Louie Wing on Tozan’s mastery of Zen Expression

Excerpt from The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wingexcerpted from Louie Wing’s commentary on the Zen teaching of the Five Ranks: 

Once, following a dialogue with his teacher, Ungan, Tozan was still harboring some doubt in his mind when, crossing a stream, he saw his image reflected in the water and experienced a great awakening. He then composed this verse:



Earnestly avoid seeking without,

Lest it recede far from you.

Today I am walking alone,

Yet everywhere I meet him.

He is now no other than myself,

But I am not now him.

It must be understood in this way

In order to merge with Suchness.


Already in this early expression, the seeds of the Five Ranks can be seen. The immediate and intimate words about “hearing with the eye” and “meeting him everywhere while walking alone” are pure blood and guts Zen. Though Zen does not shirk philosophy, it prefers ‘direct pointing at the human mind’. Tozan is one of the all-time masters of this ‘direct pointing’.

Good friends, one thing that sets Zen apart from other spiritual traditions is its directness of expression. True Zen expression is so direct it is immediate. I am using the term “expression” here in its highest, most inclusive sense; to communicate, manifest, depict, convey, squeeze out, disclose, implicate, expose, and indicate. This is the realm of Zen’s mind to mind transmission. The wisdom of enlightenment, prajna paramita, is transmitted through expression and realization.

Like Zen koans, The Five Ranks is one way that this wisdom is transmitted. True Zen expressions are direct expressions of wisdom, which can only be realized by wisdom. When we take up a koan, we are taking up specific wisdom, realized and expressed by the buddha-mind. When we have become intimate with the koan, that is, when its wisdom is realized in us and has become our wisdom, transmission has occurred.

Learned audience, although a great amount of wisdom can sometimes be transmitted by a single expression, it nevertheless takes many expressions and realizations to transmit the vast store of the wisdom of the buddhas and Zen ancestors. We, as human beings, have the extraordinary opportunity to receive this transmission.

From The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing

by Ted Biringer

2 thoughts on “Louie Wing on Tozan’s mastery of Zen Expression”

  1. Hello Yamakoa,

    Thank you for your comment.

    With the full moon and your comment that being hungry is good, I think of Yunmen and his saying about before and after awakening:

    Yunmen said, “I don’t ask about the 15th of the month (day of the full moon, i.e. awakening), come, give me a phrase about after the 15th.

    Nobody responded so Yunmen himself spoke for the assembly, “Every day is a good day.”

    Hmmmm… Old Yunmen is such a kind old grandmother.



  2. Hola Ted,

    Tozan does point quite directly

    It seems that what was far, is now close. What was up is now down. Looking into the stream, the stream sees the stream. Tozan sees Tozan. Tozan sees stream and stream sees Tozan.

    Now if only I could wear the seven pound shirt. Aghh. Nowhere to sink my teeth into. Oh well, being hungry is good.

    Take care amigo,

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