The wooden ox walks in fire

We live in a world of dualistic consciousness. The realm created by consciousness is characterized by our perceived division of things into subjects and objects. Both consciousness and Store-house Consciousness (or unconsciousness) pertain to the level of subjectivity. They are ruled by the principle of arising and passing away. Our minds are imbalanced and impure, and we cannot escape from the round of birth and death.

In order to overcome all duality, we have to break through consciousness and Store-house Consciousness, where there is no distinction between good and evil, birth and death, subject and object, time and space. This state of mind is ultimately free and without obstruction. One can reach it neither through the mere intellect nor through the immobilization of mind. The surest and most direct way to this kind of experience is through the mass of doubt produced by the active kong-an (Ch., kung-an/Jn., koan) practice handed down in the Patriarchal seon tradition.

It is estimated that there are in all some 1700 types of kong-an within the seon tradition. Actually there are countless varieties, because the innumerable problems of human beings are all vivid motifs for kong-an. If any single selected kong-an is resolved, all of them will burst open simultaneously. I shall now introduce you to the way in which one may understand the practice of kong-an.

First of all, the practitioner should have great tenacity in pursuing the fundamental questions of human birth and death. A monk asked Chao-Chou:

“What is the motif of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West?”

Chao-Chou replied:

“The arborvitae tree is in the garden!”

This is a question about Patriarchal seon. That is to say, the monk asks Chao-Chou about the purpose of Bodhidharma’s mission, the first patriarch of seon, coming from India to China. The seon practitioner must earnestly ask himself why Chao-Chou said “The arborvitae tree is in the garden!”. He should make his whole body and mind into one great inquiry. The first step is that he has to be absorbed into the kong-an without any distinction between subject and object. He has to become one with the kong-an, free from all discursive thoughts. If he continually maintains the great inquiry, the kong-an keeps going under its own momentum. This is the second step. Persevering zealously in his practice of kong-an, all thoughts are completely extinguished. Mind at this stage is motionless like stone or iron, but the practitioner is increasingly alert and attentive with his kong-an. If he pushes himself further, he breaks through Store-house Consciousness by the force of his kong-an. His whole mind, conscious and unconscious, is broken through, and simultaneously, the mind manifests, free and without obstacles. Here, there is no distinction between good and evil, birth and death, subject and object, time and space. At this stage, the mind is ultimately liberated. If he breaks through to a further level, there is unity between the break-through and the manifestation of all things. Taken still further, he is free and dynamic because of the limitless liberation of break-though with boundless manifestation of all things. At last, he accomplishes the great life-time work!

None of these stages are separate from each other, for they are all interrelated. But this stupid old man will not allow even this.

“Why don’t I allow it? – Answer my question immediately!” “Why? Because I shall deliver my Dharma talk without allowing myself to adhere to even this ultimate stage of realization!”

 

[Case]

 

When Linchi was about to pass away, he admonished San-sheng, “After I pass on, don’t destroy my secret code of insight into upright dharma (Zhengfayanzang).” San-sheng said, “How would I dare destroy the teacher’s secret code of insight into upright dharma?” Linchi said, “If someone suddenly questioned you about it, how would you reply?” At once, San-sheng started shouting. Linchi said, “Who would have thought that my secret code of insight into upright dharma would perish with this blind ass?”

 

[The Great Patriarch Seo-Ong’s Added Saying]

 

“After I pass on, don’t destroy my secret code of insight into upright dharma.” Linchi said. “If someone suddenly questioned you about it, how would you reply?” San-sheng said, “How would I dare destroy the teacher’s secret code of insight into upright dharma?”

        These refer to the state of all-pervading break-though and the simultaneous manifestation of all things.

 

Linchi said, “If someone suddenly questions you about it, how will you reply?” and San-sheng immediately started shouting.

        These refer to the state that is free without obstacles due to the unity between all-pervading break-though and the manifestation of all things.

 

Linchi said, “Who would have thought that my secret code of insight into upright dharma would perish with this blind ass?”

        This shows the state that is ultimately free and dynamic due to the endlessly liberating break-though and the boundless manifestation of mind.

 

[Verses by Tiantongjue]

 

The robe of faith is imparted at midnight to Hui-neng,

Stirring up the seven hundred monks at Huang-mei.

The eye of truth of the branch of Linchi;

The blind ass, destroying it, gets the hatred of others.

From mind to mind they seal each other;

From patriarch to patriarch they pass on the lamp,

Leveling oceans and mountains, A fowl turns into a roc.

name and word alone are hard to compare.

In sum, the method is knowing how to fly freely.

 

[The Great Patriarch Seo-Ong’s Commentary on the Verses]

 

“The robe of faith is imparted at midnight to Hui-neng” refers to the manifestation of all things.

“Stirring up the seven hundred monks at Huang-mei” refers to penetration of all things. “The eye of truth of the branch of Linchi” shows the manifestation of all things.

“The blind ass, destroying it, gets the hatred of others” indicates the state that is ultimately free due to the endless break-though into all things as well as the boundless manifestation of all things. “From mind to mind they seal each other;From patriarch to patriarch they pass on the lamp” refers to the manifestation of all things. “Leveling oceans and mountains” refers to the break-though of all things.

“A fowl turns into a roc” shows the state that is ultimately free due to the unity between the penetration of all things and manifestation of all things. “Name and word alone are hard to compare. In sum, the method is knowing how to fly freely” refers to the state that is ultimately free and dynamic due to the endlessly liberating break-though and the boundless manifestation of all things.

Thus far, I have illustrated the meaning of the practice of kong-an for the sake of beginners. Practitioners, however, should experience this state of complete break-through through their zealous practice of kong-an. This is an active expression of dharma.

 

[The Great Patriarch Seo-Ong’s Added Saying]

 

Revolving in day and night, restless in eternity,

The bright moon illuminates reed flowers,

Reflecting their identical appearances.

A young accipiter capable of

Flying far away through the sky

Pierces the air with the flap of its wings,

Free from longing for home.

 

[Auto-commentary on the Added Sayings]

 

These added sayings depict the state of the all-pervading break-through and the simultaneous manifestation of all things;the state that is free without obstacles due to the unity between all-pervading break-through and the manifestation of all things;the state that is ultimately free and dynamic due to the endlessly liberating break-though and the boundless manifestation of all things.

 

Speak immediately!!!

 

“The wooden ox walks in fire”

“A-ak!” (an abrupt roaring).

 


from The Dharma Assembly of the Great Seon Masters(October, 2002)

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