Book of Serenity 89

Book of Serenity (Shoyoroku, Congrong Lu) #89
Dongshan's "Place of No Grass"

  • Dongshan Liangjie (Tozan Ryokai, 807-69, 11th gen). Go to DONGSHAN
  • Shishuang Qingzhu (Sekiso Keisho, 807-88, 11th gen). Go to SHISHUANG Q
  • Dayang Jingxuan (Taiyo Kyogen, 943-1027, 16th gen). Go to DAYANG
Wansong's Preface
If you move, you bury your body ten thousand feet deep.
If you don’t move, roots grow right at your very place.
Even if you throw away both and cast off the middle,
You must buy some straw sandals and set out on a pilgrimage,
In order to truly attain it.
Dongshan instructed the assembly and said, “At the beginning of autumn and the end of summer, you, brothers, are departing east and west. Thus you go directly to the place of no grass over ten thousand miles.” And again he said, “How will you go to the place of no grass over ten thousand miles?”
[A few weeks later] Shishuang said, “When you go out of the gate, there is grass all over!”
[Over a century later] Dayang said, “I would say: Even if you don't go out of the gate, grass is abundant everywhere."
Dongshan and Shishuang were the same age, both born 807. Emperor Wuzong (reigned 840-846) instigated a persecution of Buddhism (and all religions other than Confucianism and Taoism). Many monasteries were closed, their property seized and the monks and nuns sent home to a lay life. Dongshan was at that time prominent enough to be left alone. Shishuang, however, left behind his robes and became a potter for three years. In 847, as the persecution was lifting, a monk came who had spent the summer retreat at Dongshan. Shishuang asked, "Where are you coming from?"
"Dongshan," said the monk.
Shishuang asked, "What is Master Dongshan saying to the disciples?"
The monk said, "Recently, when he was disbanding the summer retreat, the master went up in the hall and said, 'It's the beginning of autumn, the end of summer, and you brethren will go, some east, some west; you must go where there's not an inch of grass for ten thousand miles.' Then added, "But where there's not an inch of grass for ten thousand miles, how can you go?"
Shishuang said, "Going out the gate, immediately there's grass."
The monk reported this to Dongshan, who said, "This is a saying of a teacher of fifteen hundred people -- but how many could there be in all of China?"
Once Shishuang's excellence was exposed, the fragrance of ripeness floated on the air. The Buddhist community asked him to be a monk again, and dwell at Stone Frost (Shishuang) monastery. In time he fulfilled Dongshan's prediction and had 1500 monks.
Hongzhi's Verse (Wick trans, with Cleary trans in italics)
Grass all over.
   Grass boundless;
You, inside and outside the gate, see for yourself!
   Inside the gate, outside the gate, you see by yourself.
In a thicket of briars it's easy to place your feet.
   To set foot in the forest of thorns is easy.
In darkness, outside drawn blinds, it's hard to turn your body around.
   To turn the body outside the luminous screeen is hard.
See! See! How many!
   Look! Look!
   How many kinds?
For a time, be as an old tree with wintry skeletal branches;
   For the while going along with the old tree, with the same emaciation in the cold,
be about to pursue the spring breezes, about to enter the burned-out fields.
   About to follow the spring wind into the scars of the burning.
National Teacher Shan of Yantong's Comment
Tell me, how can you express where you are right now? If you say there's not an inch of grass for ten thousand miles, you may see Dongshan. If you say upon going out the gate immediately there's grass, you may see Shishuang. If you say even not going out the gate there's boundless grass, you may see Dayang. If you can't speak at all, you may see me. Why? There is only a good wind coming over the assembly; there are no more useless words falling into human society.
Wick's Comment
No grass means no weeds, no delusions, and no attachments. But if you go outside the monastery gate, there's grass, and if you don't go outside the gate, there's grass. What are you going to do? The point of this koan is to see one's true self and remain undisturbed inside and outside. To be undisturbed outside means seeing the True Nature of phenomena without adding anything extra. To be undisturbed inside means seeing the True Nature of one's self without sprouting delusions. This very mind is Buddha (as Mazu said), yet when we try to describe it, it eludes us. As soon as we describe it, grass springs up everywhere. Thoughts arise continually like grass and we miss the miracle. If we look closely at our mind, we see there are gaps between the thoughts. Who are you when there are gaps between the thoughts? Going outside the gate, I meet myself everywhere. Inside the gate, I meet myself everywhere. There's no firm ground upon which to stand. As soon as you make it firm, that's grass.
Yamada's Comment
We can probably understand "grass" as meaning our conceptual thoughts and ideas. Dongshan is telling his monks to practice and go to that place where not a single thought arises. Dayang says that, even if you don’t step outside the gate, there is grass everywhere. The idea of inside or outside the gate is a concept. This itself is already “grass.” In the essential world there is no inside and outside. If you are speaking about going outside the gate, it means there is an outside. Actually, however, the main point to examine in this koan is the original statement of Dongshan: “But you should go directly to the place of no grass over ten thousand miles.” Still, the world of satori is a lonely world since there is nothing there. You must realize that world, but it will not do to take up residence there. You must return to life and come out into this “world of red dust,” the world of enduring indignities. Otherwise there is no way you can save all beings.
Daido's Comment
Going to a place where there is not an inch of grass for ten thousand miles is truly auspicious, but if there is no grass, how can there be coming and going to begin with? If you are to enter the endless spring of real activity, you must first be free of both sides and then let go of even the middle.
Daido's Verse
Passing through the forest of brambles,
   we enter clear ground.
Then, like the spring breeze,
   we must enter the scars of the burned-out fields.
Catherine Gammon's Verse
Dongshan's "No Grass"
Grass inside the gate—
inside the inside
No grass — where?
Just here just now —
just the other side of one thin blade
Sturmer's Verse
After wandering over burnt-out fields
you find the house is carpeted
with abundant grass:
lemon grass, sea grass, wheat grass
their blades sprouting from
cushions and window ledges.
(When the green curtains are drawn
you lie down in a green shade.)
Hotetsu's Verse
There is a plot I plant and weed assiduously.
Other areas grow mostly wild:
I support an occasional sapling, cull a little.
Then there are forests I traverse without tending.
I have seen the earth all bare, and see it bare now,
All its growth transparent.

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