Teacher Meets the Teacher: Teaching of Mountains and Rivers, Part IV

~ Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi ~


The Prologue

The universe is not obscure. All of its activity and function lie open and exposed. In the ten directions there are no obstructions. When right and wrong are intermingled, even the great sages cannot distinguish them. When heaven and earth are interwoven, you are free to ride the clouds and follow the wind. Responding to the imperative freely, one time wielding the sword that kills, and another time manifesting the sword that gives life. The lotus blooms in the raging fire.

The Main Case

Master Dogen said, “Again, since ancient times, wise ones and sages have lived by the river. When they live by the river they catch fish, or they catch humans, or they catch the Way. These are all traditional water styles. Going further, there must be catching the self, catching the hook, being caught by the hook, and being caught by the Way. In ancient times when Chuanzi suddenly left Yaoshan and went to live on the river, he got the sage of the Flowering River. Is this not catching fish? Is this not catching humans? Catching water? Is this not catching himself? That someone could see Chuanzi is because he is Chuanzi; and Chuanzi’s teaching someone is his meeting himself.”

The Capping Verse

Evening zazen hours advance, sleep hasn’t come yet.
   More and more I realize
Mountains and rivers are good for the efforts in the Way.
The sounds in the river valley enter my ears.
   The light of the moon fills my eyes.
Outside of this, there’s not a single thing.


Kannon with    many arms

Photo by Robert Aichinger
Because it is so different from any other relationship we are familiar with, the teacher-student relationship in Zen is probably the most difficult aspect of formal training for Westerners to enter, appreciate and navigate well. Our contact with teachers during our years of education does not prepare us for the encounter with a Zen teacher. Meeting a Zen master is not about receiving information or corrections.The teacher-student realtionship in Zen does not fit the moral and ethical framework of most other religions because it is not based on belief or faith. Mind-to-mind transmission, the central pillar of that relationship, has nothing to do with understanding the teachings or believing a set of dogmas. Probably the closest model we have in the West for this kind of teacher-student relationship is the bond between a master artist and apprentice. Closer still might be this kind of apprenticeship within the Zen arts—martial arts or fine arts—particularly as they are taught in Japan. Yet the mind-to-mind transmission predates the existence of most of these disciplines. It’s a style of teaching that holds not knowing and trusting oneself in very high esteem. It requires that there be an ultimate merging of the teacher’s and the student’s way of perceiving the universe. Going even further, the teacher must disappear so that the student can take his or her place.
In this section of the “Mountains and Rivers Sutra,” Dogen addresses the true spirit of the teacher-student relationship. In the prologue we find clues about the state of consciousness that is transmitted between teacher and student. It says, “The universe is not obscure.” This statement comes from the point of view of having realized the universe. “All of its activity and function lie open and exposed.” There’s nothing hidden. “In the ten directions there are no obstructions.” When we fully realize that all of the barriers we encounter in our lives are self-created, we realize that we can uncreate them. In the whole universe, there are no obstructions. “When right and wrong are intermingled, even the great sages cannot distinguish them.” We begin practice within the realm of this and that, of differentiation. Then after many years of study we come to realize the absolute nature of reality. We personally experience the great emptiness. But that’s only one side. We must proceed further, driven on by the practice, by the koans, by the teacher, and come to see and to realize the manifestation of the absolute in the world of differences. We learn to function in the world from the point of view of realization. That’s the other side. But there are still two sides. We must go deeper, until we realize the ten thousand things as a reflection of this body and mind. Then there is no way to avoid the great heart of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva—the ten thousand hands and eyes of great compassion reaching out, intermingling with all beings.
leaf

Photo by Jocelyn Pope
Still, the practice continues until we arrive at the fourth rank of Master Dongshan. “When right and wrong are intermingled, even the great sages cannot distinguish them. When heaven and earth are interwoven, you are free to ride the clouds and follow the wind. Responding to the imperative freely, one time wielding the sword that kills, and another time manifesting the sword that gives life. The lotus blooms in the raging fire.” All differences merge to a point where it becomes possible to roam freely and act according to the imperative.
Master Dongshan presented a poem to describe the fourth rank:

There is no need to avoid crossed swords.
   A good hand like a lotus blooming in a fire
has in itself a heaven soaring spirit.

There is no need to avoid crossed swords. Don’t avoid the difficulties of life. In the 1980s several American Zen communities were embroiled in a series of scandals. Accusations were made, students left, monastics disrobed, and teachers were held in great disrepute in various sanghas. Yet somehow, some of these teachers were like phoenixes—they rose out of the ashes and corrected what needed correcting. They acknowledged the karma they had created with their actions, took responsibility for it, and returned to teaching.
“A good hand is like a lotus blooming in a fire.” The lotus is a symbol of nirvana or enlightenment, and the fire a symbol of samsara or delusion. Rather than seeing samsara and nirvana as two separate things, in this fourth rank of Master Dongshan, they merge. The lotus doesn’t exist outside of the fire; it actually blooms because of the fire. The fire burns, the lotus blooms. It’s because the fire burns that the lotus can bloom. That’s how the lotus derives its nourishment. During oryoki, our formal meal, we chant, “May we exist in muddy water with purity like a lotus; thus we bow to Buddha.” It is because the water is muddied with decaying, rotting vegetation, that the lotus can bloom. If you were to take that lotus out of the muddy water and transplant it into distilled water, it would be dead in a day. A good practitioner is like a lotus blooming in a fire. When you give life, you give life through and through, always acting according to conditions. When one has realized the emptiness of the self and all things, having forgotten the self, it’s possible to respond according to conditions, whatever those conditions are.
Conditions always arise according with our karma. We all create karma in different ways. A vow is karma. A vow is very powerful. When you make a vow, you create karma, providing the vow is real. When people make marriage vows to each other, they create karma. When we vow to uphold the precepts, we create karma. When we take the vows of a monastic, we create karma, just by virtue of that vow. Whatever the vow is, we create that karma with our expressed intent. But it must be a vow that consumes all of our being, not just the mouthing of a few words or ideas. In order for the vow to be functioning, it needs to be real. It needs to be sincere. To vow means to commit, to practice, and to do.
Dogen says, “Again, since ancient times, wise ones and sages have lived by the river. When they live by the river they catch fish, or they catch humans, or they catch the Way. These are all traditional water styles. Going further, there must be catching the self, catching the hook, being caught by the hook, and being caught by the Way. In ancient times when Chuanzi suddenly left Yaoshan and went to live on the river, he got the sage of the Flowering River. Is this not catching fish? Is this not catching humans? Catching water? Is this not catching himself? That someone could see Chuanzi is because he is Chuanzi; and Chuanzi’s teaching someone is his meeting himself.”
Chuanzi and Yaoshan were two Chinese Zen masters in our lineage. Yaoshan was the teacher of Yunyan and Yunyan was the teacher of Dongshan, who is credited with establishing the Soto lineage. During one of the great persecutions of Buddhism in the Tang dynasty, around the year 845 c.e., Chuanzi left the temple at Yaoshan mountain and went to live along the Flowering River. He said that he was good for nothing but enjoyed the mountains and rivers, so he became a ferryman and continued teaching in disguise.
The following is a koan involving Chuanzi in Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koan Shobogenzo. It is a difficult, but very powerful teaching:

Chuanzi Decheng was practicing together with Daowu and Yunyan at Yaoshan’s community. Chuanzi left Yaoshan and lived on a small boat on a river in Huating Prefecture. Before he left, he had said to Daowu, “If you meet a promising teacher, please send him to me.” Zen Master Jiashan was abbot of Zhulin Monastery. Daowu happened to visit the monastery and attended one of Jiashan’s lectures. A monastic asked, “What is the dharma body?” Jiashan said, “The dharma body has no form.” The monastic asked again, “What is the dharma eye?” Jiashan said, “The dharma eye has no scratch.” Daowu could not help laughing. Jiashan noticed it. After getting down from the teaching seat, he greeted Daowu, made a formal bow and said, “Did you laugh because I gave a wrong answer to that monastic? Please be kind enough to explain.” Daowu said, “Although you have become the abbot of this fine monastery, you have not yet met a true master.” Jiashan said, “Please tell me where my fault lies.” Daowu said, “I cannot explain it to you, but I have a peer who gives teachings on a boat. Let me suggest that you go and meet him. I am sure you will attain something.” Jiashan said, “Who is this person?” Daowu said, “There is not half a slate above him. There is not an inch of ground beneath him. But, when you go, you had better not wear your robe.” Jiashan soon dissolved his assembly, changed his clothes and went straight to Huating.
Seeing Jiashan approaching, Chuanzi said to him, “Of which monastery are you the abbot?” Jiashan said, “I am not abbot of a monastery, or I wouldn’t look like this.” Chuanzi said, “What do you mean by ‘not like this’?” Jiashan said, “It’s not like something right in front of you.” Chuanzi said, “Where did you study?” Jiashan said, “No place that ears or eyes can reach.” Chuanzi said, “The phrase you understand can still tether the donkey for a myriad kalpas.” Then he said, “I hang a line one thousand feet deep, but the heart is three inches off the hook. Why don’t you say something?” Jiashan was about to open his mouth. Chuanzi knocked him into the water with the boat pole. Jiashan surfaced and climbed onto the boat. Chuanzi said, “Say something. Say something!” Jiashan was about to open his mouth when Chuanzi hit him again. Jiashan was suddenly awakened and bowed three times.

fisherman and net

Photo by Gabriella Fabbri

Chuanzi said, “You’re welcome to the fishing pole. However, the meaning of ‘it ripples no quiet water’ is naturally profound.” Jiashan said, “Why do you give away the fishing pole?” Chuanzi said, “It is to see whether a fish of golden scales is or is not. If you have realized it, speak quickly; words are wondrous and unspeakable.” While Chuanzi was speaking, Jiashan covered his ears and began to walk away. Chuanzi said, “Quite so, quite so.” Then the master instructed Jiashan: “From now on, erase all traces, but do not hide your body. I was at Yaoshan’s for thirty years and clarified just this. Now you have this. Do not live in a city or village. Just be in a deep mountain or on a farm and guide one or half a person. Succeed in my teaching and don’t let it be cut off.” Jiashan accepted Chuanzi’s entrustment and bid him farewell. He went ashore and started to walk away, looking back again and again. Chuanzi called out, “Reverend, Reverend!” Jiashan turned around. Chuanzi held up the oar and said, “There is something more.” Upon uttering these words, he jumped out of the boat and disappeared into the mist and waves.

When Jiashan asked, “Why do you give away the fishing pole?” Chuanzi said, “It is to see whether a fish of golden scales is or is not.” To see whether it is or is not realized. You can see such a fish only after you’ve gone beyond discrimination. The fishing pole is a symbol of the teaching. In other words, Chuanzi was transmitting the job of teaching on the boat to Jiashan. Handing over the fishing pole is very similar to handing over the kutz or the shippei or the staff, items that are part of the mind-to-mind transmission ceremony between teacher and student. All of the symbols of transmission are ordinary objects. The fly whisk, which looks very exotic to Westerners, is just a fly swatter used to shoo insects away. The stick is just a crooked stick, the shippei is a broken bow, and the staff is just a length of a tree branch used to cross the river. These everyday objects became the symbols of the mind-to-mind transmission. Here the teacher was a boatman, so the fishing pole was the symbol of the transmission.
In the Eihei Koroku, another collection of Dogen’s teachings, he comments on this case: “Although when Jiashan was at the temple he was excellent in discussion, he expounded the teachings to humans and celestials, he was perfect in speech and no one could defeat him in argument, it still wasn’t complete.” Jiashan had all of the intellectual capabilities. He had everything that any fine abbot would have, and still, his practice was incomplete. After seeing Chuanzi, he realized himself. There was nothing more to be desired.
unculingferns

Photo by Hagit Berkovich

Dogen continues, “He succeeded in the essence of the Buddha and became a master. You may seek such a person in the world now. We find it impossible. What a shame. Noble Buddhist trainees must know this: first of all, you must have an indestructible bodhi-seeking mind and fix your eyes upon the absolute realm, beyond increase and decrease. See how Chuanzi left the fishing hook. How could he do such a thing?” Transmission of the dharma from Chuanzi to Jiashan is no different than it has been for 2500 years. Generation to generation, the form may change, the people may change, the actual encounter may change, the words and ideas that describe it may change, but in each case, it’s the buddha mind that goes from one generation to the next. Because it’s the buddha mind that is transmitted and not words, sutras, forms, or institutions, it has the freedom to take the shape of the vessel that contains it. It has the ability to adapt to circumstances. Nothing is fixed. Everything is in a constant state of becoming. The dharma must evolve accordingly, and always respond to the imperative of the moment.

On the surface, Chuanzi’s teaching may seem rather harsh. Jiashan was a dignified man, the abbot of a temple, but he also had enough bodhi-seeking mind to be able to become a student when he realized there was something missing. The great master Daowu was the one that stirred up his mind. Jiashan went to see Chuanzi, and in the encounter that ensued, gasping for breath as Chuanzi kept shoving his head under water, Jiashan finally got the point that the truth had to be beyond the words and ideas that describe reality. The truth is beyond the notions, explanations, understandings, belief systems, sutras, forms and institutions.
If you’re pressed to explain mind-to-mind transmission, it’s impossible to describe, because nothing goes from A to B. Conventionally, transmission implies that something is transmitted and something is received; but that’s definitely not the case here. Nothing is transmitted and nothing is received. When I say nothing, I don’t mean that emptiness is transmitted. I mean nothing. No information, no ideas, no spirits, no magic, no emptiness. Not a single, solitary thing goes from A to B. And because my teacher gave me absolutely nothing, everyday I express my gratitude to him and to all my dharma ancestors. If they had given me something, they would have been charlatans and bound me with their gifts.
But if there’s nothing to get, then what takes place in the mind-to-mind transmission? Out of the deep recesses of one’s own being, the realization of that which has always been there comes up to surface consciousness and is perceived.That was what the Buddha realized and that was his first teaching. All sentient beings have the buddha nature. The incredible dilemma that all practitioners encounter is that we’re involved in a process of seeking that which cannot be sought. The moment we direct ourselves toward it, we move away from it.
Then what do we do? We find ourselves working on koans that are completely ungraspable. Someone said to me in dokusan, “How can I be Mu if I don’t know what it is?” That’s the very thing that makes Mu such a powerful koan. All of the ideas that we can normally project onto more concrete questions like “Who am I?” are ineffective with Mu. It’s the same with the sound of one hand clapping. You know the sound of two hands clapping; what is the sound of one hand clapping? Be the sound of one hand clapping. “How can I be the sound of one hand clapping if I don’t know what it is?” Hear the sound of one hand clapping. “How? I have no way of perceiving it with my mind.” Exactly. How wonderful!
Zen practice is a process that accesses aspects of human consciousness that has been buried under years of conditioning by parents, teachers, education, peers, and culture. Everybody gets annoyed that it takes so long. Why haven’t I seen it? I’ve been doing it for three years, five years, seven years. But what does it mean to say you’ve been working on it for all those years? Does it mean twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year? Or does it mean a half hour or fifteen minutes a day? If you can get a doctorate in six years, why does it take so long to accomplish yourself in Zen? A doctorate in Zen Buddhism will provide you with with a wealth of ideas about Zen but it isn’t going to resolve the fundamental suffering of your life. It’s not going to impart any strength in yourself or in anyone else. It’s not going to allow you to be free to ride the clouds and follow the wind. You will have a lot of information and you’ll be very smart. But whether you’ll free yourself of the question of life and death, that’s another matter.
What is it that was realized, first by Chuanzi, then by Jiashan? What was it that was transmitted between them? Shakyamuni held up a flower; Mahakashyapa got it. Mahakashyapa called out to Ananda; Ananda answered, “Yes, Master.” Ananda got it. Chuanzi almost drowned Jiashan and Jiashan got it. Old Huangbo punched out Linji; Linji got it. What kind of crazy practice is this? It’s got nothing to do with the gestures, the forms, the outward appearances. It’s got nothing to do with all of the wonderful descriptions of insight in the Three Pillars of Zen. It’s not about walking three feet off the ground or ecstatic, cosmic experiences. Those experiences manifest after the fact. Those are natural consequences of being released from the bind of life and death. What is it that those people realized? What is it that Jiashan, Mahakashyapa, Ananda and Linji realized?
The capping verse:

Evening zazen hours advance, sleep hasn’t come yet.
   More and more I realize
Mountains and rivers are good for the efforts in the Way.
The sounds in the river valley enter my ears.
   The light of the moon fills my eyes.
Outside of this, there’s not a single thing.

This is one of Dogen’s poems. It’s a beautiful expression of the fourth rank of Master Dongshan. The fourth rank is the stuff that practice is made of. In the fourth rank mountains are really mountains. They’re not something else; they’re just mountains. When you’re upset, you’re upset. People have difficulty with that degree of ordinariness. They want their sages to levitate.
tibetan bells

Photo by Csaba Polgar
The world of everyday phenomena contains all the profound teachings. Conflict itself is a teacher. How we respond amidst conflict as Buddhist practitioners communicaties something to everyone else. Don’t avoid conflict. Don’t run and hide from it. Don’t ignore or deny it. Engage it. But engage it with wisdom and compassion. Engage it with skill and clarity, responding according to conditions, according to the imperative, and according to your vow—the vow to save all sentient beings; the vow to put an end to desires; the vow to master the dharmas; and the vow to attain the Way.
“A lotus blooming in the fire has in itself a heaven soaring spirit.” This is no different than Dogen’s “The sounds of the river valley enter my ears. The light of the moon fill my eyes. Outside of this there’s not a single thing.” Dogen was living in the mountains when he wrote this. If he had been living in the city, it would have read: The sounds of the distant sirens enter my ears. The light of the street lamps and neon signs enters my eyes. Outside of this there’s not a single thing. Indeed, outside of you, of me, there is not a single thing.

John Daido Loori, Roshi (1931-2009) was the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery and the founder of the Mountains and Rovers Order of Zen Buddhism. A successor to Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi, Roshi, Daido Roshi trained in rigorous koan Zen and in the subtle teachings of Master Dogen, and was a lineage holder in the Soto and Rinzai schools of Zen.

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