Shinji Shobogenzo Book 2, Case 82.

Koan Commentaries

One day Master Hyakujo went with Master Baso Do-itsu for a walk. As they walked along they saw a group of wild ducks flying in the sky.

Master Baso said: What are they?

Master Hyakujo said: Wild ducks.

Master Baso said: Where are they going?

Master Hyakujo said: They have flown away.

Master Baso grasped Mater Hyakujo’s nose and twisted it. Master Hyakujo could not tolerate the pain and cried out: Aagh! Aagh!

Master Baso said: Although you said they have flown away, you are always at this place.

Master Hyakujo immediately broke out in a sweat, and just then he experienced a reflection of the truth.

The next day Master Hyakujo attended an informal teaching given by Master Baso, where a few monks had gathered. Master Hyakujo stepped forward, rolled up Master Baso’s prostration mat and put it away.

Master Baso got down from the lecture seat and went back to his personal room, followed by Master Hyakujo. He then asked Master Hyakujo: I went to the Lecture Hall, but why did you put away the prostration mat before I had preached anything?

Master Hyakujo said: Yesterday I was caught by the tip of my nose by the Master and it was very painful.

Master Baso said: Yesterday, where did you concentrate your mind?

Master Hyakujo said: Today the tip of my nose is not painful any more.

Master Baso said: Now you know the profound matter of this very moment.

Then Master Hyakujo prostrated himself and went out.

Commentary by Nishijima

Master Hyakujo Ekai was walking out with his Master, Baso Do-itsu, when a flock of wild ducks flew overhead. Master Baso asked what they were, and Master Hyakujo answered that they were wild ducks. Master Baso asked where they were going, and Master Hyakujo replied that they had already flown away. Although this was the fact, his answer sounded somewhat arrogant, so Master Baso twisted the tip of his student’s nose, causing him to cry out in pain. Master Baso pointed out that although the ducks had flown away, Master Hyakujo was just at this place. Hearing those words, Master Hyakujo realized the true situation.

Next day, Master Hyakujo went to Master Baso’s informal preaching but before the lecture began, he put away the Master’s prostration mat so that Master Baso couldn’t prostrate himself in front of the Buddha image – the usual custom before a lecture. Master Baso returned to his private room where he asked Master Hyakujo why he had behaved like that. Master Hyakujo did not answer his Master’s question, because his mind was still focused upon the previous day, when his nose had been tweaked. Remembering the event, he said that it had been very painful. Master Baso wanted to point out that Master Hyakujo’s mind was concentrated on a past event today, just as it had been yesterday.

Master Hyakujo noticed the meaning in his Master’s words, and replied rom his present state, that the tip of his nose no longer hurt. Hearing these words, Master Baso recognized that Master Hyakujo had grasped the truth, that his consciousness was always in the present, and he affirmed this to Master Hyakujo.

The story shows how these two masters studied the concrete situation here and now. And this attitude – to focus on the concrete reality in front of us – is the Buddhist attitude.

Commentary by John Fraser

Where have the birds flown? Where has your life flown?

The ‘you’ in Baso’s answer is not Hyakujo’s ego consciousness alone. ‘This place’ is not just the part of the great earth on which they were standing at that moment.

Jiko [Self] is both the small self and the self that is connected to all things. That is, dependent origination. Every place is this place.