Book of Serenity 42

Book of Serenity (Shoyoroku, Congrong Lu) #42
Nanyang and the Water Jug

Nanyang Huizhong (675?-775, 7th generation); studied under both 5th Patriarch, Hongren, and 6th Patriarch, Huineng; became one of Huineng's five dharma heirs. Called "National Teacher" because he was teacher to the Emperor, Nanyang appears in four of our koans: GG #17, BCR #99, BOS #42, and BCR #18 (BOS #85). Vairocana is a celestial buddha regarded as the Dharma Body of the historical Buddha and the embodiment of emptiness.

Wansong's Preface
Washing bowls and filling the jug are both Dharma gates and Buddha's affair. Carrying wood and drawing water are nothing but marvelous activity and supernatural power. Why can't one obtain releasing effulgence in shaking the earth?
A monk asked National Teacher Nanyang Huizhong, "What is the essential body [the "Dharma-body" or dharmakaya] of Vairocana Buddha [the principal Buddha]?"
National Teacher said, "Pass me that water jug."
The monk passed him the water jug.
National Teacher said, "Put it back where it was."
The monk asked again, "What is the essential body of Vairocana Buddha?"
National Teacher said, "The old Buddha is long gone."
Wansong's Comment
The National Teacher, because of his kindness and compassion, had a conversation that went down into the weeds; but those who appreciate his benevolence are few.
Hongzhi's Verse
Birds coursing in the sky, fishes being in the water:
   A bird soaring in air. A fish dwelling in water.
In rivers and lakes forgetting, in clouds and sky they get their will.
   Rivers and lakes both forgotten, he aspires to clouds and heaven.
The doubting mind -- a single thread: before the face, a thousand miles.
   A thread of doubting mind, and they're facing ten thousand li apart.
Knowing benevolence, requiting benevolence -- how many people do?
   How many people understand and requite benevolence?
Shishin Wick's Comment
Everything you do manifests your original face. It's easy to say that but what does it mean? You might understand that chopping wood and carrying water are Zen activities, but how do you realize your True Nature while driving the car on a busy highway? How do you realize your True Nature while fighting with your parent or partner? How do you realize your True Nature while feeling lonely or unworthy? "What is the original body of Vairocana?" Vairocana is Cosmic Buddha, present everywhere, and is one of the manifestations of Buddha. His name means, "He who is like the sun." Get caught in your ideas and it's long gone. You missed it. Even if you say that you see it, it's long gone.
Yamada's Comment
Just bringing the water jug. What is this? It's the complete revelation of your true self. Your true self is referred to here as Vairocana Buddha. It is the activity of that true self. But if you don’t realize it on the spot, it disappears. Then the master says, “put it back where it was.” Just putting it back. That is the essential body of Vairocana Buddha. It is the complete manifestation of the essential. You have to realize this clearly, not just thinking it out in your head. And if you miss seeing it, it will hide again. That is why National Teacher says, “The old Buddha is long gone.”
Catherine Gammon's Verse
Nanyang's Water Pitcher

Ravens and turkey vultures on the sand feasting,
on the wet sand a seal-shaped mound of yellow-white, fat flesh.
With this body the ancient buddha walks the dog,
when the umpan calls goes to lunch,
at night clacks clackers and extinguishes the lights.
Right here, right now—
How to offer up this gift?
Sturmer's Verse
Salmon are swimming upstream.
No one can stop them
or turn them around.
Although magnetic by nature
(a metal teapot
glides across the table),
somehow we've drifted away
from our original home.
Hotetsu's Verse
Just take a deep breath. The essential body of Vairocana Buddha.
Turn left at the second light. The essential body of Vairocana Buddha.
It's always right where you put it, until you try to nail it there,
Then it's gone.

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