Koan Commentary
Shinji Shobogenzo Book 2, Case 48. PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 30 July 2013 16:21

Koan Commentaries


Master Tozan Ryokai became a disciple of Master Ungan Donjo, and asked; Who can hear the non-emotional preaching the Dharma?


Master Ungan said: The non-emotional can hear the non-emotional preaching the Dharma.

Master Tozan said: Do you hear this preaching?


Master Ungan said: If I listened to it, you could not hear my preaching of the Dharma.


Master Tozan said: If that is true, then I will not listen to the Master’s preaching.


Master Ungan said: You do not listen to even my preaching of the Dharma; how can you listen to the preaching by the non-emotional?


Then Master Tozan made a poem and presented it to Master Ungan.


The poem said:


How great and wonderful it is. How great and wonderful!

The Dharma preaching of the non-emotional is a mystery

If we listen to it with ears, we cannot hear it.

If we listen to it through the eyes, then we can understand.


Commentary by Nishijima

Master Tozan Ryokai asked about the preaching of the Dharma by non-emotional beings.  Non-emotional is originally “mujo,” which means inanimate or insentient, and often refers to nature.  So the preaching by non-emotional beings means the preaching of nature, which was discussed by many Buddhist monks.


However, in Shobogenzo Mujo-seppo (The Non-Emotional Preaches the Dharma).  Master Dogen’s understanding of this phrase was wider and included the whole of nature – human beings as well as mountains and rivers and so on.  His view was that inanimate things could preach the Dharma, and so could human beings, when they are not emotional.


Commentary by John Fraser

A marked feature of Chinese Buddhism is a positive view of the environment, of this world. Grasses, trees, snow falling; all are said to preach the dharma. The eruption of the suchness of things, their vivid being/doing interrupts our delusive patterns of thinking. You could say that the world in its feeling suchness is a miracle.

In the story, Tozan falsely imagines that there is a difference between – say – the cedar trees, just as they are, and Ungan, just as he is; in his preaching, in his silence, in his doing, in his being.

But at the same time, Ungan’s preaching is different from the preaching of the cedar trees. But if we chanced upon Ungan in zazen, among the cedar trees, his preaching and that of the cedar trees would be from the same voice


Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 July 2013 16:56
Shinji Shobogenzo Book 2, Case 47. PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 15 July 2013 18:47

Koan Commentaries

Master Rinzai Gigen preached to an assembly; There is a true person who has no rank. He is always going in and out through your face. A beginner who has not experienced this should look carefully. Look!


Commentary by Nishijima

Master Rinzai's expression, “There is a true person who has no rank,” is widely known in Buddhism. It points in the same direction as the concept of sunyata or emptiness. Reality exists, empty of, or beyond, the various concepts and discriminations which we impose on it. So this expression represents a person without any social attributes, and it also suggests a person who has grasped the truth. How can we see this true person? In Buddhism we are training ourselves to be true persons, to recognise “the true person,” and we should not confuse the person with their social attributes.

Master Dogen accepted the expression “true person who has no rank” as an expression of reality, but he said there is also the “true person with rank.” This means that discrimination and concepts are also an aspect of reality. They have a place in the Universe as well. Difficulties arise if we become confused about their real nature.


Commentary by John Fraser

Master Rinzai said that there was a true human being without rank who went in and out through our face.

When we hear ‘face’, we may think of Original Face, the face you had before your parents were born.

If we pay attention, we can be aware of the musculature of the face; the fixed patterns we hold, the tensions, the habitual moving contours. And if we have this awareness, we can experience our face as a kind of mask. Indeed, we might identify our sense of self with this social face. If we didn’t have a face to present to the world, could we have a self to present to ourself?

Rinzai’s person without rank is something in us which is true and alive, and which can never be entirely suppressed by our social face. And so, he emerges. And sometimes, we suppress him. And so, he goes back in. This person without rank is our original face. There is not a true face behind our social face. There is not another self behind the self. There is just life channelled by us, like light falling through windows.


Last Updated on Monday, 15 July 2013 18:50
Shinji Shobogenzo Book 2, Case 36. PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 15 July 2013 18:22

Koan Commentaries

Master Joshu asked Master Tosu Daido: What is the situation of a man who has experienced the great death and lives again?


Master Tosu said: I will not allow such a person to walk around at night. When it has become light in the morning, he can come here.


Commentary by Nishijima

The words “to experience the great death and live again,” which can be found certain Buddhist literature, sound very dramatic. Master Tosu said that the situation of a person who has had such an experience is just a common everyday fact. It is as common and natural as the fact that the monks don't wander around at night and when it becomes light they visit the master in his room.

To experience the great death means to enter reality. What is it that dies at such a time? We can say that our attachment to, or identification with, the intellect and the emotions dies during such an experience. After the great death we live in reality – not in the world of thinking or the world of emotions. However, it is also true that we are living in reality all the time, so to die the great death does not mean that we enter some extra-ordinary state, but just that we experience and fully participate in the reality that is always present in ordinary life.


Commentary by John Fraser

Our task as practitioners is to see the emptiness of all things. But in itself, that isn’t sufficient. It is a kind of sickness, because it has no heart.


If we look at the world with our mind, we only see shadows of the self. But the world is always there, concealed in your heart. When the heart opens, the world appears.


Last Updated on Monday, 15 July 2013 18:24
Shinji Shobogenzo Book 2, Case 11. PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 15 July 2013 17:58

Koan Commentaries


One day Master Hogen was clearing the ground around a spring that had become filled with sand. He said to a monk who was with him: The eye of the spring was closed because it was blocked up. When eyes for seeing the truth are closed, what blocks them?


The monk had no answer.


Master Hogen answered for the student: They are blocked by eyes.


Commentary by Nishijima

The eyes that look for the truth cannot see it because of those eyes. The mind that searches for the truth cannot find it because of that mind.

The eyes that search for the truth are themselves the truth. They have their truth as eyes. The mind that searches for reality is living in reality at every moment of its search.


Commentary by John Fraser

We make a mistake when we think the spiritual life is about getting something and then seeing what we get, rather than action itself, seeing itself.

It repeats a familiar error. We can see it in contemporary discussions about consciousness, trying to find neural correlates. But consciousness isn’t something the brain has, it’s something it does.

If we are looking for something, we will see only blackness. And thus the eye will block itself.


Last Updated on Monday, 15 July 2013 18:25
Shinji Shobogenzo Book 2, Case 5. PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 15 July 2013 17:42

Koan Commentaries

Master Ungan asked Master Dogo: What does Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva do with so many hands and eyes?


Master Dogo said: It is like someone stretching out a hand behind their head at night, looking for the pillow.


Master Ungan said: I understand. I understand.


Master Dogo said: What do you understand?


Master Ungan said: Hands and eyes exist throughout the body.


Master Dogo said: Your words describe the situations nicely, but only about eighty or ninety percent.


Master Ungan asked: What would you say?


Master Dogo said: The whole body is just hands and eyes.


Commentary by Nishijima

Avalokitesvara is traditionally the Bodhisattva of Compassion. It is said that he has thousands of eyes and thousands of hands with which to save all beings.

Master Dogo said that Avalokitesvara was like a person stretching out a hand at night to locate a pillow behind the head. He thus saw Avalokitesvara as a very natural basic life force.

Master Ungan expressed his view as hands and eyes existing throughout the body, but Master Dogo thought this implied some separation between the hands and body, so he tried to express it more accurately with “The whole body is just hands and eyes.” We can see our life itself as the natural functioning of Avalokitesvara's many hands and eyes.


Commentary by John Fraser

In this story, Alalokitesvara’s hands and eyes are manifold. She does not have 84,000 hands and eyes. She does not have inexhaustibly many hands and eyes. They are manifold. And so, we can equate them with all of existence. The whole world is one of the functions of Avalokitesvara. And these ‘hands and eyes’ suggest an interfolding of doing, being, perceiving and intuitively knowing, within the one vivid whole.

It is as if what has been on the butcher’s slab of western rationalism has abruptly risen up, illuminating everything.


The import of Dogo’s simile is that Avalokitesvara, the expression of compassion, is not intentional, and is [the reference to ‘darkness’] non discriminatory. The implication is clear: Compassion is one facet of Nonduality.

And likewise, compassion is one facet of zazen. It is not that zazen is the cultivation of gratitude or compassion, it is the expression. That is why we practice from the perspective of the Buddha, not from the perspective of a human being.

The topmost branch of a tree broke off in a storm. The lower branches held it up. They will not let it fall.


Last Updated on Monday, 15 July 2013 18:25
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