Archive for February, 2006


In Stillness, There Is Clarity; In Movement, There Is Confusion

While speaking with managers in the education department one morning, Master Cheng Yen mentioned a Buddhist sutra which depicted a log floating down a stream. If the log does not collide with the bank of the stream, it will flow smoothly along until it reaches the ocean, and enter a state of vastness. “However, if this log stops frequently at the shore of the stream, even the sturdiest of logs will be damaged!”

“Our lives are analogous to the path of the floating log. From this sutra, we learn that we should safeguard our mind and be independent instead of always relying on others.” The Master remarked that in living in this world, we should carry out our rightful duties and utilize our talents well. We should follow the middle way and not deviate from the proper path. In doing so, we will obtain a vast, bright future.

“One false claim can become the truth after being broadcasted by the masses.” That is, if we make a false statement and it is spread by many people as gossip, then, after a while, this statement will be perceived as the truth. Therefore, the Master urged that we should differentiate right from wrong and not be confused by gossip and hearsay.

“To differentiate right from wrong, we must take good care of our mind.” The Master said that “in stillness, there is clarity; in movement, there is confusion.” If the mind is in a state of tranquility, it can clearly comprehend good principles and recognize what is correct. But if the mind is swayed and troubled, it will become clouded and disillusioned.

“If we are calm and rational, then we will see matters with clarity when a situation arises.” The Master advised that we listen and speak with wisdom. “We should choose our words mindfully, so that we do not harm others with what we say. If others have confidence in our character, then our words will be influential and trusted by the masses.”

Human society is complex. Seeing that sentient beings share a common karma, the Master sighed. “The world is filled with more suffering than happiness. At times, I feel hopeless and worried. However, it is futile to fret. I hope that everyone can take good care of his mind and nurture great love. We should not be distracted by a complicated society. We should cherish harmony, peace, and mutual love amongst one another!”

Master Cheng yen
March 27, 2004

The Good and Bad Ghosts and the Law of Causation

The Good and Bad Ghosts and the Law of Causation- Master Yin Shun


Buddhism does not teach us to worship ghosts, but Buddhism does recognize that ghosts exist. The realm of ghosts is one of the six realms of existence among sentient beings. (The six realms are: hell, ghosts, animals, humans, heaven, asuras.)
In this world, there are good people and bad people. In the world of ghosts, it is the same. There are good ghosts and bad ghosts. Even though there are bad people in this world, good people outnumber them by quite a lot. It is the same with ghosts. There are some very evil ghosts, but most ghosts are good ghosts. People, sometimes, are much worse than ghosts. Human beings sometimes will do things no ghost would ever consider doing.
In Nanyang there once was a man named Ting-po Sung. One night Sung was hurrying home when suddenly he saw a ghost. Sung acted as bravely as he could and asked, "Who are you and why are you walking so strangely?"
"I am a ghost, that is why. Now, who are you?" the figure answered.
Sung was frightened to hear the ghost’s reply, and he was even more afraid to admit that he was a human being. Might not the ghost harm him if he admitted that? In a moment’s inspiration, Sung decided to do what human beings do best-lie. "Oh! I am a ghost, too," he said.
"You are a ghost, too, are you? Well, where are you going?"
"I am on my way to the city," Sung replied.
"Great," the ghost said, obviously pleased to hear that. "I am on my way to the city, too. Let us walk together."
Sung had no choice but to accept the invitation. With great trepidation he fell in behind the ghost to walk to the city. After a while, when they both began to show signs of fatigue, the ghost turned and made a suggestion. "The city is still far away," he said. "Walking like this is tiring. Let us take turns carrying each other instead. That way we can still make good progress and one of us will be able to rest. What do you think about this?"
"This is a good idea," Sung said.
"Okay, I will carry you first." With that, the ghost hoisted Sung onto his back. "Wow! Are you ever heavy! How did you get so heavy?" the ghost asked.
Ghosts have no definite form and no weight. They are a kind of spirit or a kind of energy (ch’i). They can pass through walls and become invisible at will. So, to a ghost, a human being is very gross and heavy.
As soon as Sung heard the ghost’s question, he made up another lie. "I am so heavy," he said, "because I died just recently."
The ghost believed Sung and they continued to travel along with the ghost carrying Sung.
After a while, they came to a river. The ghost stopped and said, "We better swim across here." With that he dove into the water and, with the grace of a cloud flying through the air, swam to the other side. When the ghost got to his feet and turned around, he saw Sung still struggling in the middle of the river, splashing the water and panting very loudly. Gradually, Sung got closer. When he reached the bank, the ghost hurried over to ask him, "Why do you make so much noise when you swim? You will scare everybody around here!"
Sung could see that the ghost was getting suspicious of him so he used his best trick and repeated his lie from before. "I just died, so I really have not learned to swim yet," he said.
The two started for town again. As they walked, Sung thought to himself, "This is a bad night for me. Here I am walking along with a ghost. I have to think of some way to get away from him!" In an innocent manner, Sung asked the ghost, "Friend, I just died, and I am not all that clear about the world of ghosts. You have much more experience than I do. Tell me, what is the most frightening thing for us ghosts? What do we most need to watch out for?"
"Human saliva," the ghost replied. "If a human being ever spits on a ghost, that ghost has had it. There is nothing he can do to save himself."
The ghost was candid with his reply. Above them the sky was slowly starting to take on a shade of silvery gray. Dawn was approaching. The two were now close to the city.
Sung waited for a chance when the ghost was not looking, and spit a large gob of spittle on the ghost’s back. Immediately, the ghost began to twist and turn. Then he fell to the ground, writhing in agony before he completely disappeared. In his place stood a small mountain goat. Sung took the goat into town and sold him for a good price.
This little story displays well the cruelty and deceitfulness of human beings. Sometimes ghosts are willing to help us, but we repay them by striking them with such cruel force. It really is true that sometimes people are much worse than ghosts.
Evil ghosts capable of harming human beings do exist, but if we are moral and kind throughout our lives, they can do us no harm. There is a Chinese saying which applies well here, "If we do no evil in the day, we need not worry about evil ghosts knocking on our doors at night." The ghosts outside of us are not nearly as frightening as the ghosts inside of us.
Once there was an old monk who was just sitting down to meditate when a ghost with unkempt hair and wild eyes appeared before him, trying to disturb his peace of mind. The old monk looked at him and said, "Oh my, what is this? What a mess! Look at that hair, and those eyes! You are really in no shape to be visiting people!"
When the ghost saw that he had failed to frighten the monk and was being admonished instead, he wrenched up his face, bared his sharp teeth and stuck his long tongue far outside his mouth.
The monk only said in reply, "What is so great about that? Your face is the same as mine; it is only a little paler and your teeth are sharper and your tongue is longer. That is all."
When the ghost saw that once again he had failed to scare the old monk, he changed his appearance again. He made his eyes and his nose disappear. Then he made his hands and feet disappear. However, the monk stayed the same, behaving as if nothing special were happening.
"My, you are pitiful!" he said. "You have no eyes, nose, hands or feet. I really feel quite sorry for you!"
With this response, the ghost at last gave up trying to scare the monk and disappeared. When the old monk saw the frightful appearance of the ghost, all he felt was compassion for him for having accumulated such bad karma to be turned into a ghost. Mercy has no enemies. In the face of compassion, all perverse and evil forces melt into nothingness.
We all know that people fear ghosts, but, actually, ghosts fear people much more than we do them. When ghosts see people, they run away as far as they can. They behave the same way wild animals do when they see people: they go and hide. Ghosts never come out in the day; they always wait until nighttime. The reason is that they fear people so much they come out only when the fewest people are around. If you understand this, then the next time one of you sees a ghost, you need not panic. Ghosts exist in a different realm from us and their karma has nothing to do with ours.
The Records of Hell contains a story about a man named Te-ju Yuan who got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. In the bathroom, Yuan suddenly saw a giant ghost standing quietly in front of him. The ghost had enormous eyes and a black face. He was wearing a long white robe. The two looked steadily at each other for a while. Then, Yuan broke into a laugh and said, "People have always told me that ghosts have ugly faces. Now I can see for myself that they are right!"
When he heard Yuan say this, the ghost felt so embarrassed his ears and face turned red and he had to leave. Sometimes a ghost’s sense of shame can be even more developed than a human being’s. If we are clear in our minds about what constitutes good and bad, and if we always try to behave in the right way, no ghost will ever dare interfere in our lives.


Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso – Attachment

Probably the most misunderstood term in Western Buddhist circles is that usually translated as ‘attachment’. Too many have got it into their head that they shouldn’t be attached to anything. Thus jokes abound such as the one on why the houses of Buddhists have dirt in the corners – because they don’t allow even their vacuum cleaner any attachments. Some misguided pseudo-Buddhists criticize those living a moral life as being attached to their precepts and thus praise immoral action as a sign of deep wisdom. Bah! Others in traditional Buddhist circles create fear of deep meditation by incorrectly stating that you will only get attached to the Jhanas. It all goes too far. Perhaps the pinnacle of mischievous misinformation was said by Rajneesh who claimed "I am so detached, I am not even attached to detachment" and thus conveniently excused all his excesses.
    The Pali work in question is UPADANA, literally meaning ‘a taking up’. It is commonly used indicating a ‘fuel’, which sustains a process, such as the oil in a lamp being the fuel/upadana for the flame. It is related to craving (TANHA). For example, craving is reaching out for the delicious cup of coffee, Upadana is picking it up. Even though you think that you can easily put the cup of coffee down again, though your hand is not superglued to the cup, it is still Upadana. You have picked it up. You have grasped.
    Fortunately not all Upadana is un-Buddhist. The Lord Buddha only specified four groups of Upadana: ‘taking up’ the five senses, ‘taking up’ wrong views, ‘taking up’ the idea that liberation may be attained simply through rites and initiations, and ‘taking up’ the view of a self. There are many other things that one may ‘take up’ or grasp, but the point is that only these four groups lead to rebirth, only these four are fuel for future existence and further suffering, only these four are to be avoided.
    Thus taking up the practice of compassion, taking up the practice of the Five Precepts or the greater precepts of a monk or nun, and taking up the practice of meditation – these are not un-Buddhist and it is mischievous to discourage them by calling them ‘attachments’. Keeping the Five Precepts is, in fact, a letting go of coarse desires like lust, greed and violence. Practising compassion is a letting go of self-centredness and practising meditation is letting go of past, future, thinking and much else. The achievement of Jhana is no more than the letting go of the world of the five senses to gain access to the mind. Nibbana is the letting go once and for all of greed, hatred and delusion, the seeds of rebirth. Parinibbana is the final letting go of body and mind (the Five Khandhas). It is wrong to suggest that any of these stages of letting go are the same as attachment.
    The path is like a ladder. One grasps the rung above and lets go of the rung below to pull oneself up. Soon, the rung just grasped is the rung one is now standing on. Now is the time to let go of that rung as one grasps an even higher rung to raise oneself further. If one never grasped anything, one would remain spiritually stupid.
    To those without wisdom, letting go may often appear as attachment. For example a bird on the branch of a tree at night appears to be attaching firmly to the branch, but it has actually let go and is fully asleep. When a bird lets go and the muscles around its claws begin to relax they close on the branch. The more it relaxes, the more the claws tighten. That’s why you never see a bird fall off a perch even when they are asleep. It may look like attachment but, in fact, it is letting go. Letting go often leads to stillness, not moving from where you are, which is why it is sometimes mistaken as attachment.
    So don’t be put off by well-meaning but misinformed L-plate Buddhists who have completely misunderstood Upadana and attachment. Attach without fear to your precepts, your meditation object and to the path for it will lead to Nibbana. And don’t forget to purchase the attachments for your vacuum cleaner too!

Ego: A Tibetan Buddhist Perspective

Ego: A Tibetan Buddhist Perspective

by Ven. Thubten Chodron

"Ego" is an ambiguous English word with multiple meanings, and we must take care if and how we use it in Buddhism. Its original, psychoanalytic meaning refers to a part of the mind that mediates between the animalistic instincts of the id, the values of the superego, and the demands of the environment. As such, the ego is a neutral psychological function. Subsequently, within general society, "ego" came to refer to the self, and later to a conceited and inflated sense of self. In Buddhist circles, the word is used with a disparaging meaning, but seldom is it actually defined. From this ambiguity much confusion arises.

If we take "ego" to have a negative connotation, it could refer to either the self-grasping ignorance which is the root of cyclic existence or the self-centered attitude which prevents us from developing impartial love, compassion, and bodhicitta (altruism) for all sentient beings. Self-grasping ignorance is the ignorance that not only is unclear regarding the actual nature of persons and phenomena (that is, that they are empty of independent existence), but also actively misconstrues their nature, conceiving that they exist under their own power, independently, from their own side. Self-grasping ignorance is counteracted by meditation on selflessness (anatta) and must be eliminated in order to attain both the nirvana of an arhat and the full enlightenment of a Buddha.

Self-centeredness, on the other hand, is not the root of cyclic existence, although it certainly fuels our gross disturbing attitudes. It is the attitude that thinks our own happiness is more important than that of everyone else. In its gross form, self-centeredness sees our own ordinary happiness as more important than the happiness of other—it makes us reach for a piece of cake before anyone can get it, cling stubbornly onto our opinions, and get trapped in feelings of guilt. In its subtle form, the self-centered attitude seeks our own personal liberation from cyclic existence without being compassionately committed to lead others to liberation. Self-centeredness must be eliminated in order to attain full enlightenment and is counteracted by meditation on equanimity, love, compassion, the disadvantages of self-centeredness, the benefits of cherishing others, and bodhicitta.

We may wonder "Why make such picky distinctions about the meaning of "ego" when we all know it’s bad and has to be eliminated?" If we do not distinguish between the self-grasping ignorance and self-centeredness, we will not be able to identify them when they arise in our mind, nor will we be able to apply the proper antidotes to them. Since we want to meditate effectively, making these distinctions is essential.



The Spider Thread 
(from a lecture by Masao Yokota)

The Buddha was in a lotus-filled garden when he perceived a man named “Kandata” who was squirming in the depths of Hell. He had been a murderer, an arsonist, and thief. A lifetime of these causes had put him in hell. He was in the company of others like him.

The Buddha looked further into Kandata’s life and saw an incident where  Kandata came upon a spider. He raised his foot to stomp on it.  Suddenly, he reconsidered, thinking, "There is no doubt that this spider is also a living being and it is a shame to take its life for no reason." In the end he spared the spider.

Knowing this, the Buddha took a spider thread and lowered it to into depths of Hell with the intention of saving Kandata. 

Kandata reached for the thread and found it strong enough to hold his weight. Using all his strength he began lifting himself from Hell.

After some progress, he looked down and saw hundreds of others behind him climbing on the same spider thread.

He shouted back at them: “Get off! This is mine!” Just then, the thread broke and Kandata fell back into Hell.


Wo and Jah 

A troubled man named Wo could not figure out how to live. So he began meditating to find some answers. After many months he felt no progress, so he asked the temple priest for help. 

The priest said, "Go see old Jah." 

So he hiked to old Jah’s village and came upon the happy-looking old man coming from the forest under a heavy load of firewood. 

"Excuse me, honored Jah," he said. "But can you teach me the secret of life?" 

Jah raised his eyebrows and gazed at Wo. Then with some effort he twisted out from beneath his great bundle of firewood and let it crash to the ground. 

"There, that is enlightenment," he said, straightening up with relief and smiling. 

The troubled man looked on in shock at the prickly firewood scattered over the ground. "Is that all there is to it?" he said. 

"Oh, no," said Jah. Then he bent down, collected all the scattered sticks, hoisted them carefully up on his back and made ready to walk on. "This is enlightenment, too. Come. Let’s go together for tea." 

So Wo walked along with Jah. "What is old Jah showing me?" he asked. 

Jah replied, "First, yes, you are suffering a heavy burden. Many do. But, as the Buddha taught and many have realized, much of your burden and much of your joylessness is your craving for what you can’t have and your clinging to what you can’t keep. 

"See that the nature of your burden and of the chafing you experience as you try to cling to it are useless, unnecessary, damaging, and then you can let it go. 

"In doing so, you find relief, and you are freer to see the blessings of life and to choose wisely to receive them." 

"Thank you, old Jah," said Wo. "And why did you call picking up the burden of firewood again enlightenment as well?" 

"One understanding is that some burden in life is unavoidable — and even beneficial, like firewood. With occasional rest it can be managed, and with freedom from undue anxiety about it, it will not cause chafe. 

"Once the undue burden is dropped, we straighten up and see and feel the wonder and power of being. Seeing others suffering without that freedom and blissful experience, we willingly and knowingly pick up their burdens out of compassion  joining and aiding others in their various struggles for liberation, enlightenment and fulfillment." 

"Thank you, Old Jah," said the exhilarated Wo. "You have enlightened me." 

"Ah-so," said Jah. "Your understanding is enlightened. Now to make it part of your living and your spirit, you must go follow the eight practices and meditate. Then you will learn to detach yourself from your useless burden of cravings and to attach yourself to the profound source of being out of which life, creativity, joy and compassion form and flow." 

And so Wo went and did. And understanding the truths gave him comfort. And practicing the good behaviors kept him from harming himself or others anymore. And concentrating on the deep blissful potential of life gave him a continuing sense of companionship and joyful awe and of well-being in his spirit, no matter what else of pain he had to deal with. 

SuShi and the Buddhist Monk 

The famous Chinese poet SuShi, also known as Su Dong Po (1037-1101 A.D.) was visiting his friend, who was a Buddhist monk. SuShi asks the monk what SuShi is like in the monk’s eyes. 

The monk replies, "In my eyes, you are a Buddha." 

SuShi is very happy with this response. 

The monk then asks SuShi the same question, and SuShi answers, "In my eyes, you are dung!" 

The monk smiles, and SuShi is delighted, because he thinks he is better than the monk. 

Then some days later, SuShi tells the story to a friend, and the friend tells him the truth, "The monk sees you as a Buddha, because he sees everything as Buddha, because he has a Buddha’s heart and eyes. You see the monk as dung, because you see everything as dung, because you have a dung’s heart and eyes!" 


The World Honored One Flicks Dirt  with His Toe

[The Buddha is speaking]: 
"When the mind is pure, the Buddha land will be pure." 

At that time, Shariputra, moved by the Buddha’s supernatural powers, thought to himself: "If the mind of the bodhisattva is pure, then his Buddha land will be pure. Now when our World-Honored-One first determined to become a bodhisattva, surely his intentions were pure. Why then is this Buddha land so filled with impurities?" 

The Buddha, knowing his thoughts, said to him, "What do you think? Are the sun and the moon impure? Is that why the blind man fails to see them? 

Shariputra replied, "No, World Honored One. That is the fault of the blind man. The sun and moon are not to blame." 

"Shariputra, it is the failings of living beings that prevent them from seeing the marvelous purity of the land of the Buddha, the Thus Come One. The Thus Come One is not to blame. Shariputra, this land of mine is pure, but you fail to see it." 

Shariputra said, "When I look at this land, I see it full of knolls and hollows, thorny underbrush, sand and gravel, dirt, rocks, many mountains, filth and defilement."  

The Buddha then pressed his toe against the earth, and immediately the thousand-millionfold world was adorned with hundreds and thousands of rare jewels. All the members of the great assembly sighed in wonder at what they had never seen before, and all saw that they were seated on jeweled lotuses." 

The Buddha said to Shariputra, "Now do you see the marvelous purity of this Buddha land?" 

Shariputra replied, "Indeed, I do. Now all the marvelous purity of the Buddha land is before me." 

The Buddha said to Shariputra, "If a person’s mind is pure, then he will see the wonderful blessings that adorn this land." 



just for laughs…

Compassion with an umbrella

A Western Buddhist woman was In india, studying with her teacher. She was riding with another woman friend in a rickshaw-like carriage, when they were attacked by a man on the street. In the end, the attacker only succeeded in frightening the women, but the Buddhist woman was quite upset by the event and told her teacher so. She asked him what she should have done – what would have been the appropriate, Buddhist response.

The teacher said very simply, "You should have very mindfully and with great compassion whacked the attacker over the head with your umbrella."


Walking on water

Three monks decided to practise meditation together. they sat by the side of a lake and closed their eyes in concentration. Then suddenly, the first one stood up and said, "I forgot my mat." He steeped miraculously onto the water in front of him and walked across the lake to their hut on the other side.

When he returned, the second monk stood up and said, "I forgot to put my the other underwear to dry." He too walked calmly across the water and returned the same way. The third monk watched the first two carefully in what he decided must be the test of his own abilities. "Is your learning so superior to mine? I too can match any feat you two can perform," he declared loudly and rushed to the water’s edge to walk across it. He promptly fell into the deep water.

Undeterred, the yogi climbed out of the water and tried again, only to sink into the water. Yet again he climbed out and yet again he tried, each time sinking into the water. This went on for some time as the other two monks watched.

After a while, the second monk turned to the first and said, "Do you think we should tell him where the stones are?"


Flapping flag

Four monks were meditating in a monastery. All of a sudden the prayer flag on the roof started flapping.

The younger monk came out of his meditation and said:  "Flag is flapping"

A more experienced monk said: "Wind is flapping"

A third monk who had been there for more than 20 years said: "Mind is flapping."

The fourth monk who was the eldest said, visibly annoyed: "Mouths are flapping!"


A Meal of Fresh Octopus

Lots of arms, just like Kannon the Goddess;
Sacrificed for me, garnished with citron, I revere it so!
The taste of the sea, just divine!
Sorry, Buddha, this is another precept I just cannot keep.

— Zen Master Ikkyu


Q: What is the name of the best Zen teacher?
A: M.T. Ness



Compiled by Master Tung-Wang
Abbott of Han-hsin monastery in the
Thirteenth year of the Earth Dragon period (898)

My dear friend, the most reverend master Tung-Wang,

Old and ill, I lay here knowing that writing this note will be my last act upon this earth and that by the time you read it I will be gone from this life.

Though we have not seen each other in the many years since we studied together under our most venerable Master, I have often thought of you, his most worthy successor. Monks from throughout China say that you are a true lion of the Buddha Dharma; one whose eye is a shooting star, whose hands snatch lightning, and whose voice booms like thunder. It is said that your every action shakes heaven and earth and causes the elephants and dragons of delusion to scatter helplessly. I am told that your monastery is unrivaled in severity, and that under your exacting guidance hundreds of monks pursue their training with utmost zeal and vigor. I’ve also heard that in the enlightened successor department your luck has not been so good. Which brings me to the point of this letter.

I ask that you now draw your attention to the young man to whom this note is attached. As he stands before you, no doubt smiling stupidly as he stuffs himself with pickled cucumbers, you may be wondering if he is as complete a fool as he appears, and if so, what prompted me to send him to you. In answer to the first question, I assure you that Wu-Ming’s foolishness is far more complete than mere appearance would lead you to believe. As for the second question, I can only say that despite so benumbed a condition, or perhaps because of it, still more likely, despite of and because of it, Wu-Ming seems to unwittingly and accidentally serve the function of a great Bodhisattva. Perhaps he can be of service to you.

Allow him sixteen hours of sleep daily and provide him with lots of pickled cucumbers and Wu-Ming will always be happy. Expect nothing of him and you will be happy.

After Chin-mang’s funeral, the supporters of his temple arranged for Wu-Ming’s journey to Han-hsin monastery, where I resided, then, as now, as Abbott. A monk found Wu-ming at the monastery gate and seeing a note bearing my name pinned to his robe, led him to my quarters.

Customarily, when first presenting himself to the Abbott, a newly arrived monk will prostrate himself three times and ask respectfully to be accepted as a student. And so I was taken somewhat by surprise when Wu-ming walked into the room, took a pickled cucumber from the jar under his arm, stuffed it whole into his mouth, and happily munching away, broke into the toothless imbecilic grin that would one day become legendary. Taking a casual glance around the room, he smacked his lips loudly and said, "What’s for lunch?"

After reading dear old Chin Mang’s note, I called in the head monk and asked that he show my new student to the monk’s quarters. When they had gone I reflected on chin-mang’s words. Han-hsin was indeed a most severe place of training: winters were bitterly cold and in summer the sun blazed. The monks slept no more than three hours each night and ate one simple meal each day. For the remainder of the day they worked hard around the monastery and practiced hard in the meditation hall. But, alas, Chin-mang had heard correctly, Among all my disciples there was none whom I felt confident to be a worthy vessel to receive the untransmittable transmitted Dharma. I was beginning to despair that I would one day, bereft of even one successor, fail to fulfill my obligation of seeing my teacher’s Dharma-linage continued.

The monks could hardly be faulted for complacency or indolence. Their sincere aspiration and disciplined effort were admirable indeed, and many had attained great clarity of wisdom. But they were preoccupied with their capacity for harsh discipline and proud of their insight. They squabbled with one another for positions of prestige and power and vied amongst themselves for recognition. Jealousy, rivalry and ambition seemed to hang like a dark cloud over Han-shin monastery, sucking even the most wise and sincere into its obscuring haze. Holding Chin-mang’s note before me, I hoped and prayed that this Wu-ming, this "accidental Bodhisattva" might be the yeast my recipe seemed so much in need of.

To my astonished pleasure, Wu-ming took to life at Han-shin like a duck to water. At my request, he was assigned a job in the kitchen pickling vegetables. This he pursued tirelessly, and with a cheerful earnestness he gathered and mixed ingredients, lifted heavy barrels, drew and carried water, and, of course, freely sampled his workmanship. He was delighted!

When the monks assembled in the meditation hall, they would invariably find Wu-ming seated in utter stillness, apparently in deep and profound samadhi. No one even guessed that the only thing profound about Wu-ming’s meditation was the profound unlikelihood that he might find the meditation posture, legs folded into the lotus position, back erect and centered, to be so wonderfully conducive to the long hours of sleep he so enjoyed.

Day after day and month after month, as the monks struggled to meet the physical and spiritual demands of monastery life, Wu-ming, with a grin and a whistle, sailed through it all effortlessly. Even though, if the truth be told, Wu-ming’s Zen practice was without the slightest merit, by way of outward appearance he was judged by all to be a monk of great accomplishment and perfect discipline. Of course . I could have dispelled this misconception easily enough, but I sensed that Wu-ming’s unique brand of magic was taking effect and I was not about to throw away this most absurdly skillful of means.

By turns the monks were jealous, perplexed, hostile, humbled and inspired by what they presumed to be Wu-ming’s great attainment. Of course it never occurred to Wu-ming that his or anyone else’s behavior required such judgments, for they are the workings of a far more sophisticated nature than his own mind was capable. Indeed, everything about him was so obvious and simple that others thought him unfathomably subtle.

Wu-ming’s inscrutable presence had a tremendously unsettling effect on the lives of the monks, and undercut the web of rationalizations that so often accompanies such upset. His utter obviousness rendered him unintelligible and immune to the social pretensions of others. Attempts of flattery and invectives alike were met with the same uncomprehending grin, a grin the monks felt to be the very cutting edge of the sword of Perfect Wisdom. Finding no relief or diversion in such interchange, they were forced to seek out the source and resolution of their anguish each within his own mind. More importantly, and absurdly, Wu-ming caused to arise in the monks the unconquerable determination to fully penetrate the teaching "The Great Way is without difficulty" which they felt he embodied.

Though in the course of my lifetime I have encountered many of the most venerable progenitors of the Tathagata’s teaching, never have I met one so skilled at awakening others to their intrinsic Buddhahood as this wonderful fool Wu-ming. His spiritual non-sequiturs were as sparks, lighting the flame of illuminating wisdom in the minds of many who engaged him in dialogue.

Once a monk approached Wu-ming and asked in all earnestness, "In the whole universe, what is it that is most wonderful?" Without hesitation Wu-ming stuck a cucumber before the monks face and exclaimed, "There is nothing more wonderful than this!" At that the monk crashed through the dualism of subject and object, "The whole universe is pickled cucumber; a pickled cucumber is the whole universe!" Wu-ming simply chuckled and said, "Stop talking nonsense. A cucumber is a cucumber; the whole universe is the whole universe. What could be more obvious?" The monk, penetrating the perfect phenomenal manifestation of Absolute Truth, clapped his hands and laughed, saying, "Throughout infinite space, everything is deliciously sour!"

On another occasion a monk asked Wu-ming, "The Third Patriarch said, "The Great Way is without difficulty, just cease having preferences." How can you then delight in eating cucumbers, yet refuse to even take one bit of a carrot?" Wu-ming said, "I love cucumbers; I hate carrots!" The monk lurched back as though struck by a thunderbolt. Then laughing and sobbing and dancing about he exclaimed, "Liking cucumbers and hating carrots is without difficulty, just cease preferring the Great Way!"

Within three years of his arrival, the stories of the "Great Bodhisattva of Han-hsin monastery" had made their way throughout the provinces of China. Knowing of Wu-ming’s fame I was not entirely surprised when a messenger from the Emperor appeared summoning Wu-ming to the Imperial Palace immediately.

From throughout the Empire exponents of the Three Teachings of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism were being called to the Capitol, there the Emperor would proclaim one to be the true religion to be practiced and preached in all lands under his rule. The idea of such competition for Imperial favor is not to my approval and the likelihood that a religious persecution might follow troubled me greatly. But an order from the Emperor is not to be ignored, so Wu-ming and I set out the next day.

Inside the Great Hall were gathered the more than one hundred priests and scholars who were to debate one another. They were surrounded by the most powerful lords in all China, along with innumerable advisors, of the Son of Heaven. All at once trumpets blared, cymbals crashed, and clouds of incense billowed up everywhere. The Emperor, borne on by a retinue of guards, was carried to the throne. After due formalities were observed the Emperor signaled for the debate to begin.

Several hours passed as one after another priests and scholars came forward presenting their doctrines and responding to questions. Through it all Wu-ming sat obliviously content as he stuffed himself with his favorite food. When his supply was finished, he happily crossed his legs, straightened his back and closed his eyes. But the noise and commotion were too great and, unable to sleep, he grew more restless and irritable by the minute. As I clasped him firmly by the back of the neck in an effort to restrain him, the Emperor gestured to Wu-ming to approach the Throne.

When Wu-ming had come before him, the Emperor said, "Throughout the land you are praised as a Bodhisattva whose mind is like the Great Void itself, yet you have not had a word to offer this assembly. Therefore I say to you now, teach me the True Way that all under heaven must follow." Wu-ming said nothing. After a few moments the Emperor, with a note of impatience, spoke again, "Perhaps you do not hear well so I shall repeat myself! Teach me the True Way that all under heaven must follow!" Still Wu-ming said nothing, and silence rippled through the crowd as all strained forward to witness this monk who dared behave so bold a fashion in the Emperor’s presence.

Wu-ming heard nothing the Emperor said, nor did he notice the tension that vibrated through the hall. All that concerned him was his wish to find a nice quiet place where he could sleep undisturbed. The Emperor spoke again, his voice shaking with fury, his face flushed with anger: "You have been summoned to this council to speak on behalf of the Buddhist teaching. Your disrespect will not be tolerated much longer. I shall ask one more time, and should you fail to answer, I assure you the consequence shall be most grave. Teach me the True Way that all under heaven must follow!" Without a word Wu-ming turned and, as all looked on in dumbfounded silence, he made his way down the aisle and out the door. There was a hush of stunned disbelief before the crowd erupted into an uproar of confusion. Some were applauding Wu-ming’s brilliant demonstration of religious insight, while others rushed about in an indignant rage, hurling threats and abuses at the doorway he had just passed through. Not knowing whether to praise Wu-ming or to have him beheaded, the Emperor turned to his advisors, but they were none the wiser. Finally, looking out at the frantic anarchy to which his grand debate had been reduced, the Emperor must surely have realized that no matter what Wu-ming’s intentions might have been, there was now only one way to avoid the debate becoming a most serious embarrassment.

"The great sage of Han-hsin monastery has skillfully demonstrated that the great Tao cannot be confined by doctrines, but is best expounded through harmonious action. Let us profit by the wisdom he has so compassionately shared, and each endeavor to make our every step one that unites heaven and earth in accord with the profound and subtle Tao."

Having thus spoken the Son of Heaven concluded the Great Debate.

I immediately ran out to find Wu-ming, but he had disappeared in the crowded streets of the capitol.

Ten years have since passed, and I have seen nothing of him. However, on occasion a wandering monk will stop at Han-hsin with some bit of news. I am told that Wu-ming has been wandering about the countryside this past decade, trying unsuccessfully to find his way home. Because of his fame he is greeted and cared for in all quarters with generous kindness; however, those wishing to help him on his journey usually find that they have been helped on their own.

One young monk told of an encounter in which Wu-ming asked him, "Can you tell me where my home is?" Confused as to the spirit of the question. The monk replied, "Is the home you speak of to be found in the relative world of time and place, or do you mean the Original Home of all pervading Buddha nature?"

After pausing a moment to consider the question, Wu-ming looked up and, grinning as only he is capable, said, "Yes."

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February 2006
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