Gateless Gate (Mumonkan, Wumenguan) #31
Book of Serenity (Shoyoroku, Congrong Lu) #10
Zhoazhou Sees Through an Old Woman
Gateless Gate (Mumonkan, Wumenguan) #31
Book of Serenity (Shoyoroku, Congrong Lu) #10
Zhoazhou Sees Through an Old Woman
- Zhaozhou Congshen (Joshu Jushin, 778-897, 10th gen). Go to ZHAOZHOU.
- Old woman of Taishan
- Unnamed monks
Gathering and releasing – the stick is always with him;Case (Daido Loori, from #133 in Dogen's 300-koan Shobogenzo)
Able to kill and able to give life – the balance remains in his hands.
Delusive passions, devils and non-Buddhists – he controls them all at his finger tip;
The great earth, the mountains and rivers – all become his toys.
Just tell me, what sort of inner dimension is this?
There was an old woman on Mount Dai [Taishan] path.Wansong's Notes (Cleary)
A monastic asked her, "Where is the path to Mount Dai?"
The old woman said, "Go straight ahead."
The monastic went on.
The woman said, "My dear Reverend, you too go off like that."
Monastics came one after another to ask the same question and received the same answer.
Later, one of the monastics told Zhaozhou about it.
Zhaozhou said, "Wait here for a while. Let me check her out."
He went to the woman and said, "Where is the path to Mount Dai?"
The woman said, "Go straight ahead."
Zhaozhou went on.
The woman said, "My dear Reverend, you too go off like that."
Zhaozhou came back and said to the assembly, "I have checked out that woman for you."
 A rabbit on the road between the neighboring city and the farmhouses.Daido's Notes
 Traveling for a whole lifetime, you don't even know where you're going.
 This is not yet quite good-hearted.
 having run into a thief without realizing it.
 You're already a swindler.
 When people are even, they don't talk.
 When water is level it doesn't flow.
 A trap to fell a tiger.
 I'm an even bigger swindler.
 South of the North Pole, north of the South Pole. You can’t miss it.Wumen's Comment (Yamada)
 She is being helpful, but not in the way one might think.
 He does not know how deep the mud is right under his feet.
 She hits him with a mud ball right in the back of the head.
 It must be said she is dependable.
 He needs to check the eye of the source.
 Got it! But say, what did Zhaozhou see?
 When the wind blows, the reeds bend.
 He doesn’t seem to mind the mud on his sandals.
 Now the whole assembly has grown horns.
The old woman just sits in her tent and knows how to plan the strategy, but she still doesn't know how to capture the bandit. Old Zhaozhou was clever enough to steal into the camp and menace the fortress, but he hasn't the air of a magnanimous man. Pondering the matter, we must say they both had their faults. Tell me now, what insight did Zhaozhou get into the old woman?Wumen's Verse (Yamada; Senzaki in italics)
The question is the same,Honghzhi's Verse (Wick; Cleary in italics, "..."=matches Wick)
When the question is common
The answer is the same, too.
The answer is common.
Sand in the rice,
When the question is sand in a bowl of rice,
Thorns in the mud.
The answer is a stick in the soft mud.
He's gotten old -- become the essence -- doesn't transmit in errorXuanjiao's Comment (Wansong)
Old in years, attaining the essence, no mistake in transmission --
Old Buddha Zhaozhou succeeded Nanquan.
The Ancient Buddha Zhaozhou succeeded to Nanquan.
By a design on its shell the withered turtle lost his life.
The dead tortoise loses its life due to designs drawn on it;
Even the steeds "Chariot" and "Wind-chaser" are encumbered by halter and bridle.
Grandma Zen seen through and through --
Having checked out the woman's Chan,
told to people it's not worth a cent.
The preceding monk questioned and was answered in this way and later Zhaozhou also questioned and was answered in this way; but tell me, where was the examination? She was not only seen through by Zhaozhou; she was also seen through by the preceding monk.Langya's Comment (Wansong)
Even the great Zhaozhou walked into the woman's hands and lost his life. Even so, many misunderstand.Muzhe of Daguishan's Comment (Wansong)
All the monks in the world only know to ask the way from the woman; they don't know the depth of the mud right under their feet. If not for old Zhaozhou, how could the heights of attainment of the sweating horses be revealed?Fenyang's Verse (Cleary)
Old Lady Zen on the road to the holy Mount Tai --Huanglong Nan's Verse (Cleary; Senzaki in italics)
South, North, East, West -- myriad myriad thousand.
Zhaozhou's checking people is hard to understand --
Coming and going, his straw sandals were worn clear through.
Outstanding from the community is Zhaozhou;Yunxi's Verse (Cleary)
Zhaozhou stands preeminent in the world of Zen.
The woman's test was out of the blue.
There is a good reason for his seeing through the old woman.
Now the four seas are clear as mirrors;
Since that time the four seas are calm as a mirror,
Let travelers not make enemies of the road.
Travelers no longer have to worry about the journey.
On the road to Taishan, a white-headed woman;Tushuai's Verse (Cleary)
Endless travelers have passed by, how many times!
Of the hidden gate to the direct way, people are not aware;
So Zhaozhou made a special trip to cut off the confusion.
Go right straight ahead, go right straight ahead,Linji said (Aitken)
Not following the pointing finger itself, not going the same old way:
People who are robust and hardy
Walk alone in the universe.
There are monks who look for Manjusri at Wutai Mountain (Taishan). Wrong from the start! There is no Majusri on Wutaishan. Do you want to know Manjusri? There is something at this moment at work in you, never doubting, never faltering -- this is your living Manjusri.Background on Zhaozhou (Senzaki)
Once when Zhaozhou, too, was a common churchgoer, he planned to climb the mountain, Taishan, and pay homage to the statue of Manjusri, so that he might be endowed with wisdom. But an old monk wrote a poem for him:Background on the Old Woman (Wansong)
All mountains are equally good.So Zhaozhou didn't go to Taishan after all. After many years of hard practice, Zhaozhou became a Zen teacher. One day he saw a monk paying homage to a statue of the Buddha.
Blue ones afar, and a green one near,
Each one has a Manjusri enshrined
So why to to Taishan in particular?
The sutras depict Manjusri riding on a lion.
You may see many illusions like that
In the mountain clouds.
It is not real to the eye of a Zen monk;
It is not the happiness a Zen monk seeks.
"What are you doing?"
"I am paying homage to the Buddha," replied the monk.
"What is the use of that?" inquired Zhaozhou.
The monk said, "Is it not a good thing to pay homage to the Buddha?"
Zhaozhou declared flatly, "A good thing is not better than nothing."
The woman on the road to Taishan used to follow Wuzhuo out and in the the temples (on the holy mountain Taishan) and had fully gotten into Manjusri's saying, "Before, three by three; behind, three by three." [See BCR35.] Whenever she was asked by a monk which way the road to Taishan went, she would point out the "great road to the capital" right under the sun, saying, "Right straight ahead." This woman too had a hook in her hand -- many many intelligent freemen has she ensnared?Background on the Old Woman (Daido Loori)
These old women in Chinese Zen history were often matriarchs whose children had grown up, or whose families had been destroyed in the turbulent times of war and famine. They no longer had any family responsibilities and many entered monasteries. In fact, Iron Grindstone Liu, a successor of Guishan and an important teacher, was such a Zen adept. Many other women must have completed their studies and some of them must have started temples. After realizing themselves, many Chinese women entered hermitages in the mountains. They would build a hermitage and live out their lives practicing alone. Some of them, evidently, ended up as innkeepers along roadsides, making a living by selling refreshments and taking care of travelers along popular pilgrimage routes. This particular woman of Taishan is said to have been a traveling companion of Wuzhuo, accompanying him in and out of the temples on Taishan. She either studied with Wuzhuo formally or went on pilgrimages with him. Wuzhuo, a successor to Yangshan, appears in BCR35 where he is visiting Taishan and conversing with Manjusri. One reference to the woman of Taishan was that she had an iron hook in her hand. When she addressed the monks heading for Taishan, she held this hook. In Chinese, the character that is used for “hook” is also used for the Abhidharma, an important part of the canon that deals with Buddhist psychology. Abhidharma means “regarding reality.” “Iron hook” hints at where this woman was coming from.
|Mt. Wutai (Taishan): red pin. Zhaozhou's monastery|
is 175km to the SE.
In their wayside stands, such women were, like gas station attendants, in a position to give directions to travelers. The wise ones used their counters like high seats in the monasteries and expounded the Dharma in terms of light refreshment. "Go straight ahead," she says. You can find what you really seek, what all of us really seek, just in that walking. "Go straight" is the Tathagatha's true meaning. How did the old woman understand what she was saying? This is the question that intrigued Zhaozhou. Is this a person with just an inkling or is she deeply realized? The woman said to Zhaozhou what she said to the others: "Go straight ahead," and then, "A good respectable monk, but he too goes off like that." This was a follow-up intended to prompt the monk to the deeper implications of her imperative. She tells them, "You too are unable to grasp the Tathagatha's true meaning." When Zhaozhou reports back to his assembly, probably someone asked, "What did you find out about that old woman?" What would Zhaozhou reply? That is the point of this case.Cleary's Comment
Taishan is Mount Wutai, believed to be an abode of Manjushri. This koan is about "testing" and "checking" -- also about the integration of practice and realization, so it can show whether you are in the habit of forcing conclusions where there are only processes. A central issue revolves around the way one interprets "right straight ahead" -- literally or figuratively.Low's Comment
Zhaozhou's kensho is recounted in GG19, everyday mind is the way. This is an elaboration on that koan. Even Zhaozhou could not best the old woman because, after all, he must somehow have given himself away. This is a dharma duel, and to penetrate the koan we should see that the woman is deeply awakened.Sekida's Comment
Monks on pilgrimage to Taishan, a sacred mountain dedicated to Manjusri, would stop at a tea house for refreshments and then, probably because the road forked, would ask the old woman who served them, "What is the way to Taishan?" "Go straight on," she says. How do you go straight on? What does it mean? A straightforward person is a cleancut person, one with no pretenses, who assumes no airs, who is devoid of vanity. It is in this way we must practice -- straightforwardly, no pretending we are working harder than we are, no pretending we are more advanced than we are, not comparing ourselves with others, not with some ideal image of ourselves or of others as awakened. The implication in the old woman's words is that the monks do not go straight on. This is why she says, "He is no better than the rest." Some of the monks tell Zhaozhou about this, and he goes off to investigate. He asks the same question and receives the same treatment. Why does she indicate Zhaozhou does not go straight on? If we assume she is also not going straight on, that she too is full of vanity and pretenses, that all she is doing is taking the monks down a peg, and that in her eyes Zhaozhou is not different, then the koan dies here. But Wumen likens the old woman and Zhaozhou to two generals, evenly matched. If we assume the old woman is deeply awakened, the koan then becomes intriguing. How did Zhaozhou steal into her camp and take the fortress? She saw into Zhaozhou the same way that Zhaozhou saw into her. But when was this? Come to that, when did Zhaozhou see into the old woman? The old woman was a general, one who was in charge of the field. But Wumen says she had her faults. Was this because she was taken in? Zhaozhou got right into the enemy's camp, but he too made an error. Was it because he did not take the old woman in? So both had their strengths, both their weaknesses. What were these weaknesses?
"Go straight on." Zen teachers used these words to thier disciples, exhorting them to go directly forward with their practice of Zen. "He too goes that way." The old woman deplored the fact that despite the monks' apparent respectability and zeal, she found them in fact mediocre, willing to follow others shiftlessly. The old woman's remark embarrassed the monks, and someone told Zhaozhou about this. He said he'd go and investigate -- he had something in mind. He could see through the old woman with half an eye. Zhaozhou reports back, "I have investigated the old woman for you." He's saying he has seen through her and if you want to do so, you must do it for yourself.Senzaki's Comment
Chinese Buddhists believed that whoever climbed Taishan and paid homage to the statue of Manjusri would be endowed with wisdom. Even Zen monks would sometimes be found there, hoping that a miracle would save them the work required to emancipate themselves. Most of the pilgrims would naturally stop for tea and ask the way to the temple. But her direction, "Go straight ahead," was more than it appeared to be -- for she was a bodhisattva. "Go straight ahead" was a key to open the inner gate of Zen, but the pilgrims, even the Zen monks, had minds that were closed to her kindness. When a stupid fellow proceeded a few steps without insight, she would say regretfully to herself, "He too is just a common churchgoer." Did she make a mistake when she applied her formula to Zhaozhou?Bokitsu's Comment (Shibayama)
All the monks in the world only knew how to ask the old woman the way to Taishan and did not realize what vital significance is involved in the question. If it were not for old Zhaozhou, how could we expect such great success?Hakuin's Comment (Shibayama)
You all understand that Zhaozhou has seen through the old woman, but do not know that the old woman has seen through Zhaozhou. Now, tell me, how did she see through Zhaozhou?
The way to Taishan is the way to Zen; it is the way to the fundamental Truth, and it has to be the way to one's True Self. What is the use of looking for it outwardly away from his very self here and now? "Go straight on!" What else could we say about this Absolute Way? Sakyamuni taught Ananda, "The Truth is in all ten directions; straight is the Way to Nirvana." Zhaozhou declared to his disciples that he did see through the old woman, but did not say how he had done it, made no detailed report -- which naturally gives rise to various arguments and speculations. Did he in fact see through her or not? If he did, how did he see through her? What kind of fact are you talking about when you say that Zhaozhou saw through her? Unless you open your Zen eye on this ultimate point you are not able to stand beside Zhaozhou, nor can you get the real significance of the koan. The monks are not aware that the real problem is in themselves. What is "the old woman"? What does Zhaozhou mean by "seeing through her"? In the all-pervading "seeing through" how can there be Zhaozhou or the old woman? The whole universe has just been seen though. Needless to say, when you realize how Master Zhaozhou saw through the old woman, you will also realize how the old woman saw through Master Zhaozhou. The key of the koan lies right here.Yamada's Comment
You know that from the Zen point of view if a practitioner searches for Manjusri somewhere outside himself, he is going the wrong way. He must search within himself. This is what the old woman was saying with "go straight on." When a monk continued on the road -- looking outside himself -- the old woman expressed her disappointment: "What an earnest fellow, but, alas, he goes off that way too." The important point of the koan is what did Zhaozhou perceive in the old woman? Did he find her deeply enlightened? Totally blind? Somewhat enlightened? If we look at this koan from the highest, purely essential point of view, it goes like this:Wick's Comment
A monk asked an old woman, "What is the way to Taishan?" Just this. The old woman said, "Go straight on." Just this. The old woman said, "This good, homest monk goes off that way, too." Just this. The next day Zhaozhou went and asked the same question, and the old woman gave the same answer. Just this.Zhaozhou did not say anything about good or bad, but he saw through her all the same. Until that time, no one had been able to understand the old woman. For the first time, her heart and soul were penetrated by a true acquaintance.
In this koan, we are required to see the differences in the sameness and see the sameness in differences. We all have Buddha Nature, and it is the same in each of us. Yet our Buddha Nature is different, because each one of us is different. How do we see the differences in the sameness, and appreciate them? How do we see the sameness in the differences? We're so busy trying to figure out how Zhaozhou saw through the old woman that we don't see that the old woman saw through Zhaozhou and that they both saw through us. What is the Great Mountain, Taishan? Where do you find it? Where are you looking for it? Just keep going straight ahead.Daido's Comment
If the old woman’s eye was really open, why did she say, “Go straight ahead.”? Then again, if she did not have an eye, why did she say, “My dear reverend, you too go off like that.”? If you’re able to see clearly how Zhaozhou saw through the old woman, then you will also see that the old woman saw through Zhaozhou as well. But say, what is it that Zhaozhou saw? If you can take a bite out of this point, then I will concede that you have eaten the full meal.Daido's Verse
Before the question is asked,Wolinsky's Verse
you have already arrived.
Before taking a step,
you are already home.
Without SeeingCharlie Pokorny's Verse
In front of your eyes
Without connection to words or deeds
Under your feet
Too obvious to be seen when a seer is looking
The Woman of TaishanSturmer's Verse
He did just what they did –
Except he had an eye open in his guts
A listening ear at the place where the heart cracks
And two fingers feeling the pulse of an old lady’s words.
When the Castle of DesireHotetsu's Verse
a forgotten road
takes you into the mountains.
Don't bother to look back
as you begin to ascend:
the tea houses are vacant
the border post deserted.
There is the going straight on that one may fail to do --
the possibility of erroneous wandering.
There is the going straight on that one can't not do --
the impossibility of deviation from exact straightness,
howsoever winding the path.
Hotetsu advises clarity on the latter
Antecedent to regrets and resolutions
Regarding the former.
How to arrive at this clarity?
(Or is it clarity that you have already arrived at this clarity?
Or clarity that you have already arrived at clarity that you have already...)
A little intention doesn't seem to hurt.
Not too much.
Mount Wutai holds up its finger;
Nothing is concealed.
Straight on through sees Zhaozhou;
Nothing is revealed.