Nanquan Puyuan (748-835) has appeared in our previous nine cases. Luzu Baoyun (b. 750?) was a dharma brother of Nanquan -- they were both disciples of Mazu. The "empty kalpa" is one of the "four kalpas" or periods of cosmic changes: the kalpa of creation, the kalpa of existence, the kalpa of destruction, and the kalpa of emptiness. The "year of the donkey" does not exist in the Chinese zodiac, so "stuck in the year of the donkey" means "stuck forever," or, perhaps, the year of the donkey is beyond time.
Whenever Luzu saw a monk coming, he would face the wall. Hearing of this, Nanquan remarked, "I always tell others to receive directly, even before the empty kalpa, and to realize themselves even before the Buddha came into the world. But still, I haven't found half a human, let alone a whole human. If he is thus, he will be stuck in the year of the donkey."
Bodhidharma's nine years are known as wall gazing. Shenguang's [Huike's] three prostrations are outflowings of heavenly activity. How can the traces be swept away, the footprints be eliminated?
Hongzhi's Verse (Wick trans)
Plain water has flavor, subtly transcending the senses.
It precedes forms, though seeming endlessly to exist.
The Way is precious, though seeming massively to be foolish.
Inscribe designs on a jewel and its glory is lost,
a pearl even from an abyss naturally beckons.
Plenty of bracing air purely burnishes autumn's swelter,
far away a single tranquil cloud divides sky and water.
Hongzhi's Verse (Cleary trans)
In plainness there's flavor, subtly transcending thought and expression,
Continuously seeming to exist before any sign.
Unbending, like an idiot, his path is lofty:
Jade, when a pattern is carved, loses its purity;
A pearl in an abyss attracts of itself.
A thoroughly clear air burnishes sweltering autumn pure;
A bit of cloud at leisure divides sky and waters afar.
"Luzu that way will go on till the year of the ass." He seems to be blaming Luzu for being too strict, but in reality he's praising his direct imparting right there.
What was Bodhidharma doing for those nine years? Was he waiting for something? Do you think he thought that if he sat there something would happen? A monk would come and ask Luzu, "Does a dog have Buddha Nature?" and Luzu would face the wall. A monk would ask him, "What is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the west?" and he would face the wall. What was he doing? You could say he's demonstrating the first principle of life, everything is as it is. What is the wall each one of us is facing? Can you face the wall without facing the wall? If you can directly face the pain in your life, that's the pain in your life. So what is facing the wall? How can your really face the wall without adding anything else, thinking something, projecting something, rationalizing something? Nanquan is talking about seeing directly, even before the empty kalpa. Even before a thought arises, see directly. How can we realize, even before the Buddha appears? It's before the appearance of duality, dichotomy, separation. Luzu seems like an idiot, facing the wall when people come to see him, but in fact he's transcending all the dualities. It seems foolish, but it's precious. Maezumi Roshi used to say, "It's easy to sit facing the wall -- but it's not easy to sit facing the wall."
Zazen here does not refer to so-called bonpu Zen (“ordinary Zen”, i.e., Zen practiced for health and well-being) or gedô Zen (non-Buddhist Zen) or so-called hôben Zen (literally, Zen as a means) as practiced in Hinayana Buddhism. All those sorts of Zen involve “leaking samadhi” (jap, urojô), and only concern “samadhi power” (jôriki). They’re only concerned with power coming from concentration of mind or with mental concentration. If you apply yourself to these types of Zen you can make unending progress, but if you slacken your efforts you will be back where you started from as that power of concentration “leaks” away. The so-called Zen of no thought (munen-musô) is also such a Zen. You should be duly aware that all these involve collecting samadhi power of concentration that will leak away if you slacken your efforts. The zazen referred to here is the authentic Zen transmitted by Buddhas and patriarchs. It is the highest and wondrous ability that does not leak away. It is only transmitted from Buddha to Buddha; it is the samadhi that can freely be received and does not allow the slightest room for intrusion of false paths.
What is this all about, this turning around and facing the wall without a word when anyone came? It is the same in spirit and activity as Bodhidharma’s facing the wall for nine years. If you begin to speak in terms of concepts, it leaves traces. The best is just to sit in silence. But even then, traces remain; it still smells of Zen. That smell of Zen must also be removed, although it’s quite difficult to do. Luzu had this way of showing the essence of Zen. To be sure, it is quite wonderful. “What has existed before the kalpa of emptiness”, etc. refers figuratively to a state where not a single concept or thought arises. It is the world of MU. Nanquan is always telling his students to realize that world prior to the birth of concepts and thoughts, which is basically the same as “what has been before Buddhas appeared in the world.” It is the world where no thought of Buddha arises. It is the world prior to any discriminating consciousness, prior to any division into subject and object. Nanquan tells his students to grasp that fact, that world, to come face to face with it. He is prodding them to realize their own true self, where even the slightest thought of Buddha does not exist, the world where all concepts have been swept away. And although he teaches in that way, he says he cannot even get one disciple or even a half a disciple.
“If he continues that way, he will go on even until the year of the donkey.” That is, if Luzu continues that way to simply turn around and face the wall, no one will ever understand.
Version in Dogen's 300 Koan Shobogenzo
Luzu would sit facing the wall whenever monastics went to see him. One day, Nanquan went to see him, and Luzu sat facing the wall.
Nanquan finally patted him on the back.
Luzu said, "Who is it?"
Nanquan said, "It's Puyuan" [i.e., Nanquan Puyuan].
Luzu said, "What are you doing?"
Nanquan said, "Nothing special."
Daido Loori's Comment
Luzu seems to be practicing a bit of ostrich Zen. There may be something to this, but still, it makes it difficult to distinguish the long from the short. Nanquan, seeing this exposed end, checks to see if there is any life. Zen practitioners inevitably fall to one side or the other because they have not yet seen that principle and phenomena are not two, illumination and function are simultaneous. Because nothing is missing, it can be said that it's nothing special.
Diado Loori's Verse
Rotating the heavens,Susan Clements' Verse
revolving the sun and moon.
Each and every action
contains the universe.
Luzu Faces the WallSturmer's Verse
I want to be
want it easy, just to be told
not doing any work – watch out –
to go on like this until the year of the ass
what’s the rush
One doesn't confideHotetsu's Verse
about the atmosphere --
either it's completely clear
or your'e stumbling in a fog.
Old Luzu remains silent
wrapped in an iron raincoat.
Strike him on the back
and he won't move an inch.
Face the wall of years, centuries, kalpas.
Face the wall of time and eternity.
When these illusions lift, the wall you face is always right now --
Also without substance.
Facing facing facing.