"Nanquan's 'This Flower'," Blue Cliff Record, #40; Book of Serenity, #91
Nanquan (748-835, 9th gen, Hongzhou), was a disciple of Mazu (709-88), and the teacher of Zhaozhou (778-897).Officer Lu Geng (764-834) was a high government official and a lay Zen student of Nanquan. Senghzhao (382-414) -- a.k.a. Teaching Master Zhao -- was one of the "Four Sages" -- four distinguished disciples of Kumarajiva (344-413). Sengzhao and Kumarajiva collaborated in translating many Buddhist scriptures and exerting a huge influence of the development of Chinese Buddhism prior to Bodhidharma.
Officer Lu Geng, while talking with Nanquan, said, "Teaching Master Zhao said, 'Heaven and earth and I are of the same root. All things and I are of one substance.' Isn't that absolutely fantastic?"
Nanquan pointed to a flower in the garden, called Lu Geng to him, and said, "People of these days see this flower as though they were in a dream."
An Earlier Encounter between Lu Geng and Nanquan
Lu Geng asked Nanquan, "I've raised a goose in a bottle, and it gradually grew too big to get out. Now, without damaging the bottle or injuring the good, how would you get it out?"
Nanquan called to him, "Sir!"
Lu Geng responded, "Yes?"
Nanquan said, "It's out."
Lu Geng was awakened at this.
BLUE CLIFF RECORD
When the action of the mind is stopped and swept away, the iron tree will bloom. Can you demonstrate it? Even a crafty fellow will come a cropper here. Even if he excels in every way, he will have his nostrils pierced. Where are the complications? See the case.
Xuedou's Verse (Sekida trans)
Hearing, seeing, touching, and knowing are not one and one;
Mountains and rivers should not be viewed in the mirror.
The frosty sky, the setting moon -- at midnight;
With whom will the serene waters of the lake reflect the shadows in the cold?
Xuedou's Verse (Cleary trans)
Perception and cognition are not single units;
Mountains and rivers are not viewed in a mirror.
When the moon's gone down in the frosty sky, the night half over,
With whom will it cast a reflection, cold in the clear pool?
Fa Yan's Verse
He he he I I I
South north east west, everything is all right.
All right or not all right.
Only for me there is nothing not all right.
Lu Geng quoted Sengzhao to demonstrate his understanding. But understanding can be of various kinds: direct, indirect, conceptual, shallow or profound, and so forth. What was the nature of Lu Geng's understanding? "Fantastic" has the implication of strange or weird -- an absurd extravagance. Lu Geng had achieved an advanced understanding of Zen, and in saying "fantastic" he meant to say that Sengzhao's proposition was so true that it sounded absurd to ordinary ears. He demonstrated thereby that his understanding went beyond the ordinary conception of such matters. But the question whether Lu Geng's understanding came from pure cognition or from intellectual learning still remained. In pointing to the flower, Nanquan was saying, "See this flower! The Tathagata sees Buddha Nature with his naked eyes. Can you see Buddha Nature in this flower?" Seeing Buddha Nature is exercising pure cognition. But how is one to perform that kind of cognition? It is really a simple matter of looking in positive samadhi. Look at a rose in the garden, and watch it -- watch and watch. Or better, if that does not lead to positive samadhi, simply go out into the garden one fine sunny afternoon, lie down on your back on the grass, and watch the floating clouds. Forget all your busy daily affairs and simply watch the white clouds. Watch and watch and watch. Suddenly you will find your condition of mind is quite different from your ordinary one. The clouds and the sky have become totally absorbing. To be able to practice positive samadhi in the routine of ordinary life is most difficult. However, if you once become mature in this practice you will find that you have only to look at the tiniest flower of a pebble by the roadside and you will be able to get into the spirit of the flower or the pebble. When you do this you are really looking into your own spirit.
People of these days see this flower as though they were in a dream. -- Nanquan means that for people now, including Lu Geng, cognition is done vacantly, as if they were in a dream. Nanquan dreamed a dream of pure cognition, while Lu Geng dreamed a conceptual one. The difference is great.
Nanquan's way of answering used the grip of a patch-robed monk to pull out the painful spot for the other, and broke up his nest.
People of these days see this flower as though it were a dream. -- This is like leading the man to the edge of a ten thousand fathom cliff and giving him a push, causing his life to be cut off. If you were pushed over on level ground, even til Maitreya Buddha was born in the world, you still would simply be unable to accomplish the cutting off of life.
When the grandee, Lu Geng, had seen essential nature through his own efforts, he found that Sengzhao's words exactly matched what was in his own heart, so he presented it as his own understanding.
Nanquan pointed to a flower. -- Don't misunderstand this to mean that the universe and all things are one, having no real substance.
People today see this flower as if they were dreaming. -- This is what is called a commonplace, a very familiar saying; like a poison drum, like lion milk.
The grandee, Lu Geng, thought Sengzhao's saying is wondrously inconceivable.
Nanquan pointed to a flower. -- This is an expression of this side to point out a flaw; the grandee was keeping to the noumenal ground of reality, sitting fast asleep on top of a pole in the realm of satori. Everyone of today is also like this. Therefore, they are as if dreaming and have not really awakened. In doctrinal Buddhism, the grandee's view is called noumenal obstruction -- or, the dead place where the six senses function interchangeably. It is the realm of complacency.
Yamada's Hekiganroku Comment
The root of the universe and one's own root are one and the same because both come from one place. And everything and oneself are one. These words of Sengzhao are concepts, to put it frankly. The "one" in "everything and I are one" (all things and oneself are one) is also a concept. When we really become "one" there is no "one" any more. "One" is a concept presupposing two. The real one is not even one.
People of these days see the flower of this bush as in a dream. -- At this point, Nanquan wanted to teach by any means the fact of "Universe and I have the same root; everything and I are one"--not the idea but the real thing. "You truly do not understand this flower," Nanquan is saying. "Even seeing it, probably no one knows its real being. You probably don't either. Just seeing it dimly in the middle of a dream, you don't know the reality of this flower, do you?" It was a severe inspection. As long as you think, "I am here and the flower is there," the flower's reality cannot be understood. Nanquan says "like in a dream," and he thereby shows the statement, "Universe and I have the same root; everything and I are one" as a living fact.
It's Like a Dream
Stop right in your tracks, and the steel forest blossoms.
Is there room for this?
"Heaven, Earth, and I are but one.
One seed between me and the myriad things!"
See that flower?
People these days say it's a dream.
The ultimate person is formless and hollow
yet all the myriad things are his fault!
They are us, we are they, and no one can tell.
Each different but made some way one and the same.
When it's hot, all is hot, when it's cold, shivers all around.
(Except when night is light, when wrong is right.)
Merge difference with sameness and judgment is tough.
Lead me to the edge of a thousand foot cliff,
give me that extra push to the void.
Or: if you were pushed down on level ground,
life itself could still not be ceased.
It's not so easy to end it, to blend all into mush.
There's never just one thing, always more,
(an axe handle with no place for the blade)
The frosty moon sets, the night's nearly over.
In the weeds at dawn a fine mist cover.
The world has returned it, and left all to see.
Is there anyone else there?
(If they did not sleep in the same bed,
how could they both know the cover is worn?)
Do not use a mirror to see mountains and rivers.
If you do you will need to divide them in two.
Leaning over to look at the deep, clear pool --
do you bounce back in tandem or all by yourself?
BOOK OF SERENITY
Yangshan uses a dream state to reveal the real [in BOS #90]. Nanquan points to the awakening place to make the unreal. If you know that awakening and dreaming are fundamentally nothing, you'll finally believe that real and unreal transcend duality. Tell me: With what kind of eye is this person endowed?
Hongzhi's Verse (Wick trans)
Subject and object penetratingly illuminate the root of nature.
Busily appearing and vanishing, its gate is seen.
Letting the mind sport outside the kalpa, what question could there be?
Fixing the eyes before you, wisdom is subtly present.
When the tiger growls, the lonely wind stirs around the rocks;
when the dragon howls, moving clouds over the caves are dark.
Nanquan breaks up the dream of those people
who lack knowledge of the magnificent Maitreya.
Hongzhi's Verse (Cleary trans)
Shining through detachment and subtlety, the root of creation:
Appearing and disappearing in profusion, you see the gate.
Letting the spirit roam outside of time, what question could there be?
Setting eyes before the body, you know ineffable being.
When the tiger roars, blowing on the cliff starts, moaning;
When the dragon howls, moving clouds o'er the caves are dark.
Nanquan breaks up the dream of people of the time,
Wanting knowledge of the magnificent Honored-One-to-Be.
Lu Geng quoted these two lines of Sengzhao. He hardly realized that this indeed is talking about a dream.
Do you think that your dreams are only fantasy and that your awakened state is real? Nanquan, pointing to the awakened state, is saying it's unreal. Even awake, you can't put your finger on it. We think that our dreams are unreal and our wakened state is real, but fundamentally, they're both empty, without inherent existence. Being empty, how can you transcend real and unreal? Hold a flower in your hand. It's quite amazing. Don't think, don't analyze, don't judge, don't evaluate, don't rationalize! What is it? Is it real or is it unreal? Are you awake or are you dreaming? If you think that everything, as it is, is enlightened nature, that's a dream. At first, we begin the study of Zen, then we have some insight, then we manifest that understanding in our life. But that's all a dream. Or perhaps you don't study Zen, perhaps you never have any insight, perhaps you manifest no wisdom in your life -- that's a dream too. But what is this dream that Nanquan's talking about? Consider the hazy moon that is covered by wispy clouds. It appears and disappears. Is it real or is it a phantom?
Yamada's Shoyoroku Comment
Nanquan is saying in effect: “You, Officer Lu Geng, see these flowers as in a dream.” You do not really see these peonies. It is as if you were looking at them in a dream. You have not realized the true essence of those flowers. You do not realize that their true form is no form. It is as if you were dozing off in a dream. It is not so difficult to understand my intellectual explanation of the koan. But it’s a matter of producing that dream world of Nanquan.
Catherine Gammon's Verse
In the dream, a peony
In the peony, no dream
No dream, no peony
Just dream and peony together
—howling through the silent moony night
You can't pretend there is no flower there.
There clearly is!
You can't pretend there is a flower there.
There clearly isn't!