References: Kusen 277

Artwork by Margaret Kerr
Artwork by Margaret Kerr

A parable in the Lotus Sutra describes a man whose house catches on fire while his children are inside, absorbed in their games. In order to lure his children out of the burning house, the father tells them there is a wonderful white cow outside.

A monk asked, “The white cow outside-what is it like?”

Joshu said, “Under the moonlight there is no need for color.” The monk asked, “That cow-what does it feed on?” Joshu said, “It never bites at anything.”
The monk said, “Master, please answer.”
Joshu said, “It is only proper that I should be like this.

NOTE: In Buddhist tradition the teaching of the Way may take different forms according to the level of the disciples.

Joshu rejects such teaching devices (hoben), which are intended to “lure” the believers to salvation. Instead, he points “directly to the core of the matter.” Salvation is not anything outside the world (“a white cow outside”). The world being what it is, why strive for something else? (“Under the moonlight there is no need for color.”) Enlightenment is not a matter of reaching at something that is outside, but of being what one originally is. Is there anything that is not a “white cow”?

From Radical Zen, The Sayings of Joshu with commentary by Yoel Hoffmann.