The Zen Masters Said That?? Quotes From the Zen Classics

The Zen Masters Said That??  Quotes From the Zen Classics
[Originally published in the article: “Thus (too!) have I heard…” In the Flatbed Zen Newsletter – June, 1006]

While ten or twenty Zen sayings and stories”have so often been repeated as to have become common usage in the west (e.g. “carry water, chop wood…” “when hungry eat…” “mountains are mountains…” etc.), there is a veritable treasure trove that is largely neglected. Despite popular notions about Zen’s disdain for words and letters, the classic literature of Zen is – by far – the most voluminous of all Buddhist traditions.

Here, then, I would like to share some sayings and stories that may not be as widely known, but are as wisely profound, shockingly humorous, and as clearly illuminating as any in that great corpus of writings that are the Records of Zen.

(Note: The links following some of the quoted sources link to the books listed at “Amazon”).

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Shakyamuni Buddha realized enlightenment on seeing the morning star. He said, “I and all beings on earth together attain enlightenment at the same time.”

Keizan, Transmission of light, Thomas Cleary

 

Here is the dharma originally transmitted.

When it is transmitted, it is called non-dharma.

Individually each of us must be enlightened to it.

When we are awake to the truth, even the non-dharma does not exist.

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

The Transmission of the Lamp: Early Masters

 

When you look closely, you see that people of the present are none other than people of yore, and the functions of the present are none other than the functions of the past; even going through a thousand changes and myriad transformations, here it is just necessary for you to recognize it first hand before you can attain it.

Foyan, Instant Zen, Thomas Cleary

 

Once, when Chief Minister Ts’ui entered the temple, he saw a sparrow evacuate on the head of a Buddha (statue). He asked, “Does a sparrow have the Buddha-nature?”

The Master (Ju Hui) answered, “Yes, it has.”

Minister Ts’ui asked, “Then why does it make droppings on the head of the Buddha?”

The Master replied, “Why does it not do it upon the head of a sparrow-hawk?”

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

 

If you take this unmoving, clean, and pure environment to be the right way, then you will be making ignorance the lord and master. A man of old said, ‘Bottomless, inky black is the deep pit, truly a place to be feared!’ This is what he meant.

Lin-chi, The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi, Burton Watson

The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi

 

Once you come to know the inner self, you will find that Kasyapa can wriggle his toes in your shoes.

Keizan, Transmission of Light, Thomas Cleary

 

A monk asked, “What about it when I don’t have anything?”

The Master said, “Throw it away.”

Joshu, The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu, James Green

The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu

 

Father and son are one by nature: is there such a thing as a father who is not troubled when his son dies and who doesn’t think about him, or a son who isn’t troubled when his father dies and doesn’t think about him? If you try to suppress (such sentiments) forcibly, not daring to cry or think about it, then this is deliberately going against the natural pattern, denying your inherent nature; (it’s like) raising a sound to stop and echo, or pouring on oil to put out a fire.

Ta Hui, Swampland Flowers, J.C. Cleary

 

If you don’t see your nature, invoking buddhas, reciting sutras, making offerings, and keeping precepts are all useless. Invoking buddhas results in good karma, reciting sutras results in a good memory; keeping precepts results in a good rebirth, and making offerings results in future blessings-but no buddha.

The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, Red Pine

 

As for what this fundamental essence is, your features may differ as you die and are born over and over again, but at all times there is an inherent awareness.

Keizan, Transmission of Light, Thomas Cleary

 

A monk asked, “How are we to train ourselves [to be free of the illness]?”

The Master answered, “Such an excellent monk! Don’t become a big-headed monk.”

The monk asked, “Well, after all, what should I do?”

The Master answered, “If you set yourself up in a state, you cannot keep it for long.”

The monk said, “What is the path of the right training?”

The Master answered, “It will be after your death.”

The monk demanded, “What will happen after my death?”

The Master said, “You won’t wash your face.”

The monk said, “I do not understand you.”

The Master repeated, “You will not wash your face any more.”

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

The Transmission of the Lamp: Early Masters

 

A monk asked, “All relationships scatter away and return to the emptiness. To what does the emptiness return?”

The Master (Fu Ch’I) called out, “Brother!”

The monk said, “Yes, Sir!”

The Master demanded, “Where is the emptiness?”

But the monk said, “On the contrary, please, you tell me where it is.

The Master snorted, “Persian people eat peppers.”

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

 

When Master Yunmen went to see Tiantong, Tiantong said, “Have you managed to settle it?”

Master Yunmen asked back, “What are you saying, Reverend?”

Tiantong replied, “If you haven’t understood, then you’re involved in all that is in front of you.”

Master Yunmen said, “If you have understood, then you’re involved in all that is in front of you!”

Yunmen, Master Yunmen, Urs App Master Yunmen: From the Record of the Chan Master “Gate of the Clouds”

 

Master Chih Chien of Shan Shan Monastery in Ch’ih State was beginning his study-pilgrimage with Kuei Tsung and Nan Ch’uan. As they were travelling along the road they encountered a tiger. They each passed alongside this tiger.

Nan Ch’uan said to Kui Tsung, “Just now we saw a tiger. What did it resemble?”

He answered, “It resembled a cat.”

Kuei Tsung asked Chih Chien (what it resembled). He answered, “It was rather like a dog.”

Kuei Tsung then asked Nan Ch’uan. Nan Ch’uan answered, “I saw a tiger.”

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

The Transmission of the Lamp: Early Masters

 

The Master went to Ching-chou to pay respects to the monk Hsing-p’ing. Hsing-p’ing said, “You shouldn’t honor an old dotard.”

The Master said, “I honor one who is not an old dotard.”

Hsing-p’ing said, “Those who are not old dotards don’t accept honoring.”

The Master said, “Neither do they obstruct it.”

Tung-shan, The Record of Tung-shan, William F. Powell

 

Venerable Pi Mo Yen of Wu T’ai Shan Monastery used to carry a wooden pitchfork with him. Every time he saw a monk approaching him and bowing down for instruction, he pinned him by the neck with the fork and demanded, “What devil forced you to renounce the world (by becoming a monk)? What devil made you wander on pilgrimage? If you can say a word of Ch’an under the fork, you will die. If you can’t say a word of Ch’an under the fork, you will die. Now! Say something!”

There were few students who were able to respond to this demand.

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

 

One day the Master (Kuei Shan, Ling Yu) said to the congregation, “Many people experience the great mystery, but do not experience what its great application is.”

Yang Shan asked the abbot of a temple at the foot ot the mountain, “What did the Master mean when he spoke like that?”

The abbot said, “Repeat it again so that I can see what the Master meant.”

When Yang Shan started to repeat the statement, the abbot kicked him, knocking him down.

Yang Shan brought the story back to the monastery, and the Master roared with laughter.

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

The Transmission of the Lamp: Early Masters

 

Master Chao Chou asked, “What is the essence of wisdom?”

The Master (Huan Chung) returned, “What is the essence of Wisdom?”

Chao Chou burst into peals of laughter and went out.

The next day, finding Chao Chou sweeping the yard, the Master demanded, “What is the essence of wisdom?”

Chao Chou dropped his broom, burst out with a great guffaw, and clapped his hands.

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

 

There was once a monk who said to the Master, “I have no questions about the twelve divisions of the Mahayana scriptures, but was is the message of the Patriarch who came from the west?”

The Master then stood up with his stick, turned his body round once, raised up one leg, and asked, “Have you comprehended?”

The monk had no answer, whereupon the Master struck him.

Pao Ch’e, The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

The Transmission of the Lamp: Early Masters

 

A monk asked, “When a man’s parents are not yet born, how does his face look?”

The Master (Nan Ch’uan) said, “Your parents have been born already; how does your face look?”

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

 

[W]hen our Master (Huang-Po) was going out, Nan Ch’uan remarked: ‘You are a huge man, so why wear a hat of ridiculous size?’

‘Ah, well,’ replied our Master. ‘It contains vast numbers of chiliocosms.’

‘Well, what of me?’ enquired Nan Ch’uan, but the Master put on his hat and walked off.

The Zen Teaching of Huang Po, John Blofeld

 

Kanadeva, The Fifteenth Patriarch, came from a kingdom in south India; his surname was Vesala. He was eloquent and sought (the Way) through good works, but then he encountered Master Nagarjuna and found the gate.

Nagarjuna recognized him as a man of wisdom. First he sent an attendant with instructions to place a bowl filled with water in front of his seat. Kanadeva looked at it and threw in a needle.

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

The Transmission of the Lamp: Early Masters

 

The Master (Kuei Shan, Ling Yu) asked Yang shan, “Of the forty books of the Nirvana Sutra, how much should be ascribed to the Buddha and how much to the speech of devils?”

Yang Shan answered, “It is all devilish talk.”

The Master remarked, “From now on, there will be no one who can correct your opinion.”

Yang Shan said, “That is how I am seeing at this moment, but how should I behave?”

The Master replied, “What matters is that you simply see the truth. Do not talk about your conduct.”

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

 

The Master said to the congregation, “Here is a man who does not say he is hungry, even though he never takes any food at all. Here is another man who doesn’t say he is tired of food, even though he eats food all day long.”

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

 

Grasping a sword, the king himself approached Master Aryasimha and demanded, “Do you comprehend [the principle of] the emptiness of the human body?”

The Master answered, “Yes, I do.”

The king continued, “Are you free from life and death?”

The Master replied, “Yes, I am.”

The king said, “If you are free from life and death, give me your head!”

The Master said, “This body is not my possession. Why should I grudge you its head?”

The king then brandished his sword and slashed off the Master’s head, whereupon white milk spurted up several feet. (As for the king), his right arm twisted and fell down to the ground, and seven days later he was dead.

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

The Transmission of the Lamp: Early Masters

 

(Ming asked) Apart from those esoteric sayings and esoteric ideas handed down by the patriarchs from generation to generation, are there any other esoteric teachings?

What I can tell you is not esoteric, I (Huineng) replied. If you turn your light inwardly, you will find what is esoteric within you.

Hui-Neng, The Diamond Sutra & The Sutra of Hui-Neng, A. F. Price & Wong Mou-lam Diamond Sutra and the Sutra of Hui-neng (Shambhala Classics)

 

The Master had an attendant called Hui T’ung. One day the latter suddenly decided to leave, and the Master asked him, “Where are you going?”

The attendant replied, “Hui T’ung became a monk for the sake of the dharma, but you, Venerable Sir, gave him no instruction at all. Now he wishes to go here and there to learn the Buddha-dharma.”

The Master said, “If such could be the Buddha-dharma, there is a little here also.”

The attendant asked, “Venerable Sir, what is your Buddha-dharma?”

The Master plucked a hair from his skin and blew upon it. At this Hui T’ung finally comprehended the profound message.

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

 

As for sitting, sitting is something that should include fits of ecstatic laughter-brayings that make you slump to the ground clutching your belly. And when you struggle to your feet after the first spasm passes, it should send you kneeling to the earth in yet further contortions of joy.

Hakuin, Wild Ivy, Norman Waddell

 

Do you want to get to know the patriarchs and buddhas? They’re none other than you, the people standing in front of me listening to this lecture on the Dharma!

Lin-chi, The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi, Burton Watson

 

Students of the Way, even if you attain enlightenment, do not think that this is now the ultimate and thus abandon your practice of the Way. The Way is endless. Even if you are enlightened, you should still practice the Way. Consider the ancient story of the lecturer Liang Sui calling upon Ma Yu.

Dogen, Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary

 

The Master entered the hall and said, “This fact is like a clear jewel in your hand. If a barbarian comes, it reveals a barbarian. If a Chinese comes, it reveals a Chinese.”

Joshu, The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu, James Green

The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu

 

When I was journeying, I didn’t choose communities on the basis of whether or not they had material provisions; I was only concerned with seeing whether their perception indicated some capacity. If so, then I might stay for a summer or a winter; but if they were low-minded, I’d leave in two or three days. Although I called on more than sixty prominent teachers, barely one or two had great perception. The rest hardly had real true knowledge-they just want your donations.

Ta-sui, Teachings of Zen, Thomas Cleary

 

All that’s important is concentrated focus, purity, and stillness. Even when you are engaged in doing things, this is not something external. Take hold of them and return them to your true self-this is what wondrous function is. The eighty thousand sensory afflictions are immediately transformed into eighty thousand means of transcendence, and there is no more need to make a special point of studying with teachers. In your daily activities you deliver countless numbers of sentient beings and accomplish countless enlightening works and pass through countless gates of the Dharma. It all flows out from within your own breast-how could there be any other?

Yuanwu, Zen Letters, Thomas Cleary

 

Your self-partiality is at the root of all your illusions. There aren’t any illusions when you don’t have this preference for yourself.

Bankei, The Unborn, Norman Waddell

 

Dharma Master Chih saw Dharma Master Yüan on the street of butchers and asked: “Do you see the butchers slaughtering the sheep?” Dharma Master Yüan said: “My eyes are not blind. How could I not see them?” Dharma Master Chih said: “Master Yüan, you are saying you see it!” Master Yüan said: “You are seeing it on top of seeing it!”

The Bodhidharma Anthology, Jeffrey L. Broughton

 

Hui K’o said, “I have already stopped my relationship with the plurality of things.”

The Master (Bodhidharma) asked, “Haven’t you completely died yet?”

Hui K’o replied, No, I am not completely dead.”

The Master said, “With what can you testify that you are not completely dead?”

Hui K’o replied, “I know it clearly, clearly, all the time. It cannot be put into words.”

The Master said, “This is the mind-essence carried down from the Buddha. There is no doubt about it.”

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

The Transmission of the Lamp: Early Masters

 

With impurity in the essence of mind even a buddha is an ordinary being. When your mind is crooked or depraved, you are ordinary beings with buddha-nature latent in you. On the other hand, when you direct your mind to purity and straightforwardness even for one moment, you are a Buddha.

Hui-Neng, The Diamond Sutra & The Sutra of Hui-Neng, A. F. Price & Wong Mou-lam

Diamond Sutra and the Sutra of Hui-neng (Shambhala Classics) 

Your nature of seeing, hearing, and being aware is the same age as the universe, which is birthless and deathless.

Wu Yeh, The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

 

When Tung-shan was taking his leave, Yun-yen asked, “Where are you going?”

Tung-shan replied, “Although I am leaving you, I still haven’t decided where I’ll stay.”

Yun-yen asked, “You’re not going to Hunan, are you?”

“No,” replied Tung-shan.

“You’re not returning to your native town, are you?” asked Yun-yen.

“No,” replied Tung-shan.

“When will you return?” asked Yun-yen.

“I’ll wait until you have a fixed residence,” said Tung-shan.

Yun-yen said, “After your departure, it will be hard to meet again.”

Tung-shan said, “It will be hard not to meet.”

The Record of Tung-shan, William F. Powell

 

The master and an official were walking in the garden and saw a rabbit run away.

The official said, “you are a great and accomplished person, why did the rabbit run away when it saw you?”

The master said, “I like to kill.”

The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu, James Green

 

The first axiom of Zen is to personally accept the completeness of present actuality. There is no other in the whole universe; it is just you. Who else would you have see? Who would you have hear?

Hsuan-sha, The Five Houses of Zen, Thomas Cleary

 

Just now an assistant came and announced that the rain isn’t stopping, and people may not be able to hear if a meeting is held in the rain. Suppose the rain stopped right now-then would you hear?

I say it’s best when the rain doesn’t stop. Why? Because you are not deliberately trying to listen. How about when they say the sound of the rain has given you a sermon? Is that correct? I do not agree; the sound of the rain is you giving a sermon. But do you understand? Clarify it directly; then what else is there?

Foyan, Instant Zen, Thomas Cleary

 

For those who find this body of reality [dharmakaya], the numberless sentient beings are just one good person: the one person who has been there in accord with This through a million billion aeons.

Eka, Zen Dawn, J.C. Cleary

Zen Dawn: Early Zen Texts from Tun Huang (Shambhala Dragon Editions)

 

When your glance falls upon a grain of dust, what you see is identical with all the vast world-systems with their great and mighty hills. To gaze upon a drop of water is to behold the nature of all the waters of the universe. Moreover, in thus contemplating the totality of phenomena, you are contemplating the totality of Mind. All these phenomena are intrinsically void and yet this Mind with which they are identical is no mere nothingness. By this I mean that it does exist, but in a way too marvelous for us to comprehend. It is an existence which is no existence, a non-existence which is nevertheless existence. So this true Void does in some marvelous way ‘exist’.

Huang Po, The Zen Teaching of Huang Po, John Blofeld

The Zen Teaching of Huang-Po: On the Transmission of Mind

 

A monk said, “In the day there is sunlight, at night there is firelight. What is ‘divine light’?”

The master said, “Sunlight, firelight.”

Joshu, The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu, James Green

The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu

 

Master Tsung Yin of San Chueh Monastery in T’an State was asked by a monk, “What are the three treasures?”

The Master answered, “They are unhulled rice, barley, and pulse.”

The monk said, “I do not understand what you mean.”

The Master said, “The congregation will be delighted to have them.”

Tsung Yin, The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

The Transmission of the Lamp: Early Masters

 

In the early morning on the 25th of December in the eighth year of Ta Ho (834 A.D.), he (Nan Ch’uan) said, “A long time has passed since the star set in the shade, and the light became unreal. You are not to think that I have come and gone away.” Just as he ceased speaking, he passed away. Aged 87 years, he had lived as a monk for 58 years.

The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata

 

Even if you forget [dualistic] knowledge in awakening-awakening is nothing other than buddha-nature-and are called ‘a man without concern,’ you still must realize that everything hinges on a single thing: going beyond!

Yunmen, Master Yunmen, Urs App

Master Yunmen: From the Record of the Chan Master “Gate of the Clouds”

 
 
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Peace, Ted