Gateless Gate 9

Gateless Gate (Mumonkan, Wumenguan) #9
A Buddha Before History

Personnel and Date
  • XINGYANG Qingrang (Kôyô Seijô, 910?-980?, 14th gen), disciple of Bajiao Huiqing
  • Datong Zhisheng (Daitsû Chishô) Buddha (Great Penetrating Excellent Wisdom Buddha): Seen as an extremely wise Buddha who lived before recorded history.
  • an unnamed monastic
  • Date guess: ca. 977
Once a monk earnestly asked Priest Rang of Xingyang, “Datong Zhisheng Buddha sat in the meditation hall for ten kalpas, but the Dharma of the Buddha did not manifest itself and he could not attain Buddhahood. Why was this?”[1]
Rang replied, “Your question is reasonable indeed.”[2]
The monk said, “He sat in zazen in the meditation hall. Why did he not attain Buddhahood?”
Rang replied, “Because he is a non-attained Buddha.”[3]
[1] Aitken: The Buddha of Supremely Pervading, Surpassing Wisdom did zazen on the Bodhi Seat for ten kalpas, but the Dharma of the Buddha did not manifest itself and he could not attain Buddhahood. Why was this?
Cleary: The Buddha Capable of Great Penetrating Knowledge sat on the site of enlightenment for ten eons, but the realities of enlightenment did not become apparent to him, and he was unable to fulfill the way of Buddhahood. Why was that?
Guo Gu: The Buddha of Great Penetrating and Supreme Wisdom sat at the site of enlightenment for ten kalpas, but buddhadharma did not appear to him. How was it that he did not achieve the buddha path?
Hinton: The Buddha of Vast Insight and Surpassing Wisdom sat in meditation for ten kalpas on Buddha-Way Terrace, but the Buddha-dharma never took shape for him. How is it, in all that time, he never wholly became Buddha-Way's turning seasons?
Low: Datong Zhisheng Buddha sat in zazen for eons and eons and could not attain Buddhahood. Why was this?
Sekida: Datong Zhisheng Buddha sat in zazen for ten kalpas and could not attain Buddhahood. He did not become a Buddha. How could this be?
Senzaki: I understand a buddha who lived before recorded history sat in meditation for ten cycles of existence and could not realize the highest truth, and so couldnot become fully emancipated. How could this be?
Shibayama: Datong Zhisheng Buddha did zazen on a bodhi seat for ten kalpas. Buddha Dharma was not manifested, nor did he attain Buddhahood. Why was it?

[2] Aitken: Your question is exactly to the point.
Cleary: Your question is quite clearly to the point.
Guo Gu: This question is most appropriate.
Hinton: A question to the point exactly.
Low: That's a good question.
Sekida: Your question is quite self-explanatory.
Senzaki: Your question is self-explanatory.
Shibayama: Your question is splendid indeed.

[3] Aitken: Because he is a nonattained Buddha.
Cleary: Because he did not fulfill Buddhahood.
Guo Gu: Because he did not.
Hinton: Because he never became a Buddha.
Low: Don't overdo it.
Sekida: Because he did not become a Buddha.
Senzaki: He was not yet a buddha.
Shibayama: Because he did not attain Buddhahood.

Wumen's Comment
I approve the old barbarian's realization, but I don't approve the old barbarian's understanding. When an ordianry person has realized it, he is a saint. If a saint understands it, he is nothing but an ordinary person.[4]
[4] Aitken: I approve the Old Barbarian's realization, but I don't approve his understanding. If an ordinary person realizes, he or shie is thus a sage. If a sage understands, he or she is thus an ordinary person.
Cleary: I admit the old barbarian knows; I don't admit the old barbarian understands. If ordinary people know, they are sages; if sages understand, they are ordinary people.
Gu: You may know the old barbarian, but you are not allowed to understand him. If an ordinary person knows, he becomes a sage. If a sage understands, he becomes an ordinary person.
Hinton: I acknowledge that old barbarian's understanding, but not his realization. When ordinary people become wise, they're sages. And when sages become realized, they're ordinary people.
Low: I can accept the barbarian's realization, what I can't accept is his understanding. When an ordinary person gets it, he is a sage. When a sage understands it, he is just an ordinary person.
Sekida: I allow the barbarian's realization, but I do not allow his understanding. When an ignorant man realizes it, he is a sage. When a sage understands it, he is ignorant.
Senzaki: I will allow the realization, but I will not admit the understanding. When one who is ignorant attains realization, that one is a sage. A sage who begins to understand is ignorant.
Shibayama: The old foreigner may know it, but he cannot really grasp it. An ordinary man, if he knows it, is a sage. A sage, if he grasps it, is an ordinary man.

Wumen's Verse
Far better than realizing the body is to realize the heart-mind and be at peace.
If the heart-mind is realized, there is no anxiety about the body;[5]
If both body and heart-mind are completely realized,
A holy hermit does not wish to be appointed lord.[6]
[5] Aitken: Better than knowing the body is knowing the mind in peace; when the mind is realized, the body is not longer anxious.
Cleary: How is mastering the body as good as mastering the mind? When you have mastered mind, the body is no worry.
Guo Gu: Putting the body at ease is not as putting the mind to rest. If you can put to rest the mind, the body will not be worrisome.
Hinton: How can clarity about self compare to clarity about mind at rest? Clarity about mind -- ah -- fathom that clarity, and self is grief-free.
Low: It is better to lieberate your mind than your body; When the mind is liberated, the body is liberated.
Sekida: Better emancipate your mind that your body; When the mind is emancipated, the body is free,
Senzaki: It is better to realize mind than body. When you realize mind, you need not worry about body.
Shibayama: Rather than give the body relief, give relief to the mind: When the mind is at peace, the body is not distressed.

[6] Aitken: When body and mind are fully realized, the saintly hermit declines to become a noble.
Cleary: If body and mind are both perfectly mastered, Why should spiritual immortals also be entitled as lords?
Guo Gu: If you can put to rest both body and mind, What need is there for gods and immortals to sanction or assist you?
Hinton: And if you know clarity about mind and self, clarity within clarity, what is there more regal for gods and immortals to declare noble?
Low: When both body and mind are liberated What more is there to get?
Sekida: When both body and mind are emancipated, Even gods and spirits ignore worldly power.
Senzaki: When body and mind become one, you are free And desire no praise.
Shibayama: If mind and body are both set free, Why must the holy saint become a lord?

Aitken's Comment
He could not attain Buddhahood. Why was this? This question comes from a parable in Chapter Seven of the Lotus Sutra, an elaborate account of a profoundly devout king and his sixteen sons who all eventually attained supreme enlightenment. The Buddha Sakyamuni, in this story, was the youngest of these sons. The case is a modification of a portion of the story.
The dharma of the Buddha did not manifest itself means that the Buddha is in essence not born, and the Dharma does not pass away.
He did not attain Buddhahood -- the Buddha cannot become Buddha again.
Perhaps the monk who posed the question thought zazen was a magic device that could transport him into nirvana. This is an error all Zen students know about. Most of uis have complained in interviews with our teacher, "It has been ten kalpas since I began my practice, and I don't have a single glimmer. I am sitting hard, attending every sesshin I can, but I haven't attained anything. Why is this?"
Xingyang gives us the answer: Your question is exactly to the point. Your question is its own response, as we learn when working on Huoan's question about the Beardless Barbarian (GG #4). The point upon which you focus is exactly the question itself. There your practice unfolds and things become clear.
But the monk persists, so Xingyang give the coup de grace: Because he is a nonattained Buddha. What is your own attainment of nonattainment?
Wumen distinguishes clearly between the monk's understanding and Xingyang's realization. The monk understood that practice promotes realization, but Xingyang realized that the two are not separate.
The monk may have had doubts about himself -- another distraction! Do you have such a distraction? Take comfort in remembering that you share the nature of the Buddha Sakyamuni -- he had a hard time too.
When we are truly realized, there is no progression. The saintly hermit, the Buddha of Supremely Pervading, Surpassing Wisdom, and indeed you and I -- we are just fine as we are. But the monk's question remains: "Why don't I get it?
Gushan's Verse (Cleary)
Planting grain does not produce beans;
Can boiling sand make a meal of rice?
The Buddha Capable of Great Penetrating Knowledge
Only saw one side of things.
Cleary's Comment
The monk refers to a Lotus Sutra story the lesson of which is to go beyond the quiescence of nirvana, realizing that the peace of nirvana is just a means of gaining access to the infinte enlessness of continuous awakening to reality.
The ancient Buddha in the story only had "knowledge," which here means the heart of nirvana, or the peace of the absolute, but lacked "understanding," which here means knowledge of differentiations of samsara, or the relative world.
Guo Gu's Comment
Had Xingyang answered the monk's question, he would have diffused the momentum of practice and taken away the chance for the monk's own awakening. Instead, Xingyang fuels the monks questioning, saying, "This is a very good question; most appropriate for you to ask."
If a sage knows the path of liberation, he becomes an ordinary person. This is because the more you study something, the more you realize how little you really know. If you study a subject and think that you know it, then whatever you know may not be worth knowing. Spiritual maturation comes from not knowing, from being open to and discovering new things beyond what you already know. To know something is to kill the very thing one knows.
Put to rest your attachments and your constructs, your stories of this and that, which give rise to craving and aversion. Then you will be at peace. This is liberation; this is nirvana.
The essence of this case is that you are not truly at peace with yourself. Awakening or buddhahood is already perfected. Yet when you relate to others, if you don't see your own shortcomings and limitations, then you see those of others. You do have flaws and limitations, but you are perfect with your flaws and limitations. Amid all these challenges and imperfections, you learn and discover how to be at peace -- not to accept them passively but to see right through to their true nature -- the nature of emptiness, or freedom. Everything you face, all that you are, is the site of enlightenment.
The monk's question is like asking, "a human being is diligently trying to become a human being. After he sat there for ten years, why isn't he a human being yet?" That said, you do have to realize that which prevents you from realizing this and to know what it truly means to live in your true nature, to be a human being through and through.
Wisdom is interconnectedness; emptiness is relationships. When you become relationships, you become everything else. Amid relationship, nowhere is there attachment or self-referentiality.
Linji's Comment (Low)
Datong Zhisheng is the Buddha of Supreme Penetration and Surpassing Wisdom.
Supreme Penetration means one personally sees into the complete absence of form and self nature in the ten thousand dharmas.
Surpassing Wisdom means to be without doubt of any kind and to be clear wihtout even a speck of dust.
Buddha means purity of mind whose radiance pervades the ten directions.
To sit for ten kalpas means to practice the ten paramitas.
The Buddhadharma did not manifest means Buddha is in essence birthless and dharmas in essence without end. Why then should it manifest?
He did not attain Buddhahood means Buddha cannot become Buddha.
Low's Comment
Datong Zhisheng cannot become a Buddha because it is a waste of time for a Buddha to try to become a Buddha. But if the answer is simply that, then why does Master Xingyang say the monk's question a good one? What is it really asking?
The struggle to realize his Buddhahood could be looked on as the way of the Linji sect. To give up all efforts and realize one is Budha is the way of the Caodong sect. Both are only half the answer, but how do you add them together to make them into a whole way? That is what the koan is about.
from the Vimalakirti Sutra (Low)
Sariputra asks a goddess how long it will be before she attains full awakening.
The goddess says, "It is impossible that I should attain full awakening of Buddhahood!" She then explains that full awakening is not something to be attained. Because it is impossible to do so, no one attains the perfect awakening of Buddhahood.
Sariputra objects and says the Buddhas of the past, present, and future have all attained perfect awakening, but the goddess chides him, "'The Buddhas of the past, present, and future' is a conventional phrase made up of a certain number of syllables. The Buddhas are neither present, past, nor future. Their awakening transcends the three times." Then she asks Sariputra, "Have you attained awakening?"
Sariputra says it is attained because there is no attainment.
The goddess replies, "Just so, there is perfect awakening because there is no attainment of perfect awakening."
Sekida's Comment
Sat in zazen for ten kalpas. In the state of absolute samadhi there is no time. Countless kalpas are just this moment, and this moment fill countless kalpas.
Could not attain Buddhahood. Furthermore, in absolute samadhi there is no realization, no enlightenment, no Buddhahood: just this samadhi.
He did not become a Buddha. Buddha is Buddha from the beginning; there is no becoming a Buddha.
If you achieve the mind-and-body peace of absolute samadhi and then come out into the world of positive samadhi, you will enjoy the freedom of mind of the gods, sages, spirits, and patriarchs, to whom the worldly power of princes is of no interest whatsoever.
Senzaki's Comment
The questioning monk could not enjoy the beauty of the drama as told in the Lotus Sutra. He tried to aregu using everyday logic. Xingyang did not take the trouble to explain the original story, but simply snapped the questioner's weapon and cornered him.
All sentient beings have buddha-nature, but none can enter buddhahood without effort. There are many ways of striving, but until one is actually enlightened, one is still on one's way, and has not as yet become a buddha. If one aims to become a buddha, no matter how many cycles of existence he strives in meditation, he will always be a scandal-monger of dualism, never an enlightened buddha.
All sentient beings have buddha-nature -- i.e., the seed of enlightenment. But unless one actualizes it within oneself, on cannot call it the lotus flower of realization.
Jump into the ocean of oneness. Then you can swim by your own efforts and reach the other shore with your own power.
Hakuin's Comment (Shibayama)
Why is it necessary to do zazen on a bodhi seat? You sit here now, andyou are, as you are, Datong Zhisheng Buddha.
from "Song of Realizing the Dao," attr. Yongjia Xuanjue (Shibayama)
It is ever manifest, and can never be missing. If you seek after it, you can never get it.
A Waka Poem (Shibayama)
Let us admire the moon and cherish the flowers --
Thus we should like to live.
Never try to become Buddhas
And ruin our precious life!
Shibayama's Comment
Buddha Dharma is the fundamental, universal Reality itself that is ever unborn and undying, undefiled and unpurified, not-increasing and not-decreasing. The true Buddha Dharma of nonmanifestation is beyond manifesting and nonmanifesting.
Everyone is in the Buddha Dharma. One should not cry with thirst while one is in the water. Shouldn't the one who does not attain Buddhahood be the one who really has attained Buddhahood? If he tries to attain Buddhahood urther, he is stupid enough to try to put another hat on top of the one he already has on his head. To be able to say, however, that he who does not attain Buddhahood is the one who has attained it, one must actually live the Buddha life of nonattainment.
Because Xingyang was living Zen of nonattainment himself, he could immediately cry out the Truth. Not to attain Buddhahood is indeed the true life of Buddha Dharma.
Why does a Buddha have to seek after a Buddha? Because he is a true Buddha, he does not attain Buddhahood. Xingyang was enjoying his life of a true Buddha himself.
Yamada's Comment
Xingyang's final answer is, "Because he is a non-attained Buddha." This is the point of the koan. Other translations have "Because he didn't," or "Because he was not a Buddha." These two translations of the reply miss the point.
Datong Zhisheng is a man who will never attain Buddhahood. Who is he? Who are you? Each of us says "I." Who is that "I"? If you are conscious only of the relative phenomenal "I," it is nothing but the ego. But for the transformed, enlightened consciousness, what is this "I"? You must come to grasp it directly by experiencing enlightenment. Then you willknow why neither Datong Zhisheng nor any of you can ever attain Buddhahood.
Not only Datong Zhisheng but all of you are Buddhas from the beginning and will never attain Buddhahood again, no matter how long you sit in samadhi. Can water get any wetter? Can gold become gold again? Can completeness become more complete? Can emptiness become empty? Of course, from the phenomenal point of view, our Buddha nature manifests itself little by little in the process of time. But from the essential point of view, we are Buddhas from the beginning.
It is not until you grasp you own self nature through direct experience that you realize for the first time what a non-attained Buddha means.
Setsusho's Verse (2020 Aug 27)
Deaf monk sits beneath a dead branch
Half moon hangs in the sky
In Kenosha, Jacob Blake
Lies in hospital, spine severed
Channel is open for dharma
study if you're interested!
Hotetsu's Verse
Why am I making no
Progress? Why? WHY?

Yes, yes, of course there's no
Progress to be made.
All things, as they are:
Fully realized.
I know that.
Everybody knows that.
But other than that

Why am I making no progress?

To marry this question,
To wed it and bed it,
Companion it,
Produce issue with it,
Means, as marriages do,
Not being master or slave
And not neglecting.

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