Blue Cliff Record, Case 53 (adapted)

Kusen collaboration by Margaret Kerr

The Case

When Master Baso and Hyakujo were out walking, a flock of ducks flew overhead. Baso said “where have the ducks gone?”. Hyakujo replied “they have flown away”. Baso grabbed Hyakujo’s nose and twisted it, causing him to cry out in pain.


In what way was Hyakujo’s answer deficient, if it was? Well, we could say that his answer was conceptual. It didn’t describe his immediate, momentary experience because it imposed space and time onto it. In a similar vein, we can say it was dualistic. The ducks had only flown away from his perspective. From the perspective of the ducks, Hyakujo had flown away. From the perspective of the sky, neither had.

There is, arguably, a deeper dualism there, which can often be missed: the dualism of container/contained. We are familiar with the dualisms of mind/body and self/world, but this is more insidious. In his answer, the Sky is the container and the birds are the contained, but it works more generally. We can equally say that in his reply Time is the container and the flying birds are the contained. Dogen identifies it in the Genjokoan, when he talks about Spring. And in our own lives, we imagine that there is a container called My Life, within which all the events of this life occur.

The problem with all dualisms is they leave a gap, through which our vitality gradually seeps away.

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