Book of Serenity 22

Book of Serenity (Shoyoroku, Congrong Lu) #22
Yantou's Bow

  • Deshan Xuanjian (Tokusan Senkan, 782-865, 11th gen). Go to DESHAN
  • Yantou Quanhuo (Ganto Zenkatsu, 828-87, 12th gen). Go to YANTOU
  • Dongshan Liangjie (Tozan Ryokai, 807-69, 11th gen). Go to DONGSHAN
Wansong's Preface
People are probed with words. Water is sounded with a stick. Pushing away weeds and seeing the true manner is an eveyrday affair. When suddenly a burnt-tail tiger is transformed, then what?
Yantou arrived at Deshan's place. He straddled the entrance gate and asked, "Is this common or holy?"
Deshan gave a shout, and Yantou bowed low.
Dongshan heard of this and said, "Had that not been Yantou, it would have been most difficult to take."
Regarding this, Yantou remarked, "Old man Dongshan doesn't know good from bad. At the time my one hand upheld and the other hand put down."
Hongzhi's Verse (Wick trans, with Cleary trans in italics)
Crushing the visitor, wielding a scepter.
   Demolishing the oncomer,
   Holding the handle of authority;
Affairs have a ways of appropriate dispatch,
   Tasks have a manner in which they must be carried out,
countries have their own inviolable laws.
   The nation has an inviolable law.
If the guest serves reverently, the host is haughty;
   When the guest serves reverently, the host becomes haughty --
if the king resents admonition, the people flatter.
   When the ruler dislikes admonition, the ministers flatter.
Yantou's asking Deshan -- what did he mean?
   The underlying meaning -- Yantou asks Deshan;
One upheld, one put down -- see the movement of mind!
   One upholding, one putting down -- see the action of mind.
A Background Story
One day Yantou spread his sitting mat; Deshan pushed it downstairs with his staff. Yantou went down, gathered up the mat and went off. Next day he went up and stood by Deshan. Deshan said. "Where did you learn this empty-headedness?"
Yantou said, "I never fool myself."
Deshan said, "Later on you will shit on my head."
Another Background Story
Puhua pointed to the sage monk (Manjusri) statue in the meditation hall and asked Linji, "Tell me, is this ordinary or holy?
Linji immediately shouted.
Puhua said, "Heyang is a new bride, Muta's "old lady" Chan. Along with the little pisser of Linji, after all they have one eye."
Linji said, "This old thief!"
Puhua left the hall saying "Thief! Thief!"
Shoushan said, "Of these two thieves there is a real thief; tell me, which is the real thief?" Then in everyone's behalf he said, "Liu Benzi" (who was installed as second successor to the throne of China after Wang Mang, usurper of the Han dynasty claim to rule).
Xuedou's Comment
At that point, as soon as he bowed, to have hit him right on the spine would not only have cut off Dongshan, but would have held old Yantou still.
Wansong's Comment
When Yantou asked, "Is this ordinary or holy?" and Deshan immediately bowed, this too was like "the little pisser of Linji after all has one eye." Xuedou's comment gets at the same thing as Linji's saying, "This old thief!" Dongshan purposely took it up and falsely accused Yantou, wanting to show that at that time in the bow there was the provisional and the real. And after all when the fire reached Yantou's head, he hastily beat it out, saying, "Old man Dongshan doesn't know good from bad -- I was holding up with one hand and putting down with one hand." Thereat he finally lit the lamp and began to eat dinner. Both houses are distinctly clear.
Wick's Comment
Yantou is checking to see if it's a place he wants to study. "Is this place ordinary, or is it sacred? Am I going to have a great time here, or is it just going to be like the rest of my life?" Do I really wast to be here or not? Yantou's question, "common or holy?" is a trap. What can you say? As soon as you say one or the other, you're stuck in that position. How can you express it? Deshan gave a shout, and Yantou bowed. Yantou was checking out Deshan, but then he bows. So is the bow genuine, or is it just flattery? What's his intention? When Dongshan makes his comment, is he genuinely praising Yantou, or is he just probing Yantou to see how he would react? Yantou then remarks, indicating that he thinks he is better than Dongshan, and Yantou explains what he was doing. There's a stench of Zen on Yantou, a kind of arrogance.
Where are you stuck? How do you respond in these situations? Entering could be good or it could be bad. Leaving could be good or it could be bad. Or they could both be good. You never know whether something is going to turn out to be good or bad. It's all grist for the mill, as long as we're aware of it. Just do the best you can.
Charlie Pokorny's Verse
Yantou's "Bow and Shout"

One foot in, one foot out –
This pain, this tethered soul, this beauty, this light released
Does the shout go beyond?
Does the bow come back?
Sturmer's Verse
The upper hand
lies forgotten
in a bottom drawer.
The lower hand is lost
gathering dust
somewhere in a basement.
Now that all conflict has ended
the roof tiles reflect the moonlight.
Hotetsu's Verse
Common or holy?
No, not in the least.
That's why Yantou
and I bow.

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