Book of Serenity, Case 9 (adapted)

If we imagine that we have to excise our delusion, we are already divided. How can more cutting make us whole?

Book of Serenity, Case 9 (adapted)

The Case: Two sets of monks were arguing over a cat. Master Nansen, seeing this, held up the cat and said “If you can express something, I won’t cut it”

The monks said nothing. Nansen cut the cat in two.

That evening Nansen told Joshu what had happened. Joshu removed his sandals, put them on his head and left the room. Nansen said “If you had been there, the cat would have been spared”

Commentary: Dogen talks about this koan with Ejo in the Zuimonki. There’s no doubt that Dogen thinks that Nansen’s killing of the cat was regrettable, and he imagines, if he had been one of the monks, what he would have said in response to Nansen’s challenge. He says that he would have asked Nansen “Why don’t you cut the cat in one?” It’s such a brilliant remark that Ejo doesn’t understand it. The One-ness alludes to dependent origination obviously, both in terms of the cat, and in Nansen’s obligation as a teacher to unfragment his monks.

Both Nansen and the monks are caught: the monks are caught in duality: Because of their anxiety to say the ‘right’ thing to save the cat, true expression is impossible. But Nansen is trapped into carrying out his threat: unlike Joshu, his lack of flexibility necessitates him doing what he said he would: so we can’t say that if one of the monks had been like Joshu the cat would have been saved, because we can equally say that if Nansen had been like Joshu, the cat would have been saved too. Joshu demonstrates a deficiency in expression in both Nansen and the monks.

In Dogen’s remark, we can see a similarity with his interpretation of the polishing a tile story: activity and expression are two aspects of wholeness. Manjusri’s sword isn’t separating; it’s the whole active Universe expressing itself as a sword, as a cat, as undivided activity, as expression.


101. The most wonderful thing

Hyakujo is asked by a monk, “What is the most wonderful thing in the universe?” and responds “Sitting here.”

Nyojo re-writes the response as, “Eating rice here”

Dogen comments “I would answer by raising high my staff here”

Hyakujo doesn’t mean that his temple is the best place to do zazen, or that zazen is the most special activity, which Nyojo underscores in his reformulation.

The important word is ‘here’. Something rather than nothing. Fully alive. The great miracle.

We call buddhism wondrous dharma because it can’t be grasped by the mind. That being so, it is completely immaterial if your mind is empty or full, pregnant with wisdom or stagnant with the familiar idiocy. The East Mountain walking isn’t perturbed by the clouds at all.


95. Hsiang Lin

Master Dogen said that the way to realisation was through the body. But which body?

Blue Cliff Record, Case 17:

A monk asked Hsiang Lin, “What was the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West?”

The Master said, “Sitting for a long time is hard, isn’t it?”

Bodhidharma famously sat facing the wall at Shaolin Temple for nine years. In answering the monk, the Master is drawing a comparison between his body, practicing, and the body of practice of Bodhidharma.

And given that we always sit with the body of practice, how can we say either that this body is the same, or different?


James Green, The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu, page 73

A monk asked, “I wonder if a man of true practice can be perceived by gods or demons or not?”

The master said, “They can perceive him”

The monk said “Where is his fault?”

The master said, “Faults are wherever they are looked for”

The monk said, “In that case, it is not practice”

The master said, “It is practice”


Joshu is difficult to understand because the exchanges are deceptively ordinary, and appear to be nothing much, when actually they are life and death exchanges about the essence of buddhism.

In this case, the monk’s question is rhetorical. “gods and demons” refers to 2 of the 6 realms of samsara, so what the monk is really saying -dressed up as a question – is that zazen is a special state outside samsara. There are similarities with the famous question “does an enlightened person fall into cause and effect or not?”; that is, is an enlightened person free from karma?

In turn, what underpins this is the question “Why do we practice?” The monk’s position would be that the point of practice is personal liberation. And in that one can succeed, or one can fail.
Joshu’s position is radically different; it is that zazen is not a personal practice. It cannot be seen in terms of personal gain or loss. To think that there is a special state is to be blind to the full dynamic functioning of everything- the ‘internality’ which is the imagined site of the special state is as much a part of this as the trees or the traffic. It isn’t a matter of trying and failing, but understanding, through faith, that zazen is the enactment and expression of this dynamic functioning.


88. Our Teachers, Walking

We honour our teachers by seeing them not as perfect, balanced, but by seeing them as unbalanced.

And us, unbalanced, balancing them. Momentarily.

The whole lineage, walking through time, always unbalanced. If it was not like this, there would be no Way.

Our teacher takes one step.

We must take the next.


84. Baso

As practitioners, we try to steer a course between, on the one hand, spiritual grandiosity and narcissism, and on the other, duality and separation.

To help us, Master Baso said ‘Mind is World’. He wasn’t talking about the personal mind obviously, although it’s true that the personal mind has the karmic world it creates, like a mirrored prison.

He meant the mind of awareness. The personal mind arises within this, as do all things. Hence, mind is world. There is nothing for our spiritual grandiosity to inflate into. There is nothing outside this mind, so there is no separation.

The light which falls on us is not our accomplishment. It does not belong to us. But if the world was empty of practitioners, where would the light fall?


78. Mind is World

Master Baso famously said, “Mind Is World”

We’re apt to take this to mean that we create our world.

But he didn’t say that, he said Mind Is World.

When we carefully observe the mind, what remains ours? Isn’t it the case that everything comes from ‘outside’? Isn’t what we call Mind a vivid exemplar of dependent origination? And if that is so, what is there to clear? What is there to settle?


The Recorded Sayings Of Joshu, number 109

The case:

The master entered the hall. After sitting quietly for a while,he said “Is everyone here, or not?”

Someone said, “Everyone is here”

The master said, “I’m waiting for one more to come, then I’ll speak”

A monk said, “You are waiting for a person who does not come”

The master said, “it’s a person that’s really hard to find”


Is a person who does not come, and who does not leave, always with us, or not?

In Zazenshin, Master Dogen says ” in non-thinking, there is someone, and that someone is maintaining and relying upon me”

Is this “someone” the same as Joshu’s “person”, or not?

Is it absurd to call this “person” Faith Mind, or not?


21. This Frozen Mass

Menzan talked about “the frozen blockage of thought and emotion”; how it obstructs our practice and our life.

To understand what he meant, we need to distinguish between emotion and feeling. Feeling is our lived, momentary, felt response from moment to moment, fluid. Emotion is frozen feeling.

Something arises in the body. We then say “I am anxious”, then we speculate why we might be anxious, and the whole process of rumination starts. The thought and the emotion aren’t separate.

And we may imagine that this frozen mass obstructs our mind, but in fact it obstructs our heart. It is there like a blockage in the throat, preventing the heart emerging into the world.

If we do not understand this, our Zen will be too cognitive, it will lack feeling: Zen is not our liberation from feeling, but our liberation into it.