Eyes Are Horizontal, Nose Is Vertical, Where Is Your Problem?

    A monk asked Yakusan Igen-zenji, “I have a problem. Would you please solve it for me?”
    Yakusan said, “Come in the evening. I will solve your problem.”
    That evening, all the monks gathered in the Dharma Hall. Yakusan addressed them: “Is there anyone here who needs to solve a problem?”
    The monk approached Yakusan. Yakusan descended the platform, seized him and said, “Everybody, look at him! He has a problem!” Yakusan pushed the monk away and returned to his quarters.

    Genro’s comment:
    What Yakusan did seems rough, but if you examine his action carefully, his answer was perfectly matching. Even if all the buddhas of the three worlds came out, not one could change it. Why is this so? This monk has a problem. If he cannot solve it by himself, let him look at the peak of the mountain where clouds are floating. Let him look at the river where the water is rushing quickly.

    Fugai’s verse:
    Many ancient worthies used their own method
    Yakusan’s is quite unconventional
    If someone were to describe Yakusan’s deed
    He would be pursuing a flash of lightening in an autumn night

 

Today’s teisho is dedicated to my teacher Soen Nakagawa Roshi, who passed away on March 11, 1984. I have spoken so many times about him, but he is still the biggest koan of my life. He became a Buddhist monk about the time I was born. According to him, he did not have any specific problem. He did not have any particular doubt. But somehow he longed to shave his head and wear the robe. Through karmic coincidence he met Katsube Keigaku Roshi, abbot of Kogaku-ji, which was founded by Master Bassui, who is famous for asking “What is this?” or “Who is it that hears?”

Kogaku-ji is a rather small temple. At the time Soen Roshi was ordained the rules were not so strict. With his teacher’s permission, he climbed a nearby mountain named Dai-Bosatsu Toge. Toge means “mountain pass.” I have seen Mount Fuji from many different angles but from Dai-Bosatsu Toge, its shape is perfect. Soen Roshi began a solo retreat there. His schedule is recorded in a letter he wrote to Nyogen Sensaki. The retreat was quite strenuous. He ate wild edibles and sat with Master Bassui’s question, “What is this?” In Japanese we say, “Kore nanzo?” He continued on and off for quite a long time. But always: “Kore Nanzo?”

Recently, someone asked me, “Roshi, what do you do?” This seems a rather simple question. I could say that I conduct sesshins, I give lectures, I commute between Dai-Bosatsu Zendo and New York, I teach in Japan, I conduct sesshins in Europe and many other things. But, “What do you do?” has a much deeper meaning. So I’ve been thinking, “What do I do?” This question, “What do you do?” is exactly the same as “What is this?” The deeper you dig into this question, the less it can be answered.

When Soen Roshi was doing his solo retreat on Dai Bosatsu Mountain, for some uncanny reason he began chanting the mantra Namu Dai Bosa. During the thirteenth century, Japan faced quite serious problems, including starvation. People longed for some kind of help. At this time Honen and Shinran appeared. They said that if you recited the name of Amitabha Buddha, Namu Amida Butsu, you would not have to do sesshin, you would not have to do any strenuous practice. You only needed to recite Namu Amida Butsu and you would be saved and go to the Pure Land. That teaching spread quite widely and quickly. Even nowadays it is popular and is called the Pure Land School.

Around the same time, Nichiren was born. His teaching was a condensation of the Saddharma-Pundarika Sutra, the Lotus Sutra. After reading all the Buddhist scriptures, he thought the Lotus Sutra was the essence of Buddhism. He suggested that if people only chanted the title of the Lotus Sutra, Namu Myo Ho Renge Kyo, they would be liberated. The Nichiren School is still active in Japan and Soka Gakkai, its new version, has come to the West.

I assume that Soen Roshi’s Namu Dai Bosa was influenced by both Namu Amida Butsu and Namu Myo Ho Renge Kyo. As he was doing zazen on Mount Dai Bosatsu, chanting Namu Dai Bosa seemed most appropriate. If each one of us chants Namu Dai Bosa with all our might only once, there is no need to repeat it. Just Namu Dai Bosa. However, there is one condition: only if your chanting echoes throughout this vast universe is the work done, finished.

In thirteenth-century Japan, Zen Buddhism was also introduced: Rinzai Zen by Eisai-Zenji, and Soto Zen by Dogen-Zenji. As the famous story goes, when Dogen Zenji came back from China, he was asked, “What did you bring back from China to Japan?”

He said, “I came back empty-handed.”

“What did you learn?”

“Not much, except gentle-heartedness.”

“And,” he added, “I learned that eyes are horizontal, nose is vertical.”

Recently I was reading the Gospel According to Saint Thomas. It is not included in the modern New Testament, but it is widely known. I was struck by how much Jesus’ words express the essence of Zen. In the gospel, it says, “Jesus saw children who were being suckled. He said to his disciples, ‘These children who are being suckled are like those who enter the Kingdom.’ They said to Him, ‘Shall we then, being children, enter the Kingdom?’ Jesus said to them, ‘When you make the two one, and when you make the inner as the outer, and the outer as the inner and the above as below, and when you make the male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female (not) be female, when you make eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in the place of a hand, and a foot in the place of a foot, (and) an image in the place of an image, then shall you enter [the Kingdom].’“

Now, what is the difference between this and Dogen’s “Eyes are horizontal, nose is vertical”? It takes only gentle-heartedness to realize that eyes are horizontal and nose is vertical. Jesus Christ said, “When you make eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in the place of a hand, and a foot in the place of a foot, then shall you enter [the Kingdom].” Is there anyone whose eyes are placed other than in the place of the eye? You are already in the midst of the Kingdom.

Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, eyes are horizontal, nose is vertical, Namu Dai Bosa, what is this? mu—all are none other than “the Kingdom.” Hakuin-Zenji said exactly the same thing in the Song of Zazen: “This very place is the Lotus Land of Purity, this very body is the body of the Buddha. Not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away. What a pity!” Well said. Where is your problem?

The monk in today’s case came to Yakusan saying, “I have a problem. Would you please solve it for me?”

Yakusan said, “Come in the evening. I will solve your problem.”

If the monk did not have the problem, he would have said, like Rinzai, “Why not NOW? Why do I have to wait until this evening?” But evidently this monk had a serious problem; therefore, he lost his spontaneity. He must have waited impatiently until the evening. He waited, waited, and at last the evening came. That evening all the monks gathered in the Dharma Hall. Yakusan addressed them: “Is there anyone who needs to solve a problem?”

The monk approached Yakusan. Yakusan descended the platform, seized him, and said, “Everybody! Look at him! He has a problem!” Yakusan pushed him away and returned to his quarters.

Genro’s comment: “If you examine his action carefully, his answer perfectly matched.”

Some of you may immediately think about Master Rinzai’s “True Person Without Rank.” Let me read it for you: “Ascending the high seat in the hall, the Master said, ‘On your lump of red flesh there is a True Person Without Rank. He always goes in and out from the face of each one of you. Those of you who have not yet testified him, look! look!’ Then a monk came forward and asked, ‘What about the True Person Without Rank?’

“The Master got down from him seat, grabbed him and screamed, ‘Say! Say!’

“The monk was about to say something, whereupon the Master pushed him off saying, ‘The True Person Without Rank! What kind of shit-wiping stick is it!’ Then the Master returned to his quarters.”

We so-called civilized people have a hard time understanding this. When someone comes with a problem, our way is to say, “Please be seated, what’s up?” He or she speaks and speaks. And we analyze, use therapy, make suggestions and say, “Let’s meet again next week.” This is the modern way of solving problems. Of course, the benefit of psychotherapy is unquestionable. Our childhood trauma may need some professional assistance. But the fundamental problem is not of that nature. The fundamental problem is more like a question, a doubt. Simply stated, “What is this?”

Someone told me she had been sitting with “What is this?” for many years. One day, she was hospitalized. From the hospital bed, facing her own death, she started to question for the first time, “What is this?” It was not as simple as attending sesshin, but because of this desperation—or what we can call “to come to the edge” where she may die tomorrow or may even die tonight—she really questioned, “What is this?” for the first time. To call this a problem is a bit inappropriate. It is a question in the deepest sense. When we come to that edge we can do real zazen. Until that time, it is a kind of preparation, a luxury, zazen in a resort.

Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, Namu Dai Bosa, “Eyes are horizontal, nose is vertical,” they can all be condensed into one syllable, mu. Strictly speaking, to repeat it again and again is unnecessary, if you understand one resounding, vibrating, universe-shaking mu. What we normally think of as our problems are really only very small trivialities. Somehow we think trivialities are so essential, and the essential becomes trivial. This is upside-down view. So many hours, so many years are spent with that upside-down view. “What do you do?”—not in the trivial sense, but in the quintessential one.

Namu Dai Bosa! “When you make the two one, and when you make the inner as outer and the outer as inner and the above as below, and when you make the male and female into a single one, so that male will not be male and the female (not) female.” Is Kanzeon Bodhisattva male or female? That’s a ridiculous question. Generally ladies prefer to see it as female: “Oh, she is beautiful, she is compassionate.” Men say, “He is handsome.” Of course, Jesus Christ did not know anything about Kanzeon Bodhisattva. Only when you put eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in the place of the hand, and a foot in the place of a foot, then it is it! And nobody—as far as I can see through my own eyes, which are properly located—has a foot where an arm is supposed to be. And if this seems too simple for you sophisticated New Yorkers, then ask yourself, “What do I do?”

Genro’s comment: “What Yakusan did seems rough, but if you examine his action carefully, his answer was perfectly matching. Even if all the buddhas of the three worlds came out, no one could change it. Why is this so? This monk has a problem.” What is the difference between “This monk has a problem,” and “Sentient beings are primarily all buddhas”? One might say, “One is positive, the other negative. Jesus Christ said, “If you make negativity into positivity and positivity into negativity….”

Don’t be deceived by the fragrance of the language. The subject is mu! Verb is mu! Adjective is mu! Adverb is mu! Object is mu! Gerund is mu! Past is mu! Present is mu! Future is mu! “If he cannot solve it by himself, let him look at the peak of the mountain where clouds are floating. Let him look at the river where the water is rushing quickly.” Let him go to Central Park where the cherry trees are in full bloom, where flowers are red, willows are green.

Fugai’s verse:

Many ancient worthies used their own methods

Yakusan’s is quite unconventional

If someone were to describe Yakusan’s deed

he would be pursuing a flash of lightening in an autumn night.

Too late!

Between Jesus Christ, Masters Yakusan, Rinzai, Bassui and Hakuin, it seems to me that you have received sufficient hints and encouragement. The time has come for you to stop useless speculations, sit down and start investigating earnestly what is your own problem.