Gateless Gate 32, Blue Cliff Record 65

Gateless Gate (Mumonkan, Wumenguan) #32
Blue Cliff Record (Hekiganroku, Biyan Lu) #65
Dogen's 300 #170
A Non-Buddhist Questions Buddha

  • Shakyamuni BUDDHA (480-400 BCE); Siddhartha Gautama; "The World-Honored One."
  • A non-Buddhist (often identified as a "non-Buddhist philosopher"): He has been wrestling in a philosophical way with the way words, or silence, relate to reality.
  • Ananda: a first cousin of Gautama Buddha, one of the Buddha's principal disciples. In the case at hand, as he often did, Ananda is serving as the Buddha's attendant.
Yuanwu's Preface (Sato)
Having no form it forms itself;
It is complete emptiness stretching out in all directions.
While having no mind it responds;
It spreads out through the whole universe with no hindrance.
In holding up one, you clarify three;
Your eye immediately discerns pennyweights and ounces.
Even if the blows of your stick fall like rain and your shout is like rolling thunder,
You have yet to gain the behavior of the truly outstanding person.
Just tell me, what is the matter of the truly outstanding person?
To test, I cite this case, look!
Case (Yamada)
A non-Buddhist in all earnestness asked the World-Honored One, "I do not ask about words, I do not ask about no-words."[1]
The World-Honored One just sat still.[2]
The non-Buddhist praised him, saying, "The world-Honored One in his benevolence and great mercy has opened the clouds of my delusion and enabled me to enter the Way."[3]
Then, bowing, he took his leave.
Ananda asked Buddha, "What did the non-Buddhist realize that made him praise you so much?"[4]
The World-Honored One replied, "He is just like a fine horse that runs even at the shadow of a whip."[5]
Yuanwu's Interjections
[1] Although he is not a member of the household, still he has a bit of a fragrant air. Twin swords fly through space. It's lucky he doesn't ask.
[2] Do not slander the World Honored One; his voice is like thunder. No one sitting or standing here could move him.
[3] A sharp fellow -- one push and he rolls, a bright pearl in a bowl.
[4] He can't avoid making others doubt; still he wants everyone to know. He is trying to repair a pot with cold iron.
[5] Tell me, what do you call the shadow of the whip? Striking with my whisk, (I say) on the staff there is an eye bright as the sun. If you want to know if it is real gold, see it through fire. Having gotten a mouth, eat.
Background: from the Anguttara Nikaya
The one who learns that someone in another village is about to die and reflects on the transient nature of all life, is like a horse who runs when it sees the shadow of the whip. The one who learns that someone in his own village is about to die, and reflects on the transient nature of all life, is like a horse who runs when it is whipped to the hair. Thee one who learns that someone in his family is about to die, and reflects on the transient nature of all life, is like a horse who runs when it is whipped to the flesh. And finally, the one who learns that he himself is about to die, and reflects on the transient nature of all life, is like a horse who runs when it is whipped to the bone.
Xuedou’s Verse (Sekida, italics Cleary)
The spiritual wheel does not turn;
   The wheel of potential hadn't turned;
When it turns, it goes two ways.
   If it turned it would go two ways.
The brilliant mirror on its stand
   The moment a clear mirror is set on a stand,
Divides beauty from ugliness,
   It distinguishes beauty and ugliness.
Lifts the clouds of doubt and illusion.
  nbsp;Beauty and ugliness distinct, the clouds of confusion part.
No dust is found in the gate of mercy.
   Where does compassion produce pollution?
A fine horse watches for the shadow of the whip;
   I'm reminded of a good horse seeing the shadow of the whip,
He goes a thousand miles a day.
Once the Buddha made his mind turn back.
   Gone a thousand miles in pursuit of the wind, called back.
Should the horse come back when I beckon,
I'll snap my fingers thrice at him.
   If he can be called back, I'll snap my fingers thrice.
Wumen's Comment
Ananda is Buddha's disciple, but his realization is less than the non-Buddhist's. Now tell me, how far is the distance between the non-Buddhist and Buddha's disciple?
Wumen's Verse
Walking on the edge of a sword,
Running over a ridge of jagged ice;
Not using steps or ladders, ["You need take no steps" (Shibayama)]
Jumping from the cliff with hands free. ["Let go your hold on the cliff!" (Shibayama); "Climbing the cliffs without hands." (Sekida)]
Zhenru's Verse (Yuanwu)
The heretic had the most precious jewel hidden within;
The World Honored One kindly lifted it on high for him.
Forests of patterns are clearly revealed,
Myriad forms are evident.
Yuanwu's Comment
This one public case is understood verbally by quite a few people. Some call it remaining silent, some call it remaining seated, and some call it silently not answering. But fortunately none of this has anyting to do with it; how could you ever manage to find it by groping around? This matter really isn't in words and phrases, yet it is not apart from words and phrases. If you have the slightest bit of hesitation, then you are a thousand miles, ten thousand miles away. See how after that outsider had intuitively awakened, only then did he realize that it is neither here nor there, neither in affirmation nor in negation. But tell me, where are the World Honored One's great kindness and compassion? The World Honored One's single eye sees through past, present, and future; the outsider's twin pupils penetrate the Indian continent. But after all, what did the outsider realize? It was like chasing a dog towards a fence: when he gets as far as is possible, he must turn around and come back. If you cast away judgment and comparison and affirmation and negation all at once, your emotions ended and your views gone, it will naturally become thorougly obvious.
Hakuin's Comment
This Hindu had gone beyond the ninety-six kinds of learned opinion current in his time and had pursued his search as far as the basis of differentiation, the duality of existence and nonexistence, getting close to the fundamental absolute. Having come to know as far as the place where affirmation and negation are one continuum, here he got stuck.
"The Buddha kept his peace."
The chilling shine of the razor-sharp sword is cold, even inside the scabbard. This keeping peace is often misperceived. From his very first sermon to his last lecture, the Buddha totally kept his peace throughout. Therefore to label this particular situation alone as Buddha keeping his peace is to slander the Buddha.
"Parted the clouds of my illusion."
Breaking through the very bottom of that which has nothing to do with existence or nonexistence, he arrived at the realm of the Real.
"A good horse goes on seeing the shadow of the whip."
The shadow of the whip is seen in the silence of keeping peace. This is not a metaphor; if you take it for a metaphor, then the silence isn't worth half a penny.
Tenkei's Comment
Not asking about the spoken or the unspoken is cutting off both existence and nonexistence and not accepting annihilation or eternity. When Buddha kept his peace, he was dispensing medicine after having profoundly discerned the potential of the visitor. Even if one has been confused for a thousand lifetimes, it can all be rendered insignificant by a straightforward clarity that overturns it in an instant of thought. If you go ahead thinking you're confused, that's confusion. Ultimately it only takes an instantaneous insight to suddenly awaken.
Baiyun's Verse (Cleary)
Ten thousand fathoms deep, the cold pool is clear to the very bottom;
A brocade carp in the still of the night travels toward the light.
With a tug of the pole, it comes up, following the hook;
On the surface of the water, indistinct, the light of the moon is scattered.
Baoning's Verse (Cleary)
Night fell on him passing by, so he lodged in the wild weeds;
When he managed to open his eyes, the sky was completely light
With an empty heart and bare feet, he goes back home singing;
On the road the travelers already are not few.
Gumu's Verse (Cleary)
Snow covering a deciduous forest, all is one color;
Clear light above and below engulfs the sky.
A wood gatherer stands at the ford, cold;
For whom is the distant full moon white?
Tenne Gie's Verse (Shibayama)
Neither was Vimilakirti silent nor was he merely seated
To argue about his remaining seated is already to be at fault.
Sharp and cold is the blade of the finest sword.
Non-Buddhists and devils shall all fold their arms.
Sesso's Verse (Shibayama)
Thee eyes of Sakyamuni penetrate the three worlds.
The sight of the non-Buddhist extends to the five heavens.
Tender is the heart of the flower; the peach blossoms smile.
The light of spring rests not on the willow leaves only.
"Old Zen Master's" Comment (Shibayama)
You are too mild and easy, World-Honored One. If I had been there, I would have slapped Ananda without a word. Then Ananda might have been revived with even greater vigor than the non-Buddhist.
Aitken's Comment
Ananda asks, "What did that outsider see to make him praise you?" Well, he saw the Buddha at rest. It is this rest that we miss in philosophy and philosophers. Buddhism is called the religion of peace, and Shakyamuni presents that peace here. It is not buji peace -- safe and uneventful. It is the radical casting away of body and mind. It is the experience of the vast and fathomless void that is potent with all things and all possibilities.
Cleary's Comment
Nagarjuna defined emptiness as "departure from all views." The outsider's indirect reference to the "spoken" and the "unspoken" is a traditional way of referring to the totality of all possible notions about reality, all that can be conceived as well as all that is beyond conception. In simpler terms, the outsider asks the Buddha if there is any realization that transcends understanding of the relative world and the absolute truth. This is what the "outsider" was getting at: how to make the leap from the boundaries of conceptual consciousness into the infinity of enlightened knowledge. The outsider in the story obviously did not take Buddha's silence as silence (for that would have been about the spoken or unspoken). Buddha's silence is an indirect teaching, a "shadow of the whip," not negation or assent, but a "penetration" of all subjective ideas of any kind. Look through the window, not at it.
Low's Comment
Awakening is not something confined to Buddhism; it is not even confined to somebody practicing a spiritual way. Just sitting does not mean emptying the mind of all thought, or relaxing and letting everything drift; it does not even mean to sit noting, but not being affected by thoughts. All of this entails doing. It is the end of suffering because it is the end of the eternal search for the useful, in which everything becomes an instrument. Suffering is the cause of practice, but we should not turn practice into a technique for ending suffering. Suffering, as Buddha said, is the basis of life; we suffer because we wish to exist, to be something in the world, and in seeking to be something we use everything in support of this search, and we use everything to overcome the suffering that is entailed in this search.
Sekida's Comment (Gateless Gate)
Words represent affirmative theories, non-words negative ones. The affirmative theories expounded the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, while the negative ones denied it. The philosopher who questioned the Buddha in the present case was satisfied with neither the affirmative nor the negative theories but could not himself reach a satisfactory answer. Alternatively, we might say that the philosopher did not want to remain in either positive samadhi or absolute samadhi.
The Buddha just sat there. True samadhi combines in itself both absolute and positive samadhi.
Sekida's Comment (Blue Cliff Record)
This silence was the embodiment of the words in Yuanwu's Preface, "It has no form and yet appears. It extends in every direction and is boundless. It responds spontaneously and works in emptiness." The Buddha demonstrated a working samadhi, which combined both absolute and positive samadhi. Samadhi is the ever renewed continuation of the present, which is the very nature of being. Being is formless (absolute) but appears every moment (positive). Being extends in every direction and is immortal. Being is in perpetual morion. All things flow. You live in samadhi, you die in samadhi. This is the Middle Way of Buddhism.
Senzaki's Comment
Buddha could see that the conceptual mind of the philosopher was losing its grip, and that he was about ready to enter into Buddha-Mind. Therefore Buddha kept silence, like the great ocean that receives all streams and rivulets.
Shibayama's Comment
Although there were many philosophical schools in India at that time, they tended to lean either toward materialism, emphasizing phenomena and the perceptions of the senses, or toward an extreme idealism that denied phenomenal differentiation. Mahayana Buddhism, on the other hand, upholds the teaching of the Middle Way. It transcends both negative and affirmative views, subjectivism and objectivism. The World-Honored One remained seated. If we were to take it as mere sitting we would be making a vital mistake. He is urging us to grasp the live Truth, which transcends affirmation and negation, speaking and silence, from this sitting of Sakyamuni.
Yamada's Comment (Gateless Gate)
When the non-Buddhist says "words" he means being, namely, phenomena, and by "no-words" he means nonbeing, that is to say emptiness. So the non-Buddhist was really asking Shakyamuni to show him that which transcends the phenomenal world of being and nonbeing. Shakyamuni presented the whole of the absolute reality by just sitting. Not only Shakyamuni's "just sitting," but also your sitting, standing up, your laughing, crying, the flow of water, clouds moving about the sky -- everything in the world -- is nothing other than absolute reality, the real fact which transcends the phenomenal world of dualistic opposition. We must not forget that the living example of Shakyamuni's sitting is nothing other than our own zazen.
Yamada's Comment (Blue Cliff Record)
An outstanding intellect is certainly a great asset. Many are those who believe they can understand Zen with the intellect. But the ideal Zen experience is seeing with the same clarity and directness that a mirror has which reflects everything which comes before it. It often occurs, in the process of working on koans, that people will discover a certain logic running through them. Instead of directly perceiving the koan as a mirror reflects that which comes before it, they will come up with an answer in their heads. To be quite frank, this is not the real thing. Nevertheless, I believe that continuing to work on koans while sitting steadfastly will deepen the original experience to the point where it can truly reflect like a mirror. The non-Buddhist came to Shakyamuni Buddha and said, “I do not ask about words, I do not ask about no-words.” This is a very crafty question. If the Buddha uses words to answer, the non-Buddhist will say, “Aren’t those words? That is not what I asked about. I do not ask about words and I do not ask about no-words.” He presses Shakyamuni into a corner. We need not emphasize words or no-words. The important matter is being or non-being. True appropriateness of response emerges from the wisdom of satori. A certain amount of quickness in perception is important. If we truly make our finest alert efforts we will realize.
Rothenberg's Verse
Ask from Outside

The monk wonders not of the said and the silent.
Like a horse, he turns at the shadow of whips.

Where I strike with the staff there's a glistening eye.
If you think it is gold pass it through fire.
If you have a mouth, learn how to consume it.

Stop for a second, you slip back to square one.
Ten thousand miles away, just then
the stranger knows neither here nor there, yes nor no.

Three secrets from the summit: drink tea, take care, rest;
Forests of pattern cleanly revealed.
The single eye untangles past from future. He chased a dog to the fence, what to do but return?
Retreat, retreat,
back from the thousand league chase after wind.
The horse runs over and rustles no dust up,
At once he is there,
Snap your fingers three times,
At once you can call him back.
Daido Loori's Comment (Dogen's 300)
The non-Buddhist comes asking for the ineffable truth of Buddhism, and without making any effort whatsoever, the Buddha is able to awaken him to it. The question is, how? If you think that the truth realized by the non-Buddhist is Buddha's remaining silent or seated, or that his response is silently answering the question, you have missed it.
The non-Buddhist realized a truth that is beyond affirmation and negation, a truth that can neither be given nor received. It has no relationship to either speech or silence. Speech is about the words and ideas that describe a reality -- not the reality itself. Silence is simply blank consciousness.
This being the case, what is this truth that was realized? Even Ananda, the Buddha's attendant, is left with his mouth gaping in awe at the encounter. Furthermore, since nothing is given or received, why is it that the non-Buddhist says the "World-Honored One has cleared the cloud of doubt and let me enter the Way?" Ananda then asks, "What point did he realize?" Buddha says that he was like a fine horse that moved at the shadow of the whip. Well, what point did the non-Buddhist realize? What is the shadow of the whip? Where is it? Don't tell me about it Show me!
Daido's Interjections
An outsider asked the World-Honored One, "I am not asking you about the spoken. I am not asking you about the unspoken."
   Say, what is his question?
The World-Honored One remained sitting.
   His thundering voice reaches the heavens and shakes the earth.
The outsider said in admiration, "The greatly compassionate World-Honored One has cleared the cloud of doubt and let me enter the Way." He bowed and left.
   When the clouds part, the sun appears. Before the clouds part, the sun is there.
Ananda said to the Buddha, "What point did he realize that he admired you?"
   Too bad he has missed it. It will take him another twenty years to see it.
The World-Honored One said, "He was like a fine horse that starts running upon seeing the shadow of the whip."
   When the fruit is mature, it falls from the tree by itself.
Daido's Verse
The whole universe is the gate of liberation --
don't you see?
There is no place
to put this gigantic body.
Hotetsu's Verse
Such earnestness and no asking.
Miles and miles beneath the sun and under the moon
Climbing mountains, crossing rivers, getting lost in the woods:
A long journey for nothing.

Illustration by Mark Morse

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