Gateless Gate 23

Gateless Gate (Mumonkan, Wumenguan) #23
Think Neither Good Nor Evil

The sixth patriarch [Huineng, 638-713] was once pursued by Elder Monk Ming as far as Mount Daiyu. The patriarch, seeing Ming coming, laid the robe and bowl on a rock and said, "This robe represents the faith. How can it be competed for by force? I will allow you to take it away."
Ming tried to lift it up, but it was as immovable as a mountain. Terrified and trembling with awe, he said, "I came for the Dharma, not the robe. I beg you, lay brother, please reveal it to me."
The patriarch said, "[At the very moment you were chasing after me] without thinking good or evil, what was the primal face of Monk Ming?"
In that instant, Ming suddenly attained deep realization, and his whole body was covered with sweat. In tears, he bowed and said, "Besides the secret words and secret meaning you have just revealed to me, is there anything else deeper yet?"
The patriarch said, "What I have preached to you is no secret at all. If you reflect on your own true face, the secret will be found within yourself."
Ming said, "Though I have been with the other monks with Master Hongren, I have never realized what my true self is. Now, thanks to your instruction, I know it is like a man who drinks water and knows for himself whether it is cold or warm. Now you, lay brother, are my master."
The patriarch said, "If that is the way you feel, let us both have Hongren for our master. Be mindful and hold fast to what you have realized."

Sekida's Commentary
Beginning with Huineng, Zen developed in a new way. He is one of the three great figures in Zen history, the other two being the Buddha and Bodhidharma. Huineng's father, a government official, died when Huineng was three years old, and Huineng was brought up by his mother. As he grew up, the family became more and more poverty-stricken, and he supported his mother by gathering and selling firewood.
One day he delivered a load of wood to a customer's house and happened to overhear a man reciting a sutra. When the man came to the passage, "Without abiding anywhere, let the mind work," Huineng was suddenly illuminated. The man told Huineng he was reciting the Diamond Sutra, given him by the Fifth Patriarch, Hongren [602-675]. Huineng wanted to visit the Fifth Patriarch. He made the long journey from southern China to the northern provinces.
After staying with the Fifth Patriarch for eight months, the famous midnight transmission of the Dharma Seal was performed by the patriarch. Before dawn, the Fifth Patriarch conducted Huineng to the nearest ferry, where they parted, and Huineng went southward. As soon as it was known that the Dharma Seal, the robe, and the bowl had been carried off by a layman whom they had not much respected, there was a great commotion among the monks, and a band of several hundred, led by one named Ming, set out after Huineng. During the two-month pursuit many of the monks dropped out of the chase, and in the end it was Ming alone who succeeded in overtaking Huineng at a pass on Taiyu Mountain.
- The Elder Monk Ming. As a layman he had been a general of the fourth rank. In manner he was rough and outspoken. In his practice of Zen and in other ways, however, he seems to have been assiduous.
- Ming tried to move it. To Ming, the robe and bowl were the most holy things -- the Dharma itself. He knew that an unenlightened man should not touch them. He held out his hands but trembled and faltered, and could not even touch the robe.
- As heavy as a mountain. Mentally, Ming found the robe as heavy as a mountain. Even granted that he could touch the robe, he could not raise it. He knew clearly the difference between himself and Huineng. Overwhelmed by the tremendous solemnity of this fact, he broke down and asked for help, calling Huineng his teacher. Truly, he had found a patriarch in Huineng. As he had thrown away all his ego's stubborn way of thinking, Ming was able to enter true samadhi. He was humble. His mind was empty. Then came the Sixth Patriarch's words:
- "Think neither good nor evil. At this very moment, what is the original self of the monk Ming?" Ming's mind had already been emptied. There was no thinking of good or evil; no Ming, no others. With the Sixth Patriarch's words, Ming's emptied mind resounded as an empty cave resounds to a shot. Now realization had to occur, because the original self is nothing but the emptied mind. And that emptied mind was mobilized and made to rush to the threshold of consciousness, to be recognized by consciousness itself.

Senzaki's Commentary
The kernel of this koan is, "What is your true self?" The title of this koan, "Think neither good, nor not-good," is showing you the way to meet your true self. The whole story tells you how the mind of Ming was cornered by the situation. He could do nothing else but turn inward and face his own buddha-nature squarely.

Shibayama's Commentary
Although the Buddhism that emphasized religious experience flourished after the time of Bodhidharma, it still retained a strong Indian influence in its teachings. It was Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch, who almost completely wiped away the remaining Indian characteristics and laid the foundation for the new Buddhism in China called Zen.
When all the dualistic oppositions such as good and evil, right and wrong, love and hatred, gain and loss, and the like are completely transcended, and when one lives in the realm of the Absolute, where even a thought of consciousness does not work, where is Huineng? Where is Monk Ming?What there is, is "the Reality of body and mind have dropped away." This is the moment when one's searching has been forever set at rest. At such a time, the Reality fo the True Self is vividly and thoroughly revealed. At this extreme moment, Monk Myo could fortunately be awakened to his True Self. He could at last have fundamental peace and freedom.

Yamada Koun's Commentary
"What I have preached to you is no secret at all. If you reflect on your own true face [your true self, your essential nature], the secret will be found within yourself." This means: Reflect upon your own self nature. There you will find the true secret, the true intimacy, the self-evidence of the inner self. It is being cold, being hot, being glad, being sad, being sorry, being hungry, being sleepy, getting up, walking, laughing, eating, drinking, etc. It is nothing but the activity of your true self.
"Keep hold of what you have realized and nourish it well." This last part of the instruction is most important. After having attained enlightenment, we must cherish the Dharma and do our best to bring the sacred infant to maturity. This is the highest duty of a Zen student. And the way to do this is shikantaza, just sitting.

Aitken's Commentary
Rather than setting up "good and evil" in the mind, set up right views -- the first step of the Eightfold Path. These are the views that are in keeping with the interdependence of things and their essential emptiness. "Don't think good; don't think evil" means really, "Find the silent place of essential harmony in you mind, and be ready for what might come."

Low's Commentary
When I first heard this koan I was filled with dismay. My vision of a monastery at the time was an idealistic one in which I imagined all the monks selflessly devoting themselves to spiritual practice, having none of the baser emotions of greed, jealousy, anger, and lust that flourished lavishly in my own psychological back yard. The idea that a monk would chase another monk for what must have been miles because of envy disguised as altruism I found extremely hard to accept.
But as my own Zen training progressed, I discovered that far from resolving the emotion of envy, spiritual practice can sometimes inflame it. Ramana Maharshi tells of the hermit who was so jealous of Maharshi's spirituality that he rolled a huge rock down on him hoping to kill him. Devadatta, Buddha's cousin, made three attempts to kill Buddha. The third patriarch [Sengcan, d. 606] was killed by an enraged Daoist. For the West the prime example of spiritual envy and havoc it can wreak is the story of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.
Envy is a mixture of I must have and I can't have. Hidden inside us all is the need to be unique, to be the only one. This paradoxically arises because we are the only one. Buddha said when he came to awakening: "Throughout heaven and earth I alone am the honored one. He spoke for all of us. Each of us is Buddha; each of us is the honored one. Our problem is that we feel others must know about our uniqueness too. A great part of our effort in life is directed toward seducing others, cajoling them, forcing them, persuading them to accept this. But it has the effect of tearing us apart because the very presence of others proves our claim is mistaken. The more we try, the more glaring the mistake becomes.
Many people take up Zen in the hope that at last they will have found the way by which they can discover to their own and others' satisfaction that they are special. The dream of the misunderstood child who becomes a princess overnight, a Cinderella, or a hero, seems at last capable of being fulfilled. On this side of the gateless gate one can only dream and imagine what it must be like to penetrate, to know one's own true nature. When others break through it is in a way a fundamental betrayal. Not only has someone else won the prize, but the prize has lost its earlier value of being able to confer uniqueness upon me. I am doubly denied. The pain from tis can be excruciating. It was the pain that drove Ming to run after Huineng.
Driven by pain channeled into loyalty and idealism Ming was determined to show the thief what was right, and so enable good to triumph over evil, right to vanquish wrong.

Wumen's Commentary
It should be said of the sixth patriarch that his action sprang from urgent circumstances. His kindness is like that of a grandmother who peels a fresh litchi, removes the seed, and puts it into your mouth so that all you have to do is swallow it.

Wumen's Verse
It can't be described! It can't be pictured!
It can't be sufficiently praised! Stop trying to grasp it with your head!
There is nowhere to hide the primal face;
Even when the world is destroyed, it is indestructible.

Fenyang's Verse
Few people believe in the Buddha in their own mind;
Unwilling to take responsibility for it, they suffer a lot of cramps.
Arbitrary ideas, greed and anger, the wrappings of afflictions,
All are conditioned on attachment to the cave of ignorance.

Hotetsu's Verse
Ming's primal face, without thinking good or evil, was thinking good and evil.
Maybe he knew. If so, what then? Softening? Hardening?
To become dry, dive into the lake.
Steadfast attention to the grip
Is the only release.

Illustration by Mark Morse, http://www.thegatelessgate.com/

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