Blue Cliff Record 35

Blue Cliff Record (Hekiganroku, Biyan Lu) #35
Manjusri's "Threes and Threes"

  • WUZHUO Wenxi (Mujaku Bunki, 821-900, 11th gen)
  • MANJUSRI, Bodhisattva of Wisdom
Yuanwu's Preface (Sekida)
In distinguishing dragon from snake, jewel from stone, black from white, irresolute from decisive, if one does not have the clear eye of the mind and the amulet under the arm, one invited instant failure.
Just at this moment, if on'es vision and hearing are clear, and color and sound are truly cognized, tell me, is he black or white, crooked or straight?
The subtle difference -- how could you discern it?
Case (Sekida)
Manjusri asked Wuzhuo, "Where have you recently come from?"[1]
Wuzhuo said, "From the south."[2]
"How is Southern Buddhism faring?" asked Manjusri.[3]
"The monks of the latter days of the Law observe the Buddha's precepts a little," Wuzhuo answered.[4]
"Are there many or few?"[5]
"Here about three hundred, there around five hundred."[6]
Then Wuzhuo asked Manjusri, "How does Buddhism fare in your part of the world?"[7]
Manjusri said, "The worldly and the holy are living together; dragons and snakes are mingled."[8]
"Are there many or few?"[9]
"The former threes and threes, the latter threes and threes."[10]
[4] "Few mendicants observe the precepts in this age of deterioration" (Cleary)
[10] "Three by three in front, three by three in back" (Cleary)

[1] It is necessary to pose the question. There is still this news.
[2] He sticks his head up from his nest in the weeds. Why should he hoist it on to his eyebrows? There is nothing outside the great vastness; why is there nevertheless a South?
[3] If he asked someone else, a disaster would happen. It still lingers on his teeth and lips.
[4] A truthful man in hard to find.
[5] At that moment I would immediately give him a shout. With one nudge he pushes him over.
[6] They are all wild fox spirits. After all he's let slip.
[7] He pushed! Immediately he turns the spear around and comes back with it.
[8] He's suffered quite a loss. In fact his feet are frantic, his hands in confusion.
[9] Give me back the words. Still he can't be let go.
[10] Crazy words, insane talk. But tell me, how many are they? Even the Great Compassionate One with a thousand hands could not count them all.

[1] Never mind where he came from. Where did you come from?
[2] When in doubt, honesty is always the best policy.
[3] This is not a casual question. Please don't take it lightly.
[4] Too bad. He took it lightly.
[5] Manjusri's heart is huge. He won't give up easily.
[6] Today we have encountered a person who is fast asleep.
[7] It seems as though he is pushing back, but not really.
[8] Isn't it nice? He doesn't omit anyone.
[9] What else cold he say, since he has no idea about what is happening?
[10] For more than a thousand years, monastics the world over have been trying to bite into this.
Continuation (Yuanwu)
Then they drank tea. Manjusri held up a crystal bowl and asked, "Do they also have this in the South?"
Wuzhuo said, "No."
Manjusri said, "What do they usually use to drink tea?"
Wuzhuo was speechless.
After all he took his leave and departed. Manjusri ordered Chun Ti the servant boy to see him to the gate. When they got to the portals of the gate, Wuzhuo asked the boy, "Before, he said, 'In front three by three; in back, three by three.' How many is this?
The boy said, "O Worthy!"
Wuzhuo responded, "Yes?"
The boy said, "How many is this?" [How many is "Yes?"]
Wuzhuo also asked, "What temple is this?"
The boy pointed beyond the Vajrasattva.
["Wuzhuo looked up and saw the mountain above him, colored a beautiful deep blue" (Sekida)]
When Wuzhuo turned his head, the illusory temple and the boy had vanished completely out of sight. It was just an empty valley. Later that place was called the Vajra (Adamantine) Cave.
Xuedou's Verse (Sekida, italics Cleary)
The thousand hills, peak upon peak, deep blue;
   The twists and turns of the thousand peaks are blue as indigo
Who can converse with Manjusri?
   Who says Manjushri was engaged in conversation?
How I laugh at "many or few"!
   Laughable how many the people on the clear cool mountain;
How I admire
"The former threes and threes,
The latter threes and threes"!
   Three by three in front and three by three in back.
Hakuin's Comment
When Wuzhuo said, "Few mendicants observe the precepts in this age of deterioration," he must have blurted it out involuntarily. From the point of view of someone with clear eyes, this saying is cold. When Wuzhuo questions Manjusri, he doesn't know it is Manjusri, so he asks his question with a pretentious casualness. "The ordinary and holy live together" -- The false and the true are one suchness, the real and the illusory are one monolith; there is no boundary between them. It is here that the Zen message is presented in this case. "Three by three in front, three by three in back" -- Three times three is nine, two times nine is eighteen; is that what it means? If you want to know this, refer to the number of last night's stars, and the number of this morning's raindrops.
Tenkei's Comment
"The ordinary and the holy live together" -- Who are these people? Even if you say all in the ten directions are in the same congregation, there is no other person at all, ordinary and holy and false and true are all in one, so you cannot analyze it, that is falling into verbal understanding. It's simply ordinary ad holy live together, you see. "Three by three in front, three by three in back" -- Add up these figures. Whether you count from above or below, the number doesn't differ. Even so, how come there's too much and not enough?
Sekida's Comment
As a youth, Wuzhuo traveled all over the country visiting Zen teachers. His travels took him to Mount Taishan, the holy mountain dedicated to Manjusri. It was evening when he arrived, and he found a temple at the foot of the mountain and stayed there overnight. The master priest of the temple met him, and they had the conversation related in the present case: Wuzhuo not realizing until later that he had been talking with Manjusrit himself. Manjusri is often portrayed approaching his eager devotee in the guise of a human being. Thus, he greets and speaks kindly to his visitor, Wuzhuo. Wuzhuo says he is "from the south." From the viewpoint of absolute samadhi, there are not north and south. However, from the viewpoint of positive samadhi, there are north and south, mountains and rivers, and so on. Manjusri asks how Southern Buddhism is faring, and Wuzhuo replies in these "latter days of the Law" the precepts are observed "a little." The 500 years after the death of Shakyamuni Buddha are called "the age of the genuine Law" in which the tru Law, or Dharma, was observed. The next 1,000 years are called "the age of the pseudo-genuine Law," and the following 10,000 years are "the latter days of the Law." "Are there many or few?" From the absolute point of view thre is no question of many or few, coming or going, being born and dying. From the viewpoint of positive samadhi, what is wrong with talking of many and few? Then Wuzhuo takes the offensive and questions Manjusri about Buddhism "in your part of the world." Manjusri says, "The worldly and the holy are living together; dragons and snakes are mingled." This describes the real state of the world -- past, present, and future. Dragons fulfill their lives as dragons and snakes their lives as snakes, and the worldly and holy do the same. Asked if there are many or few, Manjusri says, "The former threes and threes, the latter threes and threes." This answers the question in terms of numbers but without specifying a particular number. Imagine those people passing in endless succession, in twos and threes, through eons of time.
Yamada's Comment
Wuzhuo said, "The monks of this age of the perishing Dharma are venerating the precepts a little." Wuzhuo is saying, "Yes, these days the Dharma is going down the drain, but some monks are still upholding the Buddhist precepts and respecting the Dharma." This answer is nothing but a serious, almost tactlessly serious response. "Worldly and saints live together, dragons and snakes are mixed with each other." From the viewpoint of the Buddhist Way, we must recognize that all things are within the Way: distinguished persons and ordinary folk, saints and evil-doers, the elderly and children, the sick and the healthy – we're all together in this universe like passengers on a great ship rolling in the waves as it makes its way. Monks and novices, company presidents and janitors, the great ones and not-so-great ones – all are one. Think of a public bath in traditional Japan – stripped of everything and all in it together! That's our real world. "Three three before, three three after." This is the problem. Wuzhuo cannot grasp what Manjusri is saying. Since Manjusri is the principal figure of the world of perfect Equality, it is evident that he is not dealing with numbers in the ordinary sense. Rather, "three three in front, three three behind" in the spatial sense, if you will; or "three three from all ages, three three into the stretches of eternity" in the dimension of time. "Three three" is the expression of the world of Essence. The phenomenal world is realized in the world of absolute nothingness, and this is what Manjusri's words "three three" express. To put it more pointedly: "Three three before" – that's all. It’s the same as Mu! "Three three after" – the same as Mu! Just as there are waves in the great ocean, you have "three three" in the essential World as the full manifestation of that world itself. "Three three" is unfolding the world of Manjusri himself.
Loori's Comment
Wuzhuo carried on a dialogue with an apparition, and though it was the Bodhisattva of Wisdom himself, somehow he still could only see half. At that time, when Manjusri first asked, "How is Buddhadharma being maintained in the south?" Wuzhuo should have showed him with his traveling staff. Then further complications would have been avoided. Manjusri, seeing past the dragon mask, compassionately tried to settle the uncertainty. Wielding the diamons sword of wisdom, in a single phrase there is killing, there is giving life; in one action there is letting go, there is holding fast. Tell me, did Wuzhuo get it? If so, then what is it? If not, do you get it?
Loori's Verse
Holding up the adamantine sword,
freely killing and giving life.
Where positive and negative interfuse,
every day is a good day.
R.D.M. Shaw's Comment
During the severe persecution of Buddhism (845), the monks of North China fled to the South. Wuzhuo, however, went and stayed in the monastery in the Taishan Mountains (in the North). Manjusri's answer to the "many or few?" question: People are still afraid that another persecution may break out again so they do not settle down happily. When three come in by the front gate, three go out by the back door. It's a question of "three in and three out."
Hoffmann's Answer
"There are rubies in front and pearls in back." Or: "With upright head and straight tail." Or: "The tail is long, the head is long -- a long-tailed cock." Or: "Hiding the head yet forgetting to hide the rear." Or: "Clap the hands, slap the ass -- horse market."
COMMENT: Wuzhuo seems to think that the state of the "teaching of Buddha" depends upon the number of monks and their degree of discipline (as to the monastic law). Being too conscious of the difference between "monk" and "layman," he is taken in by distinctions (between "south" and "north," "many" and "few"). Manjusri's answer ("The people and saints live together. Dragons and snakes mingle"), rather than indicating the state of Buddhism in the "south," suggests his own state of mind. Thus, whereas the Zen master Wuzhuo, in attaching great importance to the monastic order, takes a Hinayanic view of Buddhism, Manjusri represents the viewpoint of Zen. In his answer, ("a few here a few there") Manjusri suggests "it is all the same."
The quote given as an answer and the following attached quotes all suggest that no matter how hard you try to distinguish between one thing and another, ultimately all things are interrelated. Be it "front" or "back," "head" or "tail," you cannot consider the one without the other. Wuzhuo is looking for Buddhism in a particular place and with a particular group of people, but what is the use of hiding your "head" while exposing your "rear"? Head and bottom, monk and layman, each is where it is supposed to be. In the horse market there are only horses.
Rothenberg's Verse
What Happened Back There?

Is it black? Is it white?
Is it crooked? Is it straight?
How will you know?

Where I come from people take no notice of rules.
This is still news: A truthful man is hard to find.
Give me back the words. (And we can't let him go.)

One phrase never settled this man's query.
To this day he's still one who sleeps in the fields.

Please watch under your feet!
The tea bowl falls into a thousand pieces.
Who said you could speak to the mountains like that!?
Richard von Sturmer's Verse
It's like trying to use
a dirty eraser:
the more you rub out
the more you smudge the page.

It's like looking through
a diamond window:
each facet reveals
ten thousand details.
Hotetsu's Verse
"When numbers get serious, they leave a mark on your door." --Paul Simon

How many friends have you? How many relations?
How many schoolmates, former or current? Colleagues?
With how many people have you sat, in zendo or church or temple?
By how many passers by have you passed?

How many particles of dirt or sand
Have felt the press of your sole?
How many cubic centimeters of air
Have you expelled in laughing?

How many bird species would be
on your life list? How many mammals?
Reptiles, amphibians, fish?
How many on your current week list?
How many trees can you call by name?
How many call yours?
How many leaves have you seen
Bud? Fall?
How many years are yours?
How many yous belong to the years?

You could tally estimates.
That's not necessary.
By numbers uncounted
The dharma fares
North and South,
East and West.

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