In Translation: This Mountain Monk’s View

Teachings from the Book of Rinzai: The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Rinzai, from the new English translation by Eido Shimano Roshi.

In Rinzai Roku (The Book of Rinzai), there is a saying that goes, All of them depend on grasses and leaves, like ghosts who cling to bamboo and trees. This refers to evil spirits, but also to those who go through their lives without knowing what to do. It seems to me that modern society is producing such people one after the other, while they themselves are not even aware of it. I suspect that Muishitsu Eido Roshi, the abbot of Dai Bosatsu Zendo in America was motivated by this recent phenomenon to take on the challenge of translating Rinzai Roku into English [The Book of Rinzai: The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Rinzai (Linji), Zen Studies Society, 2005]. While guiding his monks and lay students, after many years of struggle, at last this project is completed.

The Tang Dynasty in China, around the time of the Sixth Emperor Genso, was a period of decadence. Just when this decadence became most extreme, Master Rinzai Gigen was born. His recorded sayings and doings were compiled into Rinzai Roku. On January 10, 867 C.E. (Another source gives the date as April 10, 866 C.E.), Master Rinzai passed away while sitting in zazen. His life reflects the period of confusion at the end of the Golden Age of Zen in China. Nevertheless, throughout these recorded sayings, we can see how beautifully and effectively he influenced society and inspired people’s hearts as “Rinzai Shogun” (General Rinzai).

—Sogen Yamakawa

Chapters XI-XVII from the Section “Teaching the Assembly”

Chapter XI

The Master addressed the monks, saying, “Nowadays, those of you who practice Buddhadharma need to have true insight. If you get true insight, you will no longer be tainted by life and death, and you will be free to go or stay. Though you don’t seek that which is excellent, that which is excellent will come to you all by itself. Followers of the Way, outstanding ancient teachers all had their own methods to liberate people. In the case of this mountain monk, all I want to point out to you is that you must not be deluded by others. If you want to act, just act. Don’t ever be intimidated. You students nowadays don’t get it. What is the disease? The disease is a lack of self-confidence. If your faith is insufficient, you will keep on wandering in confusion. No matter what the circumstances, you will be controlled and led around by others. You will not find freedom. If you can stop your continuously seeking mind, then there will be no difference between you and the buddhas and patriarchs. Would you like to know the buddhas and patriarchs? They are none other than those who are now in front of me, listening to the Dharma. Because you students of Dharma don’t have enough confidence in yourselves, you search outwardly. Even if you find something through seeking externally, that something is merely a description in written words. You will never get the vital spirit of the patriarchs that way. Make no mistake, virtuous Zen students. If you don’t meet this right now, you will transmigrate in the three realms for ten thousand kalpas and thousands of lives, led by your preferences to be reborn as a donkey or a cow. Followers of the Way, according to this mountain monk’s view, we are not different from Shakyamuni. Is there anything you lack in your everyday activities? The six rays of divine light never cease shining. If you can understand in this way, then you’ll just be a person of buji[i] throughout your life.

“Virtuous monks,
There is no serenity in the three realms.
It is like burning house.

This is not a place for you to linger. The death-dealing devil of impermanence comes in an instant, without discerning between noble and base, old and young. If you don’t want to be different from the buddhas and patriarchs, just don’t seek outside. The pure light of your mind at this moment—this is Dharmakaya Buddha within your own house. The nondiscriminating light of your mind at this moment—this is Sambhogakaya Buddha within your own house. The undifferentiated light of your own mind at this moment—this is Nirmanakaya Buddha within your house. This threefold body is you, listening to my teaching right now. When you don’t seek it by running around outside, you embody these supreme functions. According to the scholars of the sutras and shastras, the threefold body is the ultimate essence. But this mountain monk has a different view. This threefold body is merely a name. It is also threefold dependence. A man of old said,

The so-called Buddha-bodies are metaphors for the teachings of Buddhism.
The so-called Buddha-lands are metaphors for the nature of the universe.

Therefore, we clearly see that the body of Dharma-nature and the land of Dharma-nature are nothing but shadows cast by the light.

“Virtuous monks, it is urgently important for you to realize the one who manipulates the light. That is the origin of all the buddhas to which all followers of the Way return. Your body composed of the four great elements can neither preach the Dharma nor listen to the Dharma. Your spleen, stomach, liver, and gallbladder can neither preach the Dharma nor listen to the Dharma. The boundless sky can neither preach the Dharma nor listen to the Dharma. What is it that can preach the Dharma and listen to the Dharma? This very you existing clearly before my eyes, without form, shining alone—it is this one who can preach the Dharma and listen to the Dharma. If you see it in this way, you are not different from the buddhas and the patriarchs. Just never be distracted throughout the day, and whatever you see is it. But ‘when emotions arise, wisdom becomes clouded, and when thinking wavers, the essence is obscured.’ Consequently people transmigrate through the three realms and experience all kind of suffering. According to this mountain monk’s view, there is nothing that is not profound, no one who is not emancipated.

“Followers of the Way, Mind-Dharma has no form. It penetrates throughout the ten directions.

In the eyes it is called seeing.
In the ears it is called hearing.
In the nose it smells odors.
In the mouth it converses.
In the hands it holds.
In the feet it runs.

“Fundamentally, it is one pure radiance. When divided, it becomes six harmonious functions. As One Mind does not exist to begin with, wherever you go, you are already emancipated. What is the point of this of this mountain monk’s teaching in this way? Just because you followers of the Way cannot stop your seeking mind, you are lost in the expedient means of the ancient worthies. Followers of the Way, take this mountain monk’s view and you will cut off the head of Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya Buddhas. A Bodhisattva who has accomplished the tenth stage of mind is just like a low-class bastard. A Bodhisattva who has attained the two levels of supreme awakening—a fellow carrying chains. An arhat and pratyeka-buddha—like piss and shit. Bodhi and nirvana—like hitching posts for donkeys. Why is this so? Because you followers of the Way haven’t yet realized that the three asamkhaya kalpas[ii] are without substance, thus you have these impediments. The True Person of the Way is never like that. Just live in accord with circumstances, and by doing so erase your past karma. Accept things as they come and freely wear your clothes. When you want to go, go. When you want to sit, sit. Never have a single thought about seeking buddhahood. Why is this so? A man of old[iii] said,

If you want to do this and that trying to seek Buddha,
Buddha becomes a great herald of birth and death.

“Virtuous monks, time is fleeting. Yet you just want to rush around trying to learn Zen and study the Way, memorizing names and phrases, seeking buddhas and patriarchs. You look for good teachers and speculate. Make no mistake, followers of the Way. After all, you were born of a father and a mother. What more need you seek? Reflect your light upon yourself. A man of old said,

Yajnadatta[iv] [thought he had] lost his head.
If his seeking mind ceased, he would be at peace (buji).

Virtuous monks, just be ordinary. Don’t try to be special. There are a bunch of foolish monks who cannot discern good from bad. They see the divine; they see the devil. They point to the East; they point to the West. They like fair weather; they like rain. Every one of them will have to repay their debts in front of Yama by swallowing a red-hot iron ball. Sons and daughters of good families are bewitched by that pack of foxes and so act in strange ways. Blind idiots! The day will come for you to pay up for what you have eaten.”

Chapter XII

The Master addressed the monks: “Followers of the Way, it is urgently necessary for you to attain true insight. Then you can avoid being deluded by a bunch of spirits and you can walk freely under heaven. The noble person is all done (buji). Just don’t strive! Just be natural. You search outside among the alleyways, trying to get some helping hand. Make no mistake! You are wrong! You want to seek Buddha—Buddha’s just a name. Do you know who is seeking? The reason why buddhas and patriarchs of the three periods and the ten directions appear is simply for the Dharma. You, followers of the Way today also are here for the Dharma. Understand Dharma and you are done. If not, you will go on transmigrating through the five paths of existence. What is Dharma? Dharma is Mind. Mind-Dharma has no form, yet penetrates through the ten directions, revealing right in front of your eyes. Because of your insufficient faith you rely on names and phrases, you search for Buddhadharma in written words and speculate. You are as far away from it as heaven is from earth.

“Followers of the Way, when this mountain monk preaches the Dharma, what kind of Dharma do I present? I present the Mind-based Dharma. It can freely enter the secular and the sacred, the pure and the defiled, sages and commoners. It is not you who are sages or commoners, secular or sacred. But rather, it is you who apply categories of sage and commoner, secular and sacred to everything. However, those categories of sage and commoner, secular and sacred cannot give peace to this person. Followers of the Way, grasp and use them, but never be attached to names. This is called the mysterious principle.

“This mountain monk’s Dharma teaching is different from that of every other person under heaven. Suppose Manjusri and Samantabhadra were to manifest before me asking about the Dharma. The moment they say, “Osho (Heshang), may I ask… ” I would immediately see through them. In the same way, when this old monk is sitting regally and a follower of the Way comes to confront me, I see through him or her completely. Why is this so? Because my insight is different. Externally, I am not fooled by secular and sacred. Internally, I do not dwell in the absolute. I see penetratingly, and I have no trace of doubt.”

Chapter XIII

The Master addressed the monks, saying, “Followers of the Way, as to Buddhadharma, no artificial effort is necessary. Just be natural, don’t strive (buji).

Shitting, pissing, putting on clothes,
Eating food, and lying down when you are tired.
Fools may laugh at me, but the wise understand.

A man of old said,

If you seek something outside yourself,
You are a great fool.

Just become the master wherever you are. Then, any place you stand is the true place. If you can do this under any circumstances, you will not be dislodged. Even if you have some evil karma due to your past delusions, addictions, and your having committed the five heinous crimes, these themselves become the great ocean of emancipation. You students of today do not know the Dharma. Just like sheep, taking into your mouths whatever your noses happen upon. Unable to distinguish between servant and master. Unable to discern host from guest. Students like you enter the Way with impure motivation. You go wherever there is a crowd. You cannot be called true renouncers of home. You are in fact true householders.

“The true renouncer of home must attain genuine insight. He must see through a buddha, see through a devil, see through the true, see through the false, see through the secular, see through the sacred. Only one who can discern this way deserves to be called a true renouncer of home. One who cannot see through a devil or see through a buddha has just left a home to enter another home. Such a person is called a sentient being who creates karma, not a true renouncer of home. Suppose a buddha and a devil were inseparable, like a mixture of water and milk, of which the king of geese (Hamsa Goose) drinks only the milk. The clear-eyed follower of the Way would thrash both the devil and the buddha. ‘If you love the sacred and hate the secular, you will float and sink in the ocean of life and death.’”

Chapter XIV

Someone asked, “What is buddha-devil?” The Master replied, “Your one thought of doubt is buddha-devil. But if you grasp the true meaning of the ten thousand unborn dharmas, if you understand that Mind is like a phantom, that not even a speck of dust, not even a single dharma exists, that everywhere is purity—this is buddha, but buddha and devil are two aspects. One is pure, one is defiled. According to this mountain monk’s view, there is no buddha, no sentient being, no past, no present. One who attains it, attains it instantly. No time is required, no practice, no realization, no gain, no loss. Throughout the day, there is no other Dharma. Even if there were a Dharma to surpass this, I dare say that it would be like a dream, like a fantasy. This is all this mountain monk teaches.

“Followers of the Way, the one who at this moment in front of my eyes is shining alone and clearly hearing my teaching, this one dwells nowhere, penetrated throughout the ten directions and is completely free in the three realms. Goes into the state of differentiation, and is not affected by it; in an instant, pierces through the Dharmadhatu. On meeting a buddha it is a buddha, on meeting a patriarch it is a patriarch, on meeting an arhat it is an arhat, on meeting a hungry ghost it is a hungry ghost. This one travels everywhere through every land, influencing sentient beings yet never apart from One Mind. Each place is pure. Light penetrates through the ten directions, and the myriad dharmas are one.

“Followers of the Way, the resolute student of Dharma knows that at this moment there is nothing to do (buji). Only because you don’t have enough faith in yourself do you search outside, thought after thought. Having thrown away your head, you seek it ceaselessly. Even the Bodhisattva of Complete and Sudden Enlightenment goes into the Dharmadhatu and manifests his body. Heading to the Pure Land, he dislikes the secular and delights in the sacred. Such a fellow is still attached to giving and taking, and holds onto the concepts of purity and defilement. But the teaching of the Zen school is not like this. It is revealing right now. No time is required. This mountain monk’s teaching is just medicine for a corresponding sickness. Ultimately, there is not a single dharma that has substance. See things in this way and you will be a true renouncer of home. Having relinquished your household, you may spend ten thousand gold coins each day.

“Followers of the Way, don’t say, ‘I understand Zen, I understand the Way,’ after being prematurely acknowledged by some Zen masters. Even if you can speak eloquently, it is creating nothing but hell-karma. If you are a true student of Dharma, you ignore the mistakes of the world. You desperately apply yourself to attain genuine insight. When you attain genuine insight, then indeed that’s all.”

Chapter XV

Someone asked, “What is genuine insight?” The Master said, “Just enter the secular, enter the sacred, enter the defiled, enter the pure, enter the lands of the buddhas, enter the tower of Maitreya, and enter the Dharmadhatu of Vairocana. Every land is revealed, coming into being, continuing, decaying and passing into emptiness. The Buddha appears in this world, turns the great Dharma wheel, and then enters Parinirvana. However, nobody can see the form of his coming and going. If we search for his life and death, in the end we can never find it: entering the Dharma realm of the unborn, traveling throughout every land, entering the world of the lotus womb[v] and realizing that all dharmas are but empty forms. Nothing has its own substance. There is only the person who, not relying on anyone, listens to the Dharma. She is the mother of the buddhas. Therefore, buddhas are born from non-reliance. If you truly awaken to that non-reliance you will discover that buddhahood is nothing special to attain. Insight such as this is genuine insight.

“You students do not understand this because you stick to names and phrases, and are perturbed by such words as ‘secular’ and ‘sacred.’ Consequently, this blinds your eye to the Way, and you cannot see clearly. For example, the twelve divisions of the teachings are only superficial explanations. Nevertheless, you students of the Dharma, not knowing this reality, create your understanding based upon these superficial names and phrases. All this is just relying on something. Accordingly, you fall into the world of cause and effect and can never be free from life and death in the three realms. If you want to be free in living, in dying, in coming and going, in putting on and taking off your clothes, you must recognize the one who is listening to me talk right now. Having no form, no characteristics, no root, no foundation, no specific dwelling place, this one is brisk and dynamic, acts according to myriad circumstances, and indeed has no fixed place. Therefore, the more you search for it, the further away it goes. The more you reach for it, the less you can grasp it. This is what I call ‘the uncanny.’

“Followers of the Way, you must not be deceived by your illusory companion. Sooner or later, you will face impermanence. What are you seeking in this world in order to emancipate yourself? You look for something to eat, spend time patching your robe. You would better visit an outstanding master, rather than hanging around and pursuing comfort. You must begrudge the passing of the day. Remember that moment after moment is impermanence itself. You are swayed by earth, water, fire, and wind at the gross level. You are swayed by the four phases of birth, life, decay, and extinction at the subtle level. Followers of the Way, right now you must recognize these four formless conditions. Don’t be swayed by external circumstances.”

Chapter XVI

Someone asked, “What are the ‘four formless conditions?’” The Master replied, “The moment you doubt you are hindered by earth. The moment you yearn you are drowned by water. The moment you rage you are burned by fire. The moment you rejoice you are blown around by wind. If you understand this, you are not controlled by external circumstances. Using circumstances anywhere, spring up from the east and sink in the west. Spring up from the south and sink in the north. Spring up from the center and sink at the edge. Spring up from the edge and sink at the center. You can walk on the water as you do on the earth. In the same way, you can walk on the earth as you do on the water. Why is this so? Because you have realized that the four elements are like a dream, like a fantasy. Followers of the Way, this one who is right now listening to my talk is not the four elements, but is using the four elements. When your understanding reaches this level, you are free to go and stay.

“According to this mountain monk’s view, there is no dharma to be disliked. If you love the sacred, remember that the sacred is merely a name. Many students of Dharma search for Manjusri Bodhisattva on Mount Gotai (Wutai Shan). Mistake! There is no Manjusri on Mount Gotai. Do you want to know who Manjusri is? When you are free of doubt, your continuous everyday activity is the living Manjusri. Your activity right now, unaffected by inconsistency and doubt, is the living Manjusri. Your single thought of non-discriminating light, pervading everywhere, is the real Samantabhadra. Your single thought that emancipates you wherever you may be, is the Dharma of Avalokitesvara Samadhi. These three always appear together, taking alternately the places of master and attendants. One is three. Three are one. Only when you understand it in this way do you have eyes to appreciate the sutras and shastras.”

Chapter XVII

The Master addressed the assembly: “Today’s students of the Way must have faith in themselves. Do not seek anything outside. If you try to seek externally, you only accumulate artificial dust, and you won’t be able to discern right from wrong. Buddhas and patriarchs appear only in written form. If someone brought up a phrase beyond the hidden and the revealed, you would immediately be filled with doubt, looking up to heaven, looking down to the earth, asking your neighbors for help, utterly perplexed. Resolute students, don’t just talk about officials and outlaws, right and wrong, lust and money, and spend your days in idle talk.

“This mountain monk, no matter who comes here, monks or laymen, can discern them through and through. Coming from various states of mind, whatever they say is nothing but names and phrases. After all, they are as if in a dream, a fantasy. On the other hand, when I see someone who is the master of circumstances, I know that such a person is the quintessence of all buddhas. The state of buddhahood cannot declare, ‘I am the state of buddhahood.’ Rather, this very person of the Way who doesn’t depend on anything is the master of circumstances. Suppose someone came asking me about seeking Buddha, I would immediately appear in the state of purity and act accordingly. Suppose someone came asking me about bodhisattvas, I would immediately appear in the state of compassion and act accordingly. Suppose someone came asking me about bodhi, I would immediately appear in the state of inconceivable purity and act accordingly. Suppose someone came asking me about nirvana, I would immediately appear in a state of extinguished tranquility and act accordingly. Though there are innumerable different states, the person is not different. Therefore, it is said,

According to circumstances, forms reveal like the moon reflecting on the water.

“Followers of the Way, if you want to be in accord with the Dharma, you must be resolute. If you are spineless and unsure, then you can’t be. A cracked vessel cannot contain ambrosial nectar. To be a great vessel of Dharma you must not be deceived by the opinions of others. Make yourself the master of everywhere; wherever you stand is the true place. Whatever comes from outside, don’t ever accept it. Your one doubt is the devil, which immediately enters your mind. When a bodhisattva doubts, the demon of birth and death gets the advantage. Just keep your mind from searching. Never ever seek outside. If something comes, observe it. All you have to do is have faith in yourself, which presents activity, here, now. Other than that, there isn’t anything for you to do. Your one thought creates the three realms, and according to the law of causation is divided into the six dusts[vi] by circumstance. What is lacking in your present activity? In one instant you can enter purity, enter defilement, enter the pagoda of Maitreya, and enter the Lands of the Three Eyes. [vii] You travel from place to place and you see that all are but empty names.”

[i] In this collection of his teachings, Master Rinzai uses the term buji more than twenty times. It is obvious that this is the main theme of his teaching. Bu means no, or negation.

Ji is event, matter, action, phenomena, affair, or thing. Literally, buji means to negate all ji. But when we completely realize the true nature of the universe, what seems to be ji is, in fact, none other than buji. There is nothing to do, no matter how hard we try. The closest English word for buji is “now” or “as-it-is.” Buji means to be one with suchness, the unconditional nature of “let it be,” with nothing wanting, nothing superfluous.

[ii] The three asamkhya kalapas are the three timeless periods of a bodhisattva’s progression to buddhahood.

[iii] Master Bao Zhi, one of the two most famous master of the Liang Dynasty in China.

[iv] One morning, Yajnadatta looked at his face in the mirror and it was so beautiful that he wanted to see it directly without a mirror. As a result of trying to do this and failing, he became very upset and thought that he was a ghost without a head.

[v] “Lotus womb” is a name for the world of Vairocana Buddha, which is the Dharmakaya Body of Shakyamuni Buddha.

[vi] The six dusts refer to the delusions that arise as a result of the interaction of our senses and the world. Each one corresponds to a sense (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching) with a sixth being added for the mind.

[vii] “The Land of the Three Eyes” comes from the Hua Yan Sutra. Here Master Lin Ji uses this name differently, to refer to the Lands of the Three Bodies (Dharmakaya Buddha, Sambhogokaya Buddha, and Nirmanakaya Buddha).