Blue Cliff Record 96

Blue Cliff Record (Hekiganroku, Biyan Lu) #96
Zhaozhou's Three Turning Words

Zhaozhou Congshen (778-897, 10th gen) was a disciple of Nanquan (748-835), who was a disciple of Mazu (709-88)
Zhaozhou said, "Clay Buddhas cannot pass through water; metal Buddhas cannot pass through a furnace; wooden Buddhas cannot pass through fire."
Xuedou's Verse (Sekida trans, with Cleary trans in italics)
Clay Buddhas cannot pass through water:
The divine light illumines heaven and earth;
Had Huike not stood in the snow --
   If standing in the snow were not stopped
Many deceptions, many pretenses.
   Who would not contrive an imitation?
Metal Buddhas cannot pass through a furnace:
Seekers came to visit Cihu Lizong and found
The warning notice on the board;
   Several words on the sign --
But everywhere -- the gentle breezes.
   Where is there no clear breeze?
Wooden Buddhas cannot pass through fire:
I always remember how the monk Hasoda (the Oven Breaker --)
Broke down the oven of sacrifice,
   Only when his staff suddenly struck
Whose god so long had bound himself.
   Was turning from self realized.
Hakuin's Comment
A clay buddha does not pass through water. The second Zen patriarch stood in the snow and suffered bitterly in search of truth, but if you do not know how to stop and rest, you'll vainly imagine there is virtue in ascetic exercises. There would be nothing but people who take cultivated imitation for the Way of the Buddha.
A gold buddha does not pass through a furnace. If you master this, you will be like a dragon finding water, come what may. Cihu had a sign on his gate warning of a "dog" that will bite off your head, tear out your belly, and chew off your legs -- but this is even colder than the spirit of Cihu's sign. Once you return to life after having been bitten to death by that dog, the clear breeze is cold here, there, and everywhere.
A wood buddha does not pass through fire. Hard to penetrate, hard to understand; whenever I hear it, it's dear to my heart. The Oven Breaker broke with his staff a sacrificial oven and liberated the spirit from it. Is the breaking turning from self? Would refraining from breaking be turning from self? Is this the self of the four qualities of buddha-nature: permanent, pure, blissful self?
Tenkei's Comment
A clay buddha will dissolve if it passes through water. Here, if all people just knew what they knew, they would be completely uninhibited and free as they see and hear, walk, stand, sit, and recline; so illumining the whole universe with no problem, it is your light. The second patriarch stood in the snow and cut off his arm, suffering bitter pains in quest of the teaching, but when he stopped and came to a complete rest, there was nothing at all -- it's just a matter of knowing what one has known all along. So stop and rest -- otherwise you are just making up imitations and undergoing suffering thinking you are on the quest of truth. Just be there and see. Illumining everywhere in the ten directions unobstructed, the entire totality is your great light.
The gold buddha shows that you can't get in for free here -- unless you have been through the transcendental forge and bellows of an adept and the cold has penetrated your bones.
The wood buddha brings up the Oven Breaker: when his staff struck, the oven broke down all at once, returning to original nature. If you release the spirit of the stove compounded of elements, letting go of everything all at once, when you neither grasp nor reject, then you will know that the four gross elements and five clusters are fundamentally empty. Thus having no conceptual mental images of objects of senses, for the first time you will know that a wood buddha does not pass through fire, for when it does it burns up.
Sekida's Comment
Clay Buddhas are clay Buddhas. There is no need to deplore, regret, or boast of the fact of being a clay Buddha. When it is immersed in water it will melt away. When it is melted away, it is melted away. Everything is in motion and flux. Impermanency is the nature of things. However, everything has its own divine light. Existence is a glorious thing. It has brightened the universe. A metal Buddha must be a strong one. But everything has its weak points as well as strong ones, its disadvantages as well as advantages. Metal Buddhas will melt in a furnace. When we are to fall, let us fall. Causation is not to be ignored. Wooden Buddhas will be burned in fire. Each individual Buddha represents the universal Buddha. Each individual Buddha himself is the absolute one. The clay Buddha, the metal Buddha, the wooden Buddha, each has his individuality and personality. At the same time, they are all Buddhas.
Barry Magid's Comment
Three stages of our practice; three perspectives on our mortality. The clay buddha is very vulnerable. Water, one of the most common things in life, can destroy it, since clay dissolves in water. Perhaps, like most of us, he thinks that because of the way he is made there is something intrinsically wrong with him, a basic flaw he doesn't know how to fix. He comes to practice with a curative fantasy right out of alchemy: maybe practice can change me into something different, stronger. The clay buddha is preoccupied with the fact that he is clay; he completely forgets the fact that he is a clay buddha. Regardless of what he is made of, there is already something intrinsically perfect about him just as he is. We may have to exhaust all our attempts at transformation, do everything we can think of to make ourselves something other than who we are, before we can stop hating ourselves for being made out of clay. We all come to practice as clay buddhas. We want to escape something we believe is wrong with who we are to escape whateer lays us open to suffering. We don't realize that the attempt at escape is itself an engine of our suffering. But gradually our practice may allow us to come to terms with who and what we are, and we may suddenly realize that even clay can make a buddha.
The gold buddha symbolizes our experience of realization. When this happens, we may think we've "got it." But Zhaozhou's second lesson lies in wait for us. There is nothing permanent, not even "enlightenment." As soon as we think we have achieved some new, perfect permanent, and invulnerable state, we have betrayed the very essence of our realization. Only when we fully accepted being made of clay were we able to experience ourselves as a buddha after all. But now realization becomes something we want to hold on to. Instead of feeling permanently trapped in clay, we want to be permanently enshrined in gold. But permanence is an illusion in either case. We have to let our gold be melted down. Anything we think we've gotten -- even if it's made of gold -- can only get in the way. Only when there is nothing and nobody left to obstruct it will the clear breeze blow freely in every direction. So even the gold buddha of realization goes back into the furnace of emptiness.
The wood buddha, like the clay budha with which we started is vulnerable to destruction. There is no immunity for any substance. But the wooden buddha knows that wood is a perfectly good material from which to carve a buddha nonetheless. Gone are all curative fantasies, gone are all self-reproaches about the inadequacy of who and what we are.
Be careful what you wish for. Only when our hopes are completely smashed will we be free.
The wood buddha is perfectly balanced between the experience of being made of wood and the experience of being buddha. Each is actually an expression of the other.
Rothenberg's Verse
Gold, Wood, Mud
A gold Buddha cannot pass through the forge
A wood Buddha cannot pass through the fire
A mud Budha cannot pass through the water.
Weeds ten feet deep in front of the chamber
If you pass through these verses you will need to know all.

The mud one dissolving, returning to water,
seeing a rabbit, releases a hawk.
One misconstrues, fooling ten thousand people,
adding error to eror -- you glimpse its name.
Who would not try to carve a replacement?
Clouds are steamed rice
Pancakes on the flagpole
Monkeys pitch pennies at night

The gleaming one will only melt,
singeing his eyebrows.
You can't sink your teeth in him;
Melting, glowing, cooling away.
Above the head, below the feet --
boundless, boundless.
Catch the thief! Catch the thief!
Caught him! Caught him!

(Master, it isn't me.)
Charring embers, he did not make it.
Burned up! Only you can know.
Smoke and charcoal, what then is left?
There's one who's turned away from his self.
The furnace explodes.
The fire dies out.
The water dries up.
We pass.
Richard von Sturmer's Verse
Zhaozhou's Three Turning Words

A clay Buddha
cannot pass through water.
Clouds of mud
and inside the clouds
atoms of mud.

A wooden Buddha
cannot pass through fire.
The hiss of resin
a red crevasse—
everything splits apart.

A metal Buddha
cannot pass through a furnace.
Dented moonlight
melting down
to the last sliver.
Hotetsu's Verse
Mud clay, gold metal, wood
Every strength depends upon weakness
Your destruction is incorporated into your being, as usual.
"The true Buddha is sitting in the recesses of the house."

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