Zen Koans – Ryutan Blows Out the Candle

When there is nothing reflected where is the self then?” Look at this classic koan and see how Ryutan helps Tokusan discover the light inside the dark, and the dark inside the light. This koan is:

Ryutan Blows Out the Candle

Tokusan questioned Ryutan late into the night.

Finally Ryutan said, “Why don’t you retire?”

Tokusan made his bows then lifted the blinds to leave, but was met by darkness. He turned back and said, “It is dark outside.”

Ryutan handed a lighted candle to Tokusan. When Tokusan was about to take it, Ryutan blew it out. Tokusan experienced sudden enlightenment and made bows.

Ryutan said, “What did you see?”

Tokusan said, “I will never again doubt the words of the old priest who is renowned everywhere.”

When Tokusan lifted the blinds, how did he know it was dark outside? When Ryutan blew out the candle, was it still dark outside? As one Zen saying goes, “In a cauldron of boiling water, there is no cool spot.”

Good friends, Ryutan was simply pointing out the obvious. You, like Tokusan, have nothing to gain, you need simply become aware of what has always been true: namely, you are, as you are, Buddha. Tokusan is darkness, darkness is Tokusan.

It is said that Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment when he saw the morning star. How is that? When Shakyamuni Buddha saw the morning star, the morning star saw Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha, the morning star, the seeing, and the seen, are not separate things…

Shakyamuni Buddha sees the morning star. The morning star sees the morning star. Shakyamuni Buddha sees Shakyamuni Buddha. Seeing sees seeing. When the candle is blown out, Tokusan realizes darkness, the darkness realizes Tokusan, darkness realizes darkness, Tokusan realizes Tokusan.

~The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing



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