Blue Cliff Record 11, Book of Serenity 53

Blue Cliff Record (Hekiganroku, Biyan Lu) #11
Book of Serenity (Shoyoroku, Congrong Lu) #53
Dogen's 300 #202
Huangbo's 'Partaker's of Brewer's Grain'

  • HUANGBO Xiyun (Obaku Kiun, 770? - 850, 10th gen)
  • an unnamed monk
Yuanwu's Preface
The great activities of the buddhas and patriarchs are entirely within your grasp.
The life of every human or heavenly being is completely at your command.
Every casual phrase of yours perturbs the crowds and astounds the multitudes.
Every internal movement, every external action of yours shatters the chains and smashes the
You deal with people of supreme aspiration.
You handle the matters of highest truth.
Just tell me, is there anyone who was ever like that?
Do you know the destination of such a person?
I will give you an example, look!
Wansong's Preface
When one meets the functions of the mind, one does not see Buddha;
For great enlightenment there is not a teacher.[1]
The sword that pacifies heaven and earth knows no mercy;
The activity to capture tigers and rhinoceroses forgets the understandings of the (earlier) saints.
Now tell me, whose strategy is this?
[1] A phrase by Qinglin Shiqian (d. 904) (Sato).

Huangbo instructed the assembly saying, “You are all devourers of dregs![2]
If you keep roaming around like this,[3]
when will you be able to have your 'today'?[4]
Do you know this?: In this great empire of Tang there is not a single Zen master.”
Then a monk came forward and said, “What would you say to those who direct their assemblies and lead their followers in various places?”
Huangbo said, “I do not say that there is no Zen; I only say that there is no master.”
[2] Sekida: partakers of brewer's grain.
Wick: eaters of wine-dregs.
[3] I.e., keep visiting temples and masters here and there in a lukewarm manner (Sato).
[4] Wick: when will there ever be a day for you?
Sato BOS: when will you be able to have the Today?

Yuanwu's Interjections
Huangbo, instructing the community, said,
   Drawing water, he's limited by [the size of] the bowl. He swallows all in one gulp. No patchrobed monk in the world can leap clear.
"All of you people are gobblers of dregs; if you go on travelling around this way,"
   He's said it. You'll wear out your straw sandals.
"where will you have Today?"
   What's the use of Today? Nothing can stop him from astounding the crowd and stirring up the community.
Do you know that there are no teachers of Chan in all of China?"
   I hadn't realized. He swallows all in one gulp. He too is a cloud-dwelling saint.
At that time a monk came forward and said, "Then what about those in various places who order followers and lead communities?"
   He too gives a good thrust; confronting the situation, he couldn't but do so.
Huangbo said, "I do not say that there is no Chan; it's just that there are no teachers.
   He just can't explain. The tiles are scattered, the ice melts. He's a fellow with a dragon's head but a snake's tail.
Wansong's Interjections
Huangbo said to the assembly, "You people are all slurpers of dregs.
   Huangbo's disciples.
If you travel like this, where will you have today?
   Now is already not like the past; later and future will not be like now.
Do you know that in all of China there are no teachers of Chan?"
   His eyes are high over the four seas.
At that point a monk came forward and said, "What about those who guide followers and lead groups in various places?"
   Huangbo himself is one of them.
Huangbo said, "I don't say there's no Chan, just that there are no teachers."
   He's only saved half.
Xuedou's Verse
Awesome and solitary, void of any pride;
Seated in the vast ocean, he distinguished dragons and snakes.[5]
The Emperor of Daichû once touched him lightly,
To fall thrice into his claws and fangs.[6]
[5] Cleary: Cold, severe, his solitary mien does not take pride in itself; Solemnly dwelling in the sea of the world, he distinguishes dragons and snakes.
Sekida: Commanding is his way of teaching; But he made it no point of merit. Seated majestically over the whole land, He distinguished the dragon from the snake.
[6] Cleary: Even the emperor of China was treated lightly; Thrice he personally ran afoul of those claws and fangs.
Sekida: Emperor Taichu once encountered him And thrice fell into his clutches.

Hongzhi's Verse
The ways are divided, the threads are (differently) dyed: too much labor;
Binding the leaves, tying the flowers: it mars the ancestors.*
One takes skillfully the active handle of creation;
Vessels designed with waters and clouds are on the lathe.[7]
Clearing the tangles, smashing the tile chips, shaving off the fluff –
The balance, the mirror, the scale and the scissors:
Old Huangbo perceives even the thinnest autumn hair;
Cutting off the spring wind through sitting, he never allows haughtiness.[8]
*I.e., Bodhidharma and the 6th Ancestor Huineng (Sato)
**This primarily suggests Huangbo's activities. (Sato)
***“Clouds and water” (unsui) hints at “practicing monks." (Sato)
[7] Cleary: Paths divide, threads are dyed -- too much trouble. Leaves in clusters, flowers in rows -- ruins the ancestors. Subtly wielding the guiding handle of creation; Vessels of water and clouds are on the potter's wheel.
Wick: Roads being split, threads being dyed -- how bothersome! Catching at leaves and lining up flowers ruins the Ancestors. Subtly grasping the handle that educates Southerners, the cloud-and-water inscribing tool is on the potter's wheel.
[8] Cleary: Clearing away tangles and chips, Shaving off down: The marked balance, the jeweler's mirror, The jade ruler and gold knife: Old Huangbo can perceive even an autumn hair; Cutting off the spring wind, he doesn't allow exaltation.
Wick: Tangles and shards removed and crushed, downy hairs razored off. Balance scale, bright mirror, jeweled ruler, golden sword: Old Huangbo even divines autumn fur, cutting off the spring breeze, not allowing arrogance.

Longer Version of Case
One day Huangbo went up in the hall and said, "What do you people want to look for?" And he chased them with his staff. The assembly didn't disperse, so he said, "The Great Master Nintou Farong [594-657, 5th gen] of Ox Head Mountain spoke horizontally and spoke vertically, but he still didn't know the key of transcendence. These days the followers after Shitou [700-790, 8th gen] and Mazu [709-88, 8th gen] speak of Zen and speak of the Way most voluminously. All of you are gobblers of dregs. If you travel around like this, you'll get laughed at by people. As soon as you hear of a place with eight hundred or a thousand people, you immediately go there. It won't do just to seek out the hubbub. When I was traveling, if I found there was someone at the roots of the grasses, I would stick him in the head and watch to see if he knew the feeling of pain. If he did, I could give him a cloth bag full of rice as an offering. If you always take things this easy here, then where else would there be this matter of Today? Since you're called pilgrims, you should concentrate a bit. Do you know there are no teachers of Zen in all of China?"
Background Tales
Once when Huangbo was travelling to Mount Tiantai, he met a monk on the way. They talked and laughed together like old acquaintances. Huangbo looked him over carefully; the light in his eyes pierced people, and his appearance was unusual. The pair came to a swollen valley stream, whereupon Huangbo planted his staff in the ground, took off his hat, and stopped there. The other monk tried to urged Huangbo to cross with him, but Huangbo said, "Please cross over yourself."
The other one then gathered up his robes and walked upon the waves as though treading on level ground. He looked back and said, "Come across! Come across!"
Huangbo upbraided him, saying, "You self-perfected fellow! If I had known you would concoct wonders, I would have broken your legs!"
The other monk sighed in admiration and said, "You are a true vessel of the teaching of the Great Vehicle." Instantly thereupon, he disappeared.

One day Huangbo asked Baizhang, "How has the vehicle of the school that comes down from ancient times been demonstrated and taught?
Baizhang was silent for a long time.
Huangbo said, "You shouldn't let posterity be cut off."
Baizhang said, "I thought you were the man." Then he got up and went into his abbot's quarters.

When Huangbo was studying with Baizhang, Baizhang told him, "If your understanding equals that of your teacher, you will cut his merit in half. Only when your wisdom exceeds that of your teacher are you worthy to pass on the transmission."
Yuanwu's Comment
That essence of the school that has come down from ancient times -- sometimes holding, sometimes letting go, sometimes killing, sometimes giving life, sometimes releasing, sometimes gathering up -- I dare to ask all of you, what would be a teacher of Zen? As soon as I speak this way I've already lost my head. People, where are your nostrils? They've been pierced through!
The more you abandon, the more you aren't at rest; the more you seek, the more you don't see; the more you take on, the more you sink down. Wholeheartedly discard the marvelous wonders of the principle of Buddha Dharma; let it all go at once, and then you will after all have gotten somewhere, and wherever you are it will naturally become manifest.
Shimen Cong's Comment
Huangbo's instruction was undeniably marvelous, but the moment he is confronted by a monk he loses one eye.
Hakuin's Comment
This statement of Huangbo's is poison in the water; whoever drinks it dies. I misunderstood this for twenty year; don't take it lightly.
[5] Where do you think you'll find this place?
[8] This saying is hard to penetrate; it is in the same mold as "he still has habit-ridden consciousness." It is an extremely subtle saying: the path of language ends.
Tenkei's Comment
[3] People who consume writings and sayings are gobblers of dregs. But can we say that "the oak tree in the yard" and "three pounds of flax" are dregs? These are no dregs except insofar as even practice is gobbling dregs, even travel for study is gobbling dregs. To speak of enlightenment and delusion, views of Buddha or views of Dharma, is all gobbling dregs.
[5] Today is the time when the great task is complete.
[6] What is a teacher in the context of Zen? Is there such a thing? Is there not? Look in your nostrils.
[8] Knowledgeable words come from the mouths of those in the know.
Sekida's Comment
[3] Huangbo originated this expression which has become a popular saying used to belittle those who imitate old Zen masters. The literal meaning is that you eat the grain left over by the brewers after they have removed the wine and then think that you have had a taste of the real thing.
[6] It is an iron rule that Zen cannot be taught. You must attain it by your own practice, study, and research. No doubt when Huangbo first said this it must have sounded astonishing to his students. His words have been handed down to the present day. The Buddha said, "In my forty-nine years of Dharma activity I did not preach a word."
Wick's Comment
Huangbo also instructed: "Look at the void in front of your eyes; how can you produce it or eliminate it? Observe things as they are and don't pay attention to other people. There are some people who act like mad dogs, barking at everything that moves. Not even distinguishing between the wind that moves among the grass and the wind in the trees." Our practice is about letting go of what Hakuin called that habit-ridden consciousness. Like Huangbo said, "Observe things as they are," not as you project them to be or you'd like them to be, or you imagine them to be, but as they are.
A teacher is like a mirror, encouraging you to trust yourself at the deepest levels possible. To work at the profound level where you're not holding back requires unconditional commitment. A good teacher can see where you are holding on. If a teacher challenges you, see what comes up and let that process you, rather than the other way around.
Seeking after teachers is like being a dreg-slurper. Yet, a teacher is essential. When you trust and surrender to a spiritual teacher, it is not the same as guru-worship -- hoping the guru will do the hard work for you. A real teacher, a worthy teacher, will push you back on your own resources so you can eventually be free of the teacher's influence.
Looking outside the self, you will not find happiness, nor will you find peace if you spend your time looking for the perfect teacher. On the other hand, I have met some students who have sat on their own for years and believe they have deep understanding when all they have really done is mistake the smoke for the fire. Huangbo is not denying the value of a teacher -- he just does not want you to cling. True mind is the true teacher. Realize the Dharma. Realize the true mind as your true teacher. That is the vow of the Buddha.
Yamada's Comment
This koan offers two angles of observation. On the one hand it is possible to appreciate the grandiose statement, "Do you know that in this great empire of Tang there is not a single Zen teacher?" On the other hand, another rather modest statement also draws our attention, "I do not say that there is no Zen, but that there is no teacher." The first sentence was a great and powerful bang, but it all fizzled out with the next one.
There are always people who are pilgrimaging around, attending this zazenkai over here, that sesshin over there, and visiting this and that master one after another. But if you are loafing around like that in your practice, when and where will you experience your "today," that is, the day you can say, "Yes, now I've got it!" When will you encounter that day, like Deshan who said upon his realization, "I will never doubt any more what the old master has said to me." This phrase “where will the 'Today' be?” is the heart of the koan. Where is that “today”? What you are doing is simply gobbling lees! Shame on you!
[8] "Zen" here doesn't refer to the practice of Zen we are doing now, but it's another name for what's normally called "essential nature," "Buddha-nature," or "essential world." Then it's quite correct to name anything "Zen" – mountains, rivers, trees, grass, you name it. Zen is nothing you can "teach" someone. You must "taste" it by yourself. That's why "there is no teacher." In fact, all a Zen instructor can do is simply push you from behind; you must stand and walk on your own feet.
Henry Shukman's Comment
[3] Another way of translating this is to say, “you are all living on a diet of concepts! You are gorging yourself on thoughts!” What, then, is the sweet pure wine, the non-dregs? What is it that allows Yunmen to say ”every day is a good day”?
Rothenberg's Verse
It Takes a Word

One right word is all it takes
it can smash the chains and break down the gates
Who knows such words?
-- Look around you and see,

What's the use of today?
shock the country, stir up the crowd
swallow all in one gulp and dwell in the clouds

Look back at that monk who could walk across water
Don't let him get away with it:
"You smug fellow, if I had known you could conjure up wonders,
I would have broken your legs!"
Then he who speaks disappears
(he has said the word)

I hold up my palms with nothing to do
having heard the word, don't seek out the flock
they will only abuse it and get out of hand

cut through the clouds, walk inside rock, always say yes to work
the distant land is only seen when it peeks above the horizon
the glacier's waters cannot be held back --
they return to the waves of the sea
Ekai Uji Laurie Senauke's Verse
Huangbo's "Dreg-Slurpers"

You can’t teach it to us,
We can’t learn it from you.
Forest creatures just head for the clearing
When the night is dark
And the moon is full.
Wander all over Green Gulch valley
Searching among rocks and flowers, roots and trees,
Can you honestly say there are no teachers of Chan?
Sturmer's Verse
When the ancient scholar
retires for the night
rats come out
and eat his manuscript,
The most demanding passages --
those he had to write and rewrite
are also the most
difficult to digest.
Hotetsu's Verse
Evening shadows stretch east and
I have passed Today Today.
I think probably you have too. How could we not?
Still, this feeling of having been somewhere else is a
Morning fog that doesn't lift, a delusion
The very nonsense of which encourages its recurrence.
Perhaps I'll swing by the Zen bar on the corner
To hoist a pint of dregs and be thereby intoxicated until
Tomorrow is Today.

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