119. Before Thinking

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.”

Hi-shiryo 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