Blue Cliff Record 36

Blue Cliff Record (Hekiganroku, Biyan Lu) #36
Changsha Went for a Walk

  • CHANGSHA Jingcen (Chosha Keishin, 788-868, 10th gen), disciple of Nanquan
  • Unnamed head monk
  • XUEDOU Chongxian (Setcho Juken, 980-1052, 16th gen), disciple of Zhimen.
One day Changsha went for a walk.
When he returned to the gate, the head monk said, "Reverend, where have you been strolling?"
Changsha said, "I have come from walking in the hills."
The head monk said, "Where have you been?"
Changsha said, "First I went following the fragrant grasses, and now I have returned in pursuit of the falling blossoms."
The head monk said, "You are full of the spring."
Changsha said, "It is better than the autumn dew falling on the lotus leaves."
[Xuedou says, "Thank you for your answer."]
Xuedou's Verse (Sekida, italics Cleary)
The world is without a speck of dust!
   The whole earth is clear of dust;
What man's eyes are not opened?
   whose eyes do not open?
First following the fragrant grasses,
   First he followed the fragrant grasses out,
Returning in pursuit of falling blossoms,
   Then pursued the falling flowers back.
The slender stork perched in the wintry tree,
   A weary crane circles a winter tree,
A crazy monkey shrieking on the age-old heights.
   A mad monkey cries on an ancient terrace.
Changsha's eternal meaning -- ah!
   Changsha's infinite meaning -- tsk!
Comment from Yuanwu, Hakuin, Tenkei, Sekida, and Yamada
...when he got to the gate --
Yuanwu: Today, one day.
Sekida: Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but all today -- only the present.
Yuanwu: He has only fallen into the weeds; at first he was falling into the weeds; later he was still falling in the weeds.
Sekida: Changsha has walked wholeheartedly in the grass. This is positive samadhi.

"Where are you coming from, Master?" --
Yuanwu: He still wants to try this old fellow. The arrow has flown past Korea.
Sekida: This is a Dharma battle.

"From wandering in the mountains" --
Yuanwu: Don't fall in the weeds. He's suffered quite a loss. A man in the weeds.
Sekida: With Changsha, falling in the grass is itself ascending the marvelous peak, while an ordinary person will tumble down helplessly.
Tenkei: Roaming the mountains requires free time. In the context of Zen, so-called roaming the mountains and enjoying the waters refers to the state of those who have doen their task and transcended Buddhas and Zen masters. "Roaming the mountains" does not just mean literally going up in the mountains; all the activity and repose of such a person, day and night, is "roaming the mountains." When the congregation leader asks the master where he's been, there is an echo in his words, trying the examine Changsha's footprints.

"Where did you go?" --
Yuanwu: A thrust. If he had gone anywhere, he couldn't avoid falling into the weeds. They drag each other into a pit of fire.
Sekida: Purposelessness is admired in Zen, in contrast to the usual attitude of the world. Here purposeless means innocent, that is, free from any plotting activity of the mind.
Yamada: The head monk was trying to get Changsha to say the name of a place. This is a Dharma combat. In the essential World, there is no coming and going; in the world of Mu there is no leaving and returning – because there is nothing at all. The Zen practitioner who says that there is "coming and going" loses. The head monk, here, is quite a man and has considerable ability. He wants to trip Changsha up, so he puts a stumbling block in his way. If Changsha answers with the name of a place he will be trapped. But, neither here nor throughout the exchange does he give the name of a place. He doesn't get caught.

"First I followed the fragrant grasses on the way out" --
Hakuin: Driven by enthusiasm, drawn by the fragrant grasses, he goes, forgetting himself. This is splendid: it cannot be labeled the transcendental or the immanent, the present or the beyond.
Tenkei: Roaming the mountains without impediment, without fixation anywhere, beyond emotional objectification of comparative judgments.

"I returned following the falling flowers" --
Yuanwu: He's let slip quite a bit. From the beginning he's just been sitting in a forest of thorns.
Hakuin: When the fun was over he came back, and when returning he also forgot himself in the falling flowers.
Sekida: Changsha followed the grasses like a child chasing after a butterfly. "Pursuit" may seem to imply a purpose, but Changsha's action was childlike, untainted by the calculated activity of an ordinary adult's utilitarian mode of consciousness.
Yuanwu: Only a man who had cut off the ten directions could be like this. The Ancients, in leaving and entering, never ever failed to be mindful of this Matter. See how the host and guest shift positions together; confronting the situation directly, neither overlaps the other. Since he was wandering in the mountains, why did the monk ask, "Where did you go?" See how Changsha did not have even the slightest hair of reason or judgment, and that he had no place to abide.
Yamada: For no rhyme nor reason, he was drawn by the grass and wandered through it. "On my way home I followed the falling flowers" – again, it leaves no tracks of either coming or going. Changsha's words are sometimes used in a funeral service. I've heard them myself: "First I went following the scented grass; then I came back through the falling flowers." This expresses how a person is born into this world and then goes back to the other world.

"How very much like the sense of springtime" --
Yuanwu: He comes following along, adding error to error; one hand uplifts, one hand presses down.
Hakuin: He held up a 150-pound hammer before him: "How peaceful and pleasant it must be!"
Tenkei: How peaceful the sense you express, like the sense of spring, he says, with the underlying meaning that there still seems to be some warmth somewhere.
Sekida: The monk is saying Changsha is a little too much possessed by the buoyant mood of spring, a little too merry.
Yamada: The head monk tries to trip Changsha up in one way or another. But Changsha doesn't give himself away so easily.

"It is better than the autumn dew falling on the lotus leaves" --
Yuanwu: He adds mud to dirt. The first arrow was light; the second arrow was deep. What end will there ever be?
Hakuin: It even surpasses the desolate scenery of autumn, this without any odor of Buddhism. The realm of Changsha is splendid, beyond any description as the present moment or the beyond, Buddhism or worldly reality, even in poetry or song.
Tenkei: No, there is no warmth anywhere. Don't you know it is a pure, cool state of mind, without the slightest breath of warmth? Xuedou inserts the thanks that should have come from the congregation leader.
Sekida: The dews and frosts of autumn and the winter snows represent absolute samadhi; the spring grasses and flowers represent positive samadhi. The former is the foundation of Zen and must come first in zazen practice, but positive samadhi is samadhi in actual life and is much more highly valued. Hakuin Zenji says, "Samadhi in actual life is a hundred thousand times better than samadhi in quietude."
Yamada: The warm, bright spring is better than the lonely autumn. In autumn, the drops of dew forming on the lotus leaves are cool, without any warmth. It is quite refreshing Рthis is the state of consciousness in which there is no feverish enthusiasm nor delusive conceptualization. "Autumn" or "winter" are metaphors for this. Every thing is withered away, nothing appears on the surface. What could be more tranquil than this? All feeling of warmth has disappeared Рeven to the point of losing all human flavor. It's the world of enlightenment only. It must be a cool place, since there is no partner whatsoever. It's just like landing on an uninhabited island where there's no companion to look for. Neither are there any signs of humans. No human warmth at all. Changsha is saying, "That world [of pure enlightenment] is not bad, but it's still better to have human warmth." The head monk, with his "very like a spring mood," implied that Changsha's answer smelled a little bit too human. He was trying to trap Changsha again. But Changsha tells him that the smell of humans is preferable, it is far better. We don't even have to attach such clear meanings to Ch̫sa's words. Just relish his state of mind expressed in these words. Xuedou is saying thank you to Changsha for showing him that "a spring mood" is better than "the autumn dew falling on the lotus leaves."

Aitken's Comment
After Mu, this is one of the most important koans. When I worked on this koan with Yamada Roshi, he told me that the expression about the scented grasses and falling flowers is often used during the eulogy at a monk's funeral. The implication is: "Coming and going, you enjoyed the scented grasses and falling flowers. Thus you lived a fulfilled life." What do you make of Changsha saying that spring is beter than the autumn dew falling on the lotus flowers? This is the key to Changsha's character, and to all mature human character.
Shunryu Suzuki's Comment
"Strolling about mountains and waters" means in Zen the stage where there are no Buddhas or Patriarchs to follow and no evil desires to stop. Changsha is free from rational prejudices and emotional restrictions. His mental activity is free from any trace of previous activity. His thinking is always clear without the shadows of good and evil desires. The mind should be spotless so that everything may be observed as it is. If the mind is free from the traces of past thinking and is always clear, without tainted ideas or desires, then mind will always be calm and natural like the flowers that come out in Springtime or the red leaves that turn in the Autumn. Your mind and your nature will have the same pace. Changsha's answer, "I had walked through the scent of herbs and wandered about by falling flowers," refers to his well-trained everyday life which surpasses good and bad experiences and is always calm and clear. The gatekeeper's reply that this is "very much like a calm Spring feeling" suggests Changsha is attached to the calm Spring feeling when his mind should always be like a mirror reflecting everything as it is, transcending forms, colors, and feelings. So Changsha replied meaning that: the state of mind expressed in my statement that I have walked through the scent of herbs and wandered by the falling flowers transcends the warm Spring feeling and the cold Autumn feeling when icy dew is on withered leaves and stems of the lotus.
Rothenberg's Verse
Wandering Senses

I smelled the new grasses and followed the flowers.
How else to know spring!
Yes, it was more than autumn dew.
Have you ever written any of this down?
Not yet.
When you have time, you should try to.
The earth is cleared of all dust and haze --
Whose eyes do not open?
A lone crane lands on a naked tree,
a monkey screams on the crumbling terrace.
A man in the woods can still draw the bow
after the thief has run away.
My shirt in tatters, my pants have no zipper.
I started all this to help others,
who would think I'd end up a blathering idiot?

After this: whose eyes would not open?
Hotetsu's Verse
"Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it" (Norman Maclean)
By the river, eternal, flowing,
A gate.
At the gate, the conversation, the meeting:
Master and administrator.
oneness and multiplicity,
going and returning,
rising scents and falling flowers,
spring and autumn.

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