is it true for them? The difference here means everything. And although the teacher’s job is to verify that what is being expressed has been also realized, ultimately it’s the student’s responsibility to demand that of him or herself.
Liang turns to leave, and Qinshan says, “Come here a minute,” Liang turned his head and Qinshan grabbed him and said, “Leaving aside for a moment a single arrowhead smashing three barriers, let’s see you shoot an arrow.” Qinshan, pressing Liang’s nose into his own words, is in effect saying to him, “So you say; show me this truth!” Liang hesitated, so Qinshan hit him and said, “I’ll allow as this fellow will be doubting for thirty more years.” Liang is not yet there, not yet ready to let go of it all and leap into the eye of the arrow.
When there’s no way to divide inside and outside, at that moment, who is speaking and not speaking, hearing and not hearing. At that moment, what barrier is there? Can you find it? At that moment, it’s dissolved. Not dissolved. Do you see? There is nothing to be given to people. There is nothing to be extinguished, and because of this, we practice. We train the mind and body to realize that which cannot be given, that which can’t be gained and can’t be lost. Because it’s only in that kind of knowing that change takes place. It’s there that the truth of every moment can freely manifest itself because there’s nothing to bind or constrict it. We are no longer opposing that truth, which is what our delusions and attachments do. That’s why attachments are so exhausting. It’s like swimming upstream. If attachments were based in reality, then the more attached you were to things, the easier things should be. If in grasping at things, reifying the self, we were moving more in accord with the nature of things, then we should experience that harmony. Barriers should fall away. But what we find is exactly the opposite. The more we attach, the greater the burden. The more we turn away, the greater the suffering. And that’s one of the reasons that practice takes time. Because we have to see that our old way of doing things is just not working. The capping verse says: I bring out the lord within the barriers for you. You disciples who would shoot an arrow, don’t be careless! We need to know how to shoot the arrow. It’s one thing to talk about attachments, about the self, about study, practice, and training. But these are all words. What do they mean? How do we study the Way? How do we train in accord with the buddhadharma? How do we not be careless?
Yuanwu’s comment to Xuedou’s first line reads, “Open your eyes and you can see. Close your eyes and you can see too. With form, without form, all is cut into three sections.” When you look, it’s there. When you don’t look, it’s still there. When you turn towards it, it’s completely present. When you turn away from it, it’s completely present. It doesn’t come, it doesn’t go, it doesn’t appear, it doesn’t disappear. It’s just that within our fixed ways of seeing, we don’t know if the eyes are closed or open. Thus, in real training we must first discover that our eyes are closed. That’s a leap. From within the dream how do you suddenly leap into knowing that you’re dreaming? But Alberto Uyarra at the instant we realize that our eyes are shut, they have already begun to open. Going further, Xuedou says, Take an eye, and the ears go deaf; Let go an ear, and the eyes go blind. Take one eye and fill it completely, then you’re deaf. Take the ears and fill them completely, then you can’t see. What is this realm? It’s not anything that we can think of. It’s not a dream. It’s not an idea. It’s not a metaphor. It is that which is present when we look and it is that which is present when we don’t look. The trail of the arrow is clear. You don’t see? The message is sent without ever taking a step, but it must be received. This means study, practice and verification. “Knowing my fault, I must change.”
Xuedou concludes his poem: Xuansha had words for this: A great adept is the primordial ancestor of mind. This is true before Shakyamuni, before Buddhism, before dharma, before all creation.
Because spiritual centers, teachers and teachings are so prevalent today, it’s easy to conclude that genuine insight can be easily had. But nothing of deep value can be easily had. To cut through the entanglements that are older than our lives by thousands of years, that we inherit, not just from our parents, but from all of humanity, and that are reinforced and compounded every single day—to turn around and face those entanglements and vow to see through them, to be free of that—is not a small thing. Master Dogen said, “The most difficult thing to change is the human mind.” And yet, the human mind is nothing but change. There’s not one single speck of it that is fixed. There is not one single speck of it that is an “it.” That’s why, when we begin practicing and moving in accord with the nature of things, with our nature, the affirmation is resounding. We don’t always see it, or hear it, because we get caught up in difficult things that become everything. We see these difficult things as signs and infuse them with meaning and significance. Is this right or wrong? Should I be at this dharma center? Is this the right practice for me? Am I doing it right? Yet I don’t think it’s an accident that so many people, in encountering the dharma, have a sense of coming home. Year after year after year I’ve heard people say this. I felt it myself when I first walked through these gates. And I’ve heard people say it who, by the look in their eyes, tell me they don’t even know what they’re saying. They don’t understand it, yet they know it’s true. How can that be so?
“Knowing my fault I must change.” “Why wait any longer?” Qinshan says. Each night we chant the Evening Gatha, “Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by, and opportunity is lost.” Why do we end each day of training with these words? Because they’re the medicine for our forgetfulness. Because this message is the very thing we need to hear. We need to be reminded of this truth. Because when we remember, training and practice of the Way naturally occur.
photo by Tony Hisgett