Book Of Serenity, Case 52

The case: Master Sozan asked Master Toku, "The Buddha's true body is just like space. Manifesting its form according to circumstances, it is like the moon in water. How do you understand it?"

Toku said, "It's like a donkey looking down a well (seeing his own reflection)"

Sozan said, "You aren't quite there"

Toku said, "Well, how do you understand it?"

Sozan said, "It's like the well looking up at the donkey"

To have any understanding of these stories, two things are essential. First, we need to take the image seriously, not see it as code, or immediately try to convert it into something else. The image is the whole picture. Second, we need to be keenly aware of our own tendency towards dualism. So, in this first image, we might think there are three things: the moon, the moonlight and the water. But there's only two, our mind wants to insert a moon when none is there. Likewise, in all the images concerning mirrors - a way of talking about differentiation within wholeness- we want to insert the owner of the reflection.

The image of the moon in water is a very old one. It's originally a way of describing the relationship between the mind and awareness/insight. When the mind is still, we can see things as they are. But it keeps being creatively reinterpreted, so here Sozan is using it as a way to describe the complete inter penetration of wholeness/Buddha and differentiation/myriad things.

Toku takes an image which is very traditional and beautiful, and brings it down to earth. The donkey - this practitioner - is looking down the well of all things, right to the bottom, and sees that he is not separate from anything.

But there is a risk: if we just think from this perspective, our minds can insinuate the self back into the picture, and then people can make absurd statements like "I am all existence", when really, the whole Universe is expressing itself through this donkey. This donkey. This donkey -


While Master Yakusan was practicing zazen, a monk asked him, "What are you thinking?" The Master said, "I'm thinking (shiryo) not thinking (fu-shiryo)". The monk asked, "How can you think not thinking?". The Master replied, "Hi- shiryo".

Hishiryo is really problematic to translate. It is often rendered as 'non thinking', but what is that exactly? My teacher Michael Luetchford renders it as 'different from thinking'. But in what way different? Tanahashi translates it as 'beyond thinking', which has the unfortunate connotation of a transcendent state.

The Ven Anzan Hoshin renders it as 'before thinking'. Although not grammatically accurate, this rendering is brilliant.

Just as the world didn't flash into existence when homo sapien appeared, this world does not suddenly appear when thought appears. When we sit, full attention is given to all experience, uncooked. It is as if we are looking along a long corridor. Some way along is the shuffling presence of thinking. We don't negate it. But we see it through the immediate and un-thought life of this ( ), now



The Book of Serenity, Case 4 (adapted)

The case:  The Buddha was walking with his sangha. He pointed to the ground and said 'This is where the temple should be built'.  The God Indra took a stalk of grass and replanted it in the ground, saying, 'There, the temple is built'.

It is clear from the story that the stalk of grass is the practitioner, but what is the ground, and why is it not a person but a divinity who places the stalk of grass there?

We re-enact this story when we place a stalk of incense in the incense bowl: the burning stick is each of us in this Dharma position.  This incense stick, held by the ash so it will not fall.

Isn't the ash all beings? Isn't the ground all beings?


Master Baso famously said "mind is Buddha". He also said " Ordinary mind is the way"

These remarks have been spectacularly misinterpreted. Otherwise sensible people claim he is saying that the nature of reality is mental, or that the self is Buddha, or similar nonsense.

By 'ordinary mind' he didn't mean the karmic mind, the creator of dualities, the storybook of the self. By 'ordinary' he meant what is immediately available to us, if we cease our habitual dualistic behaviour.

This 'ordinary' mind is like a fragment of sky, it extends everywhere.

The issue is not whether you are illuminated, or not illuminated.

Everything is illuminated.


One of D T Suzuki's most famous books is 'The Zen Doctrine of No-Self'. It's a very seductive title. Once we've got the theory clear, we can start to practice. Once we've got the map, we can make our way to the territory. It's a completely erroneous perspective.

My first teacher said "you cannot break the mirror of the self with the head". Denying the self is also asserting the self because - just like atheism - what is denied remains there in outline. A god shaped space, a self shaped space. We need to understand that Buddhism is the relinquishing of all views. The relinquishing of all views and discovering in the midst of practice that territory in which the karmic mind is not sovereign.

And in this place there are maps. Some are incomprehensible to us, some are like a dream

and some are like daybreak.

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