Gateless Gate 46, Book of Serenity 79

Gateless Gate (Mumonkan, Wumenguan) #46
Book of Serenity (Shoyoroku, Congrong Lu) #79
Stepping from a 100-foot Pole

  • CHANGSHA Jingcen (Chosha Keishin, 788-868, 10th gen), disciple of Nanquan
  • Hermit Hui, disciple of Nanquan
  • SHISHUANG Chuyuan (Sekiso Soen, 987-1040, 17th gen), disciple of Fenyang
Wansong's Preface (Sato)
“The wife of the son of the family Ma” on the golden sand-bank –
indeed a special spirit [of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara][1]
Pounding to make chestnut rice cake in a jade pot
– who would ever dare to turn it around?
If you don't go into the terrifying billows, you can hardly get a satisfactory fish.
What about one phrase manifesting leisurely, majestic strides?
[1] According to legend, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara appeared in the district of Sen'u in ancient China in the form of a beautiful young woman. She said she would marry the young man who could read the sutras best. All young men began studying the reading of sutras, but the son of the Family Ma read them better than anyone else. He wed the young woman who, however, died right after the wedding. An old monk, who happened to come by, explained the young woman's real identity. After that, Buddhism spread all over the district, and the statue of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara was erected on the golden sand-bank of the land. The statue was eventually called “Avalokitesvara, the wife of the son of the Family Ma.”

Case, as in GG (Yamada)
Master Shishuang said, "How will you step forward from the top of a hundred-foot pole?"
Another eminent master of old [i.e., Changsha] said, "Even though one who is sitting on the top of a hundred-foot pole has entered realization, it is not yet real. He must step forward from the top of the pole and manifest his whole body throughout the world in ten directions."
Case, as in BOS (Sato)
Changsha had a monk ask Master Hui, “How was it when you had not yet seen Nanquan?”[2]
Hui sat silent.[3]
The monk asked, “What about after seeing him?”[4]
Hui said, “Nothing special.”[5]
The monk returned and told Changsha about this.[6]
Changsha said:
“Even though one who is sitting on top of a hundred-foot pole[7]
has entered realization, it is not yet real.[8]
You must step forward on (or from the) top of the hundred-foot pole.[9]
The world of ten directions is your entire body.”[10]
The monk said, “How should you take a step forward on (or from the) top of a hundred-foot pole?”[11]
Changsha said, “Mountains of Lang; water of Li.”[12]
The monk said, “I don't understand.”[13]
Changsha said, “Four seas and five lakes are all under the imperial reign.”[14]
[5] Or "There couldn't be anything else" (Cleary).
[9-10] Or "From the top of the hundred-foot pole he should advance a step, the ten directions of the world will be his entire body" (Wick).
[12] Lang and Li are names of provinces of old China.
[14] I.e., “you” are the emperor; everything is under your reign.

Wansong's Interjections
[2] In the early morning there's gruel.
[3] If you ask a question, there's an odor of crap.
[4] He searches it out further for him.
[5] He just stumbles and falls in a pile of crap.
[6] A fellow running off at the mouth accompanied by his tongue.
[7] An embarrassment for the one at the bottom of the pole.
[8] When solitariness is not set up, then is the path lofty.
[9] At the extreme, it's very much like a cutting off and discarding.
[10] For the first time one believes the sitting cushion isn't heaven.
[11] After all there is still this.
[12] You bump into it everywhere.
[13] How very brilliant!
[14] You may leap all you want
Background Case (Senzaki)
A monk asked Nanquan, "When one has reached the top of a hundred-foot pole, then where should one go?"
Nanquan said, "Proceed on, one more step."
Wumen's Comment (Yamada)
If you can step forward and turn your body around, there will be no place where you are called dishonorable. Even so, just tell me, how do you step forward from the top of the hundred-foot pole? Ahem!
Wumen's Verse (Yamada)
Making the eye on the forehead blind,
One clings to the mark on the scale;
Throwing away body and life,
One blind person leads many blind people.
Hongzhi's Verse (Wick, italics Cleary)
The jeweled man's dream is broken by one cock's crow.
   The jade man's dream is shattered -- one call from the rooster
Look around at life, and everything is equal.
   Looking around on life, all colors are equal.
The wind and thunder carry news, awakening hibernating creatures.
   Wind and thunder, with news of events, roust out the hibernating insects;
Wordless peach and plum. Under them, people's footpaths naturally form.
   Peach trees, wordless, naturally make a path.
When the season comes, work to till the soil.
   When the time and season comes, laboring at the plow,
Who's afraid in spring paddies to sink in mud to the knees?
   Who fears the spring rows' knee-deep mud?
Background: Changsha's Teaching (Wansong)
In the hall, Changsha said: "If I were to wholly bring up the Chan teaching, there'd be weeds ten feet deep in the teaching hall.
I can't but tell you that the whole universe in all directions is the eye of a monk,
the whole universe in all directions is the whole body of a monk,
the whole universe in all directions is the light of the self,
the whole universe in all directions is within one's own light.
In all the universe in all directions, there is no one that is not oneself.
I always tell you, the Buddhas of all times, along with the sentient beings of the universe, are the light of the great transcendent knowledge.
Before the light is emitted, where do you sentient beings comprehend?
Before the light is emitted, there isn't even any news of Buddhas or sentient beings --
where do you get mountains, rivers, and earth from?"
Wansong's Comment
[5] I say, once dead, he didn't revive.
[7-8] This and Yantou's saying to Xuefeng that "Deshan didn't know the last word" [GG13] are troubled about the same thing. I always tell people that it's much like someone having taken their grandparents' house and business and their relatives themselves, and sold them off on the same ticket, then put it in a crystal jar which you keep with you wherever you are, guarding it like your eyeballs. Don't let me see! I'd surely pick it up and smash it, making your hands free, folks joyfully alive with no taboos.
[12] This is called a phrase that skillfully uses a precipice. It also concerns trailing mud and dripping water. If not for the jade man's dream being shattered, and having a life beyond, how could the whole world be utterly new each day?
Where the ancients held still, they could let go to advance a step from atop the pole; when they let go, they could hold still and stand like a thousand-foot wall. Why were they so free and independent?
Foyin's Verse (Wansong)
A guest sees Changsha on the same path;
He bids someone investigate his family style, as promised.
Sumeru's myriad heights are worn away past and present;
Cutting grass to measure the sky is a waste of effort.
Aitken's Comment
[5] Hui was in the condition of "nothing special." He had entered the Way -- he had realized equality and emptiness, where nothing happens. There are no sages and no ordinary people. There are no animals, trees, deserts, or mountains. There is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind. Saving others is out of the question.
[8] Sakyamuni under the Bodhi Tree was not yet genuine. He was sitting there enjoying his realization, but meantime, his former disciples were feeling abandoned in the big city. He needed to step out and give them the word.
Cleary's Comment
The Buddhist scripture The Discourse on Unlocking the Mysteries explains the relationships among absolute, relative, and imagined reality. "Tranquil nirvana" is "the highest expedient" for seeing through the deceptions of imagined truth to the realities of objective truth. The Lotus Sutra, however, describes "tranquil nirvana" as an "illusory citadel," which is expediently represented as ultimate relief in order to soothe the fears of those who face the endless infinity of the path of real being-as-is. The present koan and Wumen's comments drive home the point that nirvana is not in itself the goal of Zen. Nirvana is but a temporary resting place on an endless pathway of complete realization.
Unidentified Master (Low)
On top of a hundred-foot pole an iron cow gives birth to a calf.
Low's Comment
A great temptation lies in spiritual training to leave behind the world of suffering and to seek a world of unity and peace. This is tantamount to getting to the top of a hundred-foot pole. It is of little value and can only end in the person sliding down again into the darkness and obscurity that await him below. Such a person is clinging to the appearance while ignoring the fact. The same challenge awaits us at every crossroad of our lives. Time and again we find ourselves in a cul-de-sac, unable to go forward, unable to retreat, unable to stay where we are, and unable to make up our minds what to do. The great danger of the first kensho, which is invariably seeing into emptiness, is that we can stop there wanting to treasure the joy and serenity revealed to us. But, as Yunmen once warned, even a good thing is not as good as nothing. Te step forward is a clear light.
Sekida's Comment
When you have made considerable progress in your zazen practice, you come to a sort of extremity, where you find yourself on the brink of an abyss which is veiled in complete darkness. Suddenly your are scared. You feel that there is no knowing what calamity may follow if you proceed to step further into the darkness. In zazen practice, consciousness comes nearly to a stop, and when a Zen student first experiences this, he often becomes panic-stricken. It is just as if he were trembling on the top of a pole. But Zen masters require you to let your hands go and proceed further. What follows? The Great Death occurs: the activity of consciousness stops. You jump into the abyss. But don't worry, no calamity ensues.
Throw away your enlightenment. In other words, throw away all that you have achieved. Throw away your original nature, Buddhahood, Dharma, ordinary mind, everything. Be reduced to emptiness. Cast away even the emptiness. This is proceeding on further from the top of a hundred-foot pole.
What sort of thing is coming down? It is returning to the world to admit and embrace people of all types. Unless you achieve that capacious sort of mind, your practice cannot be said to be successful.
Senzaki's Comment
In fact, there is no such pole of Zen measuring one hundred feet, or any specific height. Like a magician from India, you can extend your own rope and climb up it or come down along it. Since the whole universe is your own real body, there are no ups and downs after all. You seek wisdom higher and higher, but your influence of loving-kindness should be wider and wider. You come to this zndo to meditate. After you finish your meditation, next you will have your tea. After the third cup, you will go home. Now, are you thus proceeding or retreating on the road of Zen?
Shibayama's Comment
To be at the top means that he has opened his spritual eye. If he settles down there, however, it turns out to be a cave. He has to go into the defiled world, hiding his brilliance. A Zen person of real attainment and capability is one who has cast off the holy smack of satori -- one who, as an ordinary person, lives he Truth of Oneness. How to do this? How to take this step forward? In order to answer this question experientially, never-ending actual training is needed in Zen.
[9-10] This refers to nothing other than this downward or "descending-the-mountain" training. Let us remember that if we live the life of an obviously wise and holy man, or behave with apparent Zen likeness, we are still immature and should be ashamed of that immaturity. I tell you, it is not easy to live a real Zen life.
Wick's Comment
Master Changsha is encouraging us to take a step forward, from wherever we may be. Each one of us is stranded on a hundred-foot pole. We must step forward into the unknown void in order to experience the boundless life. What is it that keeps us from taking that step into the unknown void? You can ascend the mountain, but you have to descend it to be free. Hermit Hui left Nanquan and stayed on his lofty peak. Changsha could tell he was still holding onto something. Both before and after awakening are hundred-foot poles. The ground is always shifting, there's no place to rest. The monk asks, "How do you advance a step?" and Changsha replies, "The mountains of Lang province; the waters of Li province." In other words, manifest your body in the ten directions. The whole universe in the ten directions is your whole body. Fishes and foxes frolic everywhere.
Yamada's Comment
[5] It is here that we see that Hui still hasn’t realized. You have to realize kensho, no matter how small the experience may be. But simply to say “nothing special” is not enough. Even though it might not have been an overwhelming experience where you are beside yourself with joy, you must have at least had some experience of suddenly realizing. If it were a matter of opening the gate, so to speak, entering and then forgetting everything, even satori, it would be another matter and an answer like “nothing special” might be appropriate. But that doesn’t appear to be the case here.
[7] “Sitting on the top of a hundred-foot pole” means a person for whom all concepts and thoughts have been wiped away. That itself is no easy task. It is the state expressed by the words “not a speck of cloud obscuring the view." You feel very peaceful and enjoy that state of perfect peace. This would be the first step in “dying the great death.” Hui seems to be taking a nap on the pinnacle of satori. Anyone who wants to attain the true Zen experience must pass through this stage once. If you remain there, however, you will be unable to attain true emancipation from deep attachment to this emptiness. This stage is often referred to as the pitfall of emptiness. It becomes a kind of Zen sickness.
[10] This means you will realize that you are one and alone in and with the whole universe and that you should be able to do anything in an extremely free and positive way. That is the state of true enlightenment. The “worlds of the ten directions” means the entire universe. When you open the eye of satori, you realize that you and the universe are completely one. You must plunge into that world of oneness. If you take a step from a hundred foot pole, you die the great death and experience the great life as a new world opens up.
[14] “Four seas and five lakes” can be understood as the entire universe. These words indicate complete peace under heaven thanks to the emperor. If you truly realize, you realize that nothing is missing. This is peace itself. This is the same as saying that the worlds in the ten directions are the entire body.
Andy Ferguson's Verse
Changsha Advancing a Step

Old Changsha exclaimed, take one step and advance,
you’ve heard this before but you’re still in a trance,
so I’ll do him one better if you’re willing to hear,
at the top of the pole take one step to the rear.
Sturmer's Verse
Halfway up the sky
climbing a wax ladder
the rungs begin to melt,
and he finds himself
like Wile E. Coyote
in the blue
in the immense blue.
Hotetsu's Verse
Down from the pole of emptiness.
Then down from the pole of ordinariness.
Stepping to my death over and over,
Ah, that's the life.

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