Gateless Gate 7, Book of Serenity 39

Gateless Gate (Mumonkan, Wumenguan) #7
Book of Serenity (Shoyoroku, Congrong Lu) #39
Dogen's 300 #67
Zhaozhou's "Wash Your Bowls"

  • ZHAOZHOU Congshen (Joshu Jushin, 778-897, 10th gen), disciple of Nanquan
  • an unnamed monk
Wansong's Preface
When rice comes, you open your mouth;
When sleep comes, you close your eyes.
When you wash your face, you touch your nose;
When you take up your straw sandals, you feel your feet.
At those times, if you lose the koan, take a burning light and make a special search in the deep night.
How can you find the right correspondence [with your real self]?
A monk asked Zhaozhou [GG: in all earnestness], "I have just entered this monastery. I beg you, Master, please give me instructions."[1]
Zhaozhou asked, "Have you eaten your rice gruel yet?" [2]
The monk answered, "Yes, I have." [3]
Zhaozhou said, "Then wash your bowls." [4]
[GG: The monk attained some realization.]
[1] Aitken, Sekida: A monk said to Zhaozhou, "I have just entered this monastery. Please teach me."
Cleary: A monk asked Zhaozhou, "I have just joined the community, and I request the teacher's instruction."
Gu: A monk asked Zhaozhou, "I have just entered this monastery. I beg for your instructions, teacher."
Hinton: A monk asked Master Visitation-Land: "I've just arrived here in your thicket-forest monastery, Master. Please show me what you have to reveal."
Low: A monk once said to Zhaozhou, "I have just come to the monastery. Will you please teach me?"
Senzaki: A monk said to Zhaozhou, "I have just entered the monastery; please teach me."
Shibayama: Once a monk made a request of Zhaozhou. "I have just entered the monastery," he said. "Please give me instructions, Master."

[2] Aitken: Zhaozhou said, "Have you eaten your rice gruel?"
Cleary: Zhaozhou inquired, "Have you had your breakfast gruel yet?"
Gu: Zhaozhou replied, "Have you eaten porridge yet?"
Hinton: "Have you eaten your mush?" Land asked.
Low: Zhaozhou asked, "Have you had your breakfast?
Sekida: "Have you eaten your rice porridge?" asked Zhaozhou.
Senzaki: Zhaozhou asked, "Have you eaten your rice porridge?"
Shibayama: Zhaozhou said, "Have you had your breakfast?"

[3] Aitken: [same as Sato]
Cleary: The monk said, "I have had my gruel."
Gu: The monk said, "Yes, I have eaten."
Hinton: "Yes."
Low: "Yes," said the monk.
Sekida, Shibayama: "Yes, I have," replied the monk.
Senzaki: The monk replied, "Yes, I have."

[4] Aitken: Zhaozhou said, "Wash your bowl." The monk understood.
Cleary: Zhaozhou said, "Then go wash your bowl." The monk had an insight.
Gu: Zhaozhou said, "The go wash your bowl!" The monk had an insight.
Hinton: Hurry then, wash your bowl!" At this, the monk was awakened.
Low: "Then wash you bow," Zhaozhou told him.
Sekida: "Then you had better wash your bowl," said Zhaozhou. With this the monk gained insight.
Senzaki: Zhaozhou said, "Then you had better was your bowl." At that moment the monk was enlightened.
Shibayama: "Then," said Zhaozhou, "wash your bowls." The monk had an insight.

Wumen's Comment
Zhaozhou, opening his mouth, showed his gall bladder and revealed his heart and liver. If the monk, hearing it, did not really grasp the fact, he would mistake a bell for a pot.[5]
[5] Aitken: Zhaozhou opened his mouth and showed his gallbladder, his heart, and his liver. I wonder if the monk really heard the truth. I hope he did not mistake the bell for a jar.
Cleary: When Zhaozhou opens his mouth you see his guts, as he reveals his heart. If this monk didn't listen truly, he'd call a bell a pitcher.
Gu: Opening his mouth, Zhaozhou shows his liver and reveals his heart and guts. This monk had not truly listened (to Zhaozhou's words), calling a bell a jar.
Hinton: When Visitation-Land opened his mouth, he revealed gall itself. He put it out there all heart and liver, his entire being, such courage out there, all intimate affection in plain sight. But that monk didn't understand the clarity in what he heard. It was a clear bell, and he took it for a water-jar.
Low: Zhaozhou opened his mouth and showed his gallbladder, and revealed his heart and liver. If this monk, hearing it, failed to grasp it, he would mistak a bell for a pot.
Sekida: When he opens his mouth, Zhaozhou shows his gallbladder. He displays his heart and liver. I wonder if this monk really did hear the truth. I hope he did not mistake the bell for a jar.
Senzaki: Zhaozhou opened his mouth and showed his heart, but I doubt if this monk really saw Zhaozhou's heart. I hope he did not mistake the bell for a pitcher.
Shibayama: Zhaozhou opened his mouth and showed his gallbladder, and revealed his heart and liver. If this monk, hearing it, failed to grasp the Truth, he would mistake a bell for a pot.

Wumen's Verse
Just because it is so clear,
It takes us longer to realize it.[6]
If you quickly acknowledge that the candlelight is fire,
You will find that the rice has long been cooked.[7]
[6] Aitken: Because it's so very clear, it takes so long to realize.
Cleary: Just because it is so distinctly clear, That makes attainment slow.
Gu: Because it was so extremely clear, It took so long to come to realization.
Hinton: Struggle to resolve it all in bright insight, and you upend a life of perennial arrival.
Low: Because it is so clear It takes a longer time to realize it.
Sekida: Endeavoring to interpret clearly, You retard your attainment.
Senzaki: It is too clear, and so is hard to see. A fool once searched for fire with a lighted lantern;
Shibayama: Because it is so very clear, It takes longer to come to the realization.

[7] Aitken: If you just know that flame is fire, you'll find your rice has long been cooked.
Cleary: If he had known the lamp was fire, The rice would have been cooked long ago.
Gu: If you knew that candlelight is made up of fire, Then the rice would have been cooked long ago.
Hinton: Before you understand that lamplight is fire, your dinner's long since cooked through.
Low: If you immediately know candle light is fire, Then the meal was cooked a long time ago.
Sekida: Don't you know that flame is fire? Your rice has long been cooked.
Senzaki: Had he known what fire was, His rice would have been cooked much sooner.
Shibayama: If you know at once candlelight is fire, The meal has long been cooked.

Wansong's Interjections
I've just entered the monastery, please guide me
   The monastery isn't bad for you.
Have you had breakfast yet?
   Unrefined gold, a jewel in the rough.
I've eaten.
   A long-experienced monk is not as good as this monk.
Go wash your bowl
   Don't cast doubt.
Hongzhi's Verse
Once the rice gruel is over, one tells to wash the bowls:
The mind-ground clearly meets itself.[8]
And now, you monks in the monastery who are satiated with practicing:
Tell me, is there enlightenment in there or not?[9]
[8] Cleary: Breakfast over, the direction is to wash the bowl; Opened up, the mind ground meets of itself.
Wick: When the gruel's finished, have him wash the bowl. Suddenly the mind-ground naturally meets itself.

[9] Cleary: And now, a guest of the monastery, having studied to the full -- But was there enlightenment in there or not?
Wick: Right then the monastery's guest is replete. Tell me: Is any enlightenment in there or not?

Wansong's Comment
Catching a dragon with a straight hook is already being dull; three inches apart from the hook is already being taken over by the boatman and Jiashan. I do not say people of these times have no share, but generally they swallow the hook out of greed for the bait. See how that Zhaozhou doesn't break the fishing pole, and doesn't kick over the boatman either: as he sits at leisure on the stone bridge, passing the time by the log crossing, naturally there are those who climb up the bank and fall into his hands. The original record has it that this monk hereby attained enlightenment. One might say, "you may sport with the line on the pole -- without distrubing the clear waves the meaning is naturally distinct."
Nantang's Verse (Cleary)
Zhaozhou points out "Wash your bowl" --
Zen seekers who scramble and race waste effort madly:
They don't even know where to look for everyday affairs;
They are clearly told, but are as blind and deaf.
Huguo's Verse (Cleary)
Finding out the principles of things makes up the livelihood of the house;
When you're able to meet the opportunity of the time, then you know the heart.
Let us give thanks to the impartiality of the spring wind;
The peaches and plums of the poor houses also create shade.
Background: A Zhaozhou Verse from near the end of his life (Wick)
The cock crows in the early morning.
Sadly, I see as I rise, how worn out I am.
I haven't a skirt or a shirt, just this semblance of a robe.
My loincloth has no seat. My pants, no opening.
On my head are three or five pecks of grey ashes.
Originally, I intended to practice to help save others.
Who would have suspected that instead, I would become an idiot?
The Immediately Prior Bit (Senzaki)
A monk came to Zhaozhou. "Where did you come from?" the teacher asked.
"From the South," the monk replied.
"All Buddhism is in the South; there is nothing here for you," said Zhaozhou.
The monk said, "But Buddhism does not belong to any particular place."
Zhaozhou said, "Even if you were to meet the best teacher in China, you would attain nothing, for you have tightly shut the door of your inner shrine. You will not let yourself see the Buddha."
The monk asked, "What is Buddha?"
Zhaozhou replied, "You can find him in the shrine."
Related Cases
BCR76 (Danxia's "Have You Had Your Dinner?")
BCR74 (Jinniu and the Rice Pail)
Yamaoka Tesshu's Comment (Aitken)
Zen is like soap. First you wash with it, and then you wash off the soap.
R.H. Blyth's Comment (Aitken)
If Zhaozhou had asked the monk if he had washed his bowl, and said 'Then put some rice in it,' there is no difference.
Aitken's Comment
Young Buddha meets Old Buddha -- the pattern of all teaching. We reenact Zhaozhou's engagement with his monks in each of our encounters. "Please teach me." Couched in humble language, this is nonetheless a challenge. It was a seasoned presentatation -- an offer to enter into a conspiracy with Zhaozhou to establish something only the two of them could create. Zhaozhou's answer politely asks if the monk has been fed. Fundamentally, however, he is offering a challenge in response to a challenge -- an essential question: "Have you tasted the plain but delicious food of our ancestors?" The monk's response set up Zhaozhou's final riposte: "Wash your bowl!" That's the blow that killed Buddha! It has no beginning, no end, no cause, and no purpose. Yet it is instructive in our everyday world. Blyth's remark is correct as far as it goes. But "Wipe it away!" is very differnt from "Fill 'er up!"
Cleary's Comment
This story can be read as a symbolic demonstration pointing to direct experience of immediate reality without conceptual adornment, the initiatory experience of Zen. When "breakfast" is understood as this very experience itself, the story also points to the next step, of transcending the subjective register of initial realization so a s to "clean the vessel" for yet further enlightenment.
Guo Gu's Comment
For this visiting monk in the story, when asked whether he had eaten yet, he was dwelling in the porridge already eaten. He needed a good smack back to the present. But Zhaozhou was gentle with him and kindly brought him back to what needed to be done: "Wash your bowl. Leave no trace!" Trace of what? The past, and the belly full of porridge that he brought with him. Fortunately, this monk had good karmic roots. Now I ask you: You've just finished a period of sitting meditation. How was your sitting? Good? Fold your towel and tidy up your seat.
When you experience the world through delusion, you experience the world as just a plain old world that you see every day. Yet when you experience the world without self-reference or grasping, the world is also just the world. However, the two are different. in the former, you don't really see the world; in the latter the world comes alive as it is: the world. When Zhaozhou revealed to the monk what needed to be done in the present, the monk had an opening experience. When the minds of the master and the student meet, awakening occurs, and the student gains insight into that which is so obvious in the present moment.
Practice is not really about gaining this experience or that insight. It is simply not to contaminate the obviousness of of right here, right now. Whatever it may be.
The first step in practice is to see through your baggage and not get caught up in it. Just return to the present, to the task at hand. Then, as you practice and gain a bellyful of experiences -- more spiritual baggage -- you have to drop them too, and continue to practice. Even notions of further practice must be dropped until your bowl is completely washed clead.
Low's Comment
It is true that if one is living in a community, some rules relating to orderliness and neatness are imperative for the general good. Furthermore, after the first awakening, the student does have a long and difficult time ahead in which all the defilements of long years must be cleansed. But neither of these points requires a koan.
Buried in the monk's request for teaching is barb: is there a teaching of Zen? Buddha, in the Diamond Sutra, says he has no doctrine to teach. However, suppose that Zhaozhou had said, "Me, I don't have any teaching!" No doubt the monk would have turned on his heel and walked away, possibly saying over his shoulder, "Then what are you doing as head of a monastery?" What is your teaching? With this question we go to the very heart of the difficulty of Zen practice. To say it is this or that or something else simply leads the beginner astray and leaves the one who knows, laughing. Knowledge is an addition, something extra. We say should when we understand the truth but cannot live it. Indeed, in Zhaozhou's response is the very elimination of the gap between understanding and action. That is the profundity of Zhaozhou's reply, which calls on us not simply to know the truth, but to live it.
Sekida's Comment
Implicit in Zhaozhou's question is the meaning, "Have you eaten your rice porridge in samadhi?" Perceiving the inner meaning of Zhaozhou's question, the monk affirms that he was able to maintain his samadhi while eating breakfast. "Then you had better wash your bowl." These words of Zhaozhou are a Zen proverb. In samadhi every moment is independent, cut off before and behind. The monk is no longer at breakfast; he should pay attention to the present. What is past is past: wash it away, good or evil.
Senzaki's Comment
Zhaozhou has shown the pupil how one may act gracefully without hesitation, without entanglement in the slightest delusion. It is the direct action of the essence of mind. It is the actual work of buddha-nature itself. When one eats too much, one's stomach suffers. When one thinks too much, one's mind becomes stuck. Zen's economy is like that used in arithmetic. It always expresses its fraction in the lowest possible terms. Zhaozhou showed the monk the fraction of Zen reduced to its lowers common denominator.
Tendo Shogaku's Verse (Shibayama)
Breakfast was over and the monk was asked to wash the bowls.
Immediately he had an insight.
Tell me, accomplished monks at monasteries today,
Have you satori or not?
Shido Bunan's Verse (Shibayama)
Do not let the word "Dao" delude you;
Realize it is nothing else
Than what you do morning and night.
Hakuin's Comment (Shibayama)
If you want to get the real significance of "Then wash your bowls," first ask yourself how you can recite the Nebutsu without opening you mouth.
Shibayama's Comment
"Then wash your bowls." What an excellent instruction this is! I should like to clap my hands and cry out, "There it is!" Sharp, dynamic spirituality gushes out of his words. Certainly "His lips give off light." For Zhaozhou, to live Zen was not to lead a Zen-like life; but to live an ordinary life, just as it is, was Zen.
"Old Zen Master" Verse (Shibayama)
Do not think
The moon appears when the clouds are gone.
All the time it has been there in the sky
So perfectly clear.
Yamada's Comment (Gateless Gate)
From the first point of view: Zen masters do not like abstract words or concepts such as Buddha nature, enlightenment, nirvana, and so forth. These terms are instruments of explanation but do not touch the fact. Thus Zhaozhou is concrete ("have you eaten your rice gruel yet?") rather than conceptual ("Have you tasted kensho yet?"). The monk's reply, "Yes, I have," means "Yes, I am already enlightened." Drawing attention to one's accomplishments is usually nauseating. It is therefore very important to wash away all the glamor of enlightenment. Through Zen, one should become an ordinary person, a real person, not freakish, eccentric, or esoteric.
From the other point of view: You and the whole universe are one. When you stand up, you simply stand up, there is only standing up in the whole universe, and the substance of standing up is emptiness. Your life is the the continuity of standing up, sitting down, laughing, sleeping, waking up, drinking, eating, and, of course, being born and dying. That is the continuity of the whole universe. You eat, you wash your bowls. Our life is nothing but the continuity of these actions, and they are nothing but the continuity of the whole universe.
Yamada's Comment (Book of Serenity)
Someone might think that if you have eaten your rice, you wash your bowl -- and that is all there is to Buddhism. Is this buji zen? Yasutani, in the interest of steering us away from buji zen, emphasized the work and effort of "wash your bowls" -- the task of wiping away all trace of satori. But if we go deeper, there is really just: Have you eaten your rice? Yes, I have. Then wash your bowls. That’s it, just as it is! That is actually deeper. You could say it is the state of consciousness after every trace of satori has been wiped away. When you eat your rice, you swallow the universe and completely exhaust it. When you wash your bowls, you completely exhaust the universe in that action. That’s why I make a point in dokusan of asking students to truly realize both ways of
viewing the koan.
Wick's Comment
On one level this koan is about taking care of the details of your life. Those of you who cook for your family know that the meal is over only after the kitchen is clean -- not after the last bite is eaten. We leave a lot of things half-done.
Another way of hearing Zhaozhou's question ("Have you finished your rice gruel?") is as, "Have you accomplished anything at all?" The monk answers yes and Zhaozhou responds, "Well, wash it away."
Obstacles to our practice include greed, hatred, and ignorance. Another impediment is sloth. Sometimes we just really don't feel that we have the determination, the impetus, and the energy to do what needs to be done. It's important to realize that what we experience as low energy is not a lack of energy but rather blocked energy that is not flowing. Sloth arises when there are feelings we haven't fully experienced. In this practice, we begin to face things we haven't faced yet. We can't heal wounds by "trying to put them behind us" or be "just moving on" or "letting go" -- we have to go right into it. We can all use pain to liberate ourselves rather than to bind ourselves into our suffering by trying to avoid it. If we don't face our blockages and barriers, they will persist. Somehow, we have to deal with everything that obstructs our living a liberated life. We have to drop our resistance to getting in touch with ourselves at the most intimate level.
To "wash your bowls" is to lead an ordinary life, just as it is, ordinary -- and that is truly extraordinary. But we must not confuse a Zen life with a "Zen-like" life, a life that conforms to our ideas of what we think Zen should be, and a life in which we try to act like a "Zen student" or, worse still, a "Zen master." Zhaozhou is telling us just to let our life express itself and naturally come out in all our activities.
Daido Loori's Comment (Dogen's 300)
If your potential does not leave its fixed position, you will sink on dry land. The moment there is affirmation and denial, the mind is lost in confusion and you fall into grades and stages.
Old Zhaozhou knows how to see through this patch-robed monastic. In one word, one phrase, one encounter, one response, he can see whether the monastic is deep or shallow. Then, with a single phrase, he snatches it all away.
But say, what is it that Zhaozhou snatched away? Moreover, what is it that the monastic realized?
Daido's Interjections
Zhaozhou was once asked by a monastic, "I have just entered the monastery for the first time."
   Stop looking and searching. It's not out there.
"Please teach me, Master."
   Just shut up and sit!
Zhaozhou said, "Have you eaten the morning meal?"
   Are you really hungry, or are you just curious about the menu?
The monastic said, "Yes, I have."
   Curious about the menu, this one thinks he has a bellyful.
Zhaozhou said, "Then wash your bowls."
   Step by step, each one follows the other.
The monastic immediately had realization.
   Each action emits its own light. Then throw it away!
Daido's Verse
When the dharma has not yet filled our body and mind,
we think we've had enough.
When the dharma fills our body and mind,
we realize something is missing.
Non-Abiding Riding Wave's Verse
Zhaozhou's "Wash Your Bowl"

feeling the ground
on the feet.
eating the wind
feel the chime.
look do not hesitate
be full be empty.
moon faced sun breath
of Buddha.
consciousness created chatter
never the same tone.
breakfast is life
the bowl is now.
Sturmer's Verse
Without curtains
you wake up at sunrise.
Now make your bed
wash your bowl
feed the cat
tie your laces --
the list is never ending
a lifetime of details.
Hotetsu's Verse
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” ― Norman Maclean

Somewhere in that breakfast eating and washing
The extra stopped adding itself.
"Rice" and "bowl"
And "me" and "thee"
And "that" and "this"
Disappeared behind
Quotation marks, which, embarrassed,
Departed after.
Norman said it would eventually happen.
The river wasn't long, though,
Running through, floating me back,
In time for lunch.
Illustration by Mark T. Morse

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