Book of a Serenity, Case 41 (adapted)

Master Luopu about to die.

The Case:

When he was about to die, Luopu addressed the assembly:

“If you say this is true, you are putting another head on top of your own. If you say this is not true, you are looking for life by cutting off your head”

The Head Monk said: ” The East Mountain is always walking. You don’t need a lamp in daylight”

Luopu said: “What time is this for such a speech?”

A senior monk said “Master, please do not ask us”

Luopu said : “That’s not enough. Say more.”

The monk said: “I cannot say it fully”

The Master said: ” I don’t care if you can say it fully or not”

That evening Master Luopu called the same monk to see him and said:

“My late teacher said:

There are no things before the eyes

Just consciousness

The Dharma isn’t before the eyes

Neither eyes or ears can reach it

Which phrase is the essential one? If you can tell me, I’ll transmit to you”

The monk said: “I don’t understand”

Luopu said: ” You should understand”

The monk said: ” I really don’t”

Luopu shouted at him “How miserable! How miserable!” and sent him away.

The next day, another monk asked Luopu

“What is your teaching?”

Luopu said: ” the boat of compassion is not rowed over pure waves. It is wasted effort releasing a wooden goose down a precipitous river”

The Master then died.


(1) If Buddhism is Reality, why do we need to practice? Why do we need to be ‘ Buddhists’? Why did Luopu and his monks need to live a life of monastic rigour? Isn’t this putting a Buddhist mask on our True Face? But if we renounce this life of practice, if we just try to live spontaneously, then we cannot avoid falling into dualism. By trying to stop thought, isn’t this like trying to cut off our own head, sundering ourselves into two?

(2) The first part of the Head Monk’s response is a direct quote from Luopu’s own teaching. But Luopu does not regard it as adequate. He challenges the Head Monk, who is not able to respond. The Head Monk is reflecting Luopu’s own teachings, that we should not rely on words, yet Luopu is challenging him to speak. Why?

(3) The senior monk understands that Luopu’s words are an impossible challenge, but he has to say something. Why doesn’t it matter whether or not he expresses the great matter fully? Who can? Yet, if there is wholehearted expression, whether with words or actions or silence, how is the great matter not expressed?

(4) A wooden goose is a device which captains would send down precipitous gorges of rivers, to see if it would crash onto rocks, or crash into other boats.

But Luopu is saying that compassionate activity is exactly this crashing and smashing of everything with everything, and specifically between the teacher and the student. The students are too tentative, either quoting back the teacher’s own words, or saying that they don’t know. That is why he dismisses them. Their “wrongness” is their anxiety to be right.

Our life isn’t a rehearsal for a drama which never happens.