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Summary

Katagiri Roshi discusses Case 35 of the Blue Cliff Record, in which an obscure monk has a spiritual discussion with the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. Can we settle our uncertainties? Can we accept our lives in terms of infinity? Or will we be like a lion running around in a cage? If we find ourselves in a cage, how should we practice? Also: Does it matter how many people come to our Zen Center?

Transcript

Listen to this talk on mnzencenter.org

0:00 start of recording

The thirty-fifth case of the Blue Cliff Record: “The Dialogue of Manjusri and Wu Cho”.

The Pointer:

Determining dragons and snakes, distinguishing jewels and stones, separating the profound and the naive, to settle all uncertainty: if you haven’t an eye on your forehead and a talisman under your elbow, time and again you will miss the point immediately. Right at this very moment seeing and hearing are not obscured; sound and form are purely real. Tell me, is it black? Is it white? Is it crooked? Is it straight? At this point, how will you discriminate?

The Case:

Manjusri asked Wu Cho, “Where have you just come from?”

Wu Cho said, “The South.”

Manjusri said, “How is the Buddhist Teaching being carried on in the South?”

Wu Cho said, “Monks of the Last Age have little regard for the rules of discipline.”

Manjusri said, “How numerous are the congregations?”

Wu Cho said, “Some three hundred, some five hundred.”

Wu Cho asked Manjusri, “How is it being carried on hereabouts?”

Manjusri said, “Ordinary people and sages dwell together; dragons and snakes intermingle.”

Wu Cho said, “How numerous are the congregations?”

Manjusri said, “In front, three by three; in back, three by three.”

(From The Blue Cliff Record, translated by Thomas Cleary & J.C. Cleary.)

We couldn’t find Wu Cho’s history, but it is said that Wu Cho was one of the [unintelligible] Zen Masters, who lived from 594 to 657. In this story, he went to Mount Wutai in China. It is said that Mount Wutai was the spiritual abode of Manjushri; anyway the Chinese people believed that Mount Wutai was a place where Manjushri lived in those days. Wu Cho visited Mount Wutai and talked with Manjushri, but actually, as you know, Manjushri is not a real person. So in this case, Wu Cho was entirely intimate with the spirit of Manjushri, and talked with spiritual Manjushri. He could imagine him in his heart. So in other words, he talked with himself.

In the last sentence of the case, Manjushri says, “In front, three by three; in back, three by three.” This is a typical term which occurs very often in Zen scriptures; in Shobogenzo and here, anyplace, it always comes up. In front and in back mean before and after. Three by three does not mean three, it implies infinity, boundlessness. From this, the case teaches us that it is not the important point to know how many practitioners we have in the monastery. Wherever you may go, whoever the people are, even though they don’t practice in the monastery, they are the practitioners. According to Shakyamuni Buddha, Buddha opens his heart not only to people who follow the Buddha’s teaching, but also to people who don’t follow his teaching. He always opens his heart, sharing his compassion with all living beings. From this point, practitioners are not limited to only the people who practice at a certain monastery, et cetera.

And also, practice is not only the practice of sitting, but also daily living is our practice. If we say daily living is practice, at that time we consciously or unconsciously strongly emphasize daily living as a practice instead of doing zazen. You cannot ignore the practice of zazen. But if we emphasize strongly the importance of the practice of zazen rather than daily living, we really emphasize just practicing zazen, ignoring everyday life. But you cannot do this either. So the measure of your practice really depends on how you keep both of them in balance.

And also a third point is that if we educate others or educate ourselves, we have to educate ourselves and others in terms of immensity, or infinity. This is very important for us. If you don’t cultivate yourself and others in terms of universal perspective, or infinity, or boundlessness, or vastness of existence, at that time you really become uneasy, and constantly making a fuss for nothing. If you see somebody’s fault, you cannot have enough space to accept the other’s fault with calm mind before you criticize it. It’s pretty hard, because immediately you feel uneasy and you are irritated, so very naturally you are really making a useless sound or fuss, for nothing.

For instance, it is like a cat in a lion cage. If a cat is in the lion cage, the cat cannot escape from it. If so, confusion will be very clear. If you see something very clearly, which there is no escape from, I think you shouldn’t make lots of fuss for nothing, running wildly around the cage and jumping carelessly. As soon as possible, you must make the mind calm, and you should be prepared for something.

[Unintelligible] Roshi, a famous Zen Master in Japan, his determination was that he would never be deceived by human “cheap tricks”. He said, “If I were a cat in a lion cage, I wouldn’t want to struggle, I would want to do zazen there.” [He laughs.] Do you understand? That’s great, you know. The more you struggle, running wildly around the cage, the more you are confused. [The situation comes up very clearly.] So right in the middle of confusion, if you can see no way to escape, then as best as you can you have to make your mind calm, sit down there and deal with your life. Even though it is hard, that is the real good way. And that way of taking care of yourself is to accept totally your presence in terms of infinity.

That is most important for us. If you don’t do that, you always see just the surface of the water – pros and cons, success and failure – and you judge somebody by the number of practitioners, and by what appears of the development of the Zen monastery. If you become famous, everyone says you are great. I don’t think it is great. If you become a person who is famous, it is not always great. Even though you are not famous, still you are great. Otherwise, how can you exist in this world in peace and harmony, walking at your own pace?

You cannot imitate the President of the United States, even if you want to be President of the United States. Of course you could be President, but it’s really limited. So if you cannot be President of the United States, you have to walk at your own pace. How can you walk day by day at your own pace, peacefully, without creating too much stress, confusion, distress, in comparing your life with somebody else’s? If you live your life like that, [comparing your life to others,] very quickly you will be exhausted.

So that’s why Manjushri said, “In front, three by three; in back, three by three.” In front means your future; in back means your past. Past life, present life, future life: all are immense, boundless. So you should see your life in terms of boundlessness, even if you don’t understand how you should accept your life in terms of boundlessness, or infinity. That is the first stage: right in the middle of confusion or any kind of situation, accept the situation with calm mind. And then at the second stage you can deal [with things] one by one, with calm mind. Otherwise, confusion is growing like a snowball.

That is the point this case teaches us.

19:19

The Pointer:

Determining dragons and snakes, distinguishing jewels and stones, separating the profound and the naive, to settle all uncertainty:

Determining dragons and snakes,

When you want to guide or help people, you have to know who they are. Are they a dragon, or are they a snake? You have to understand who they are.

distinguishing jewels and stones,

Even though a person looks like a farmer, maybe inside he or she has great depth. So jewels or stones, that means what kind of capacity he or she has, or what kind of courage he or she has.

separating the profound and the naive,

That is how deeply he or she understands his or her life, or others’ lives. And trees’ lives; all sentient beings’ lives.

to settle all uncertainty:

“Uncertainty” means lots of questions, doubts. If you want to deal with your life and others’ lives, finally you have to find the solutions, you have to get answers to your doubts. In other words, sooner or later you have to wipe out lots of doubts, questions. But how should you wipe out your questions and doubts? Sometimes you can find [the answers] quickly, sometimes you cannot find them quickly. Sometimes you should keep the questions and doubts warm in your heart, and carry them on your back, for a month, for two months… sometimes for a year. In the process of keeping them warm in your heart, sometimes a solution pops up. Sometimes you have to discuss your doubts, sometimes you have to ask somebody your questions. Sometimes you have to really study hard in order to find the solutions of your life.

Finally, even though you stand silently in front of someone, it must be a kind of answer. Just your presence with somebody must be a kind of answer to the questions people have. This is the responsibility which we have as teachers, as parents, as people who want to educate or cultivate or deepen our life and others’ lives.

So that’s why here it says, “Determining dragons and snakes, distinguishing jewels and stones, separating the profound and the naive, to settle all uncertainty:”

24:18

if you haven’t an eye on your forehead and a talisman under your elbow,

This was a common proverb in China. If you are carrying a kind of talisman, sticking under your arm or hanging under your elbow, at that time they believe that you will behave freely. Engo Zen Master uses this very popular Chinese proverb, but it doesn’t have a profound meaning here. It means if you don’t have [a high] spirit, enough to see and to understand your life and others’ lives in terms of infinity.

I told you the other day during sesshin, first of all you should put yourself in the “universal market”. To put yourself in the universal market means regardless of whether you like or dislike others, you should [approach yourself or others] with calm mind. At the first stage, don’t stir the muddy water. Calm your mind, and accept. And then in the second stage, you can go forward, taking care of it. But if you stir the water in the first stage, then it’s already confused, the starting point is already muddy. At that time, how can you take care of your life at the second stage? Very naturally, it should be [calm] muddy water. So at the first stage it’s very important: don’t look at yourself and others just in terms of your understanding, your prejudice. That puts you in the universal market. You can do it. Even though you believe it is right, keep it warm in your heart. In order get a definite conclusion, “this is what is right,” keep it warm in your heart. Polish it.

time and again you will miss the point immediately.

If you don’t have a third eye to see, to understand, or if you don’t have magnanimous mind, enough to put you or others in the universal market, you immediately miss the point of how to take care of, how to deepen, how to educate people.

Right at this very moment seeing and hearing are not obscured;

This means from moment to moment when you see somebody, when you want to educate somebody, right at this very moment – right now – seeing and hearing are not obscured; [your] consciousness is functioning very clearly, nothing obscured.

sound and form are purely real.

That means the sense objects are also very clear. In other words, if you don’t see your object, if your object becomes obscure, it is already confusion. If you cannot see the object as it really is, it is one of the confusions. So whatever happens, under all circumstances you have to see your object in the proper way. If it becomes obscure, that is a problem. And on the other hand, if your own consciousness is also obscure, you cannot deal with your object. So your own consciousness and your object must be clear, not obscure. Everything is very clear: there is a table, there is a Katagiri, there is a book. We have to see clearly, and deal with this book, this table, with kindness, compassion, and wholeheartedness.

Tell me, is it black? Is it white? Is it crooked? Is it straight?

It means, when the object is very clear and your consciousness is very clear, at that time object and subject are interpenetrating each-other, without creating any interrupting obstacles. At that time, how can you say it? Where is the boundary between the subject and the object? While you can see even slightly a boundary between you and cabbage, you and zazen, at that time zazen is exactly an object separate from you. It’s an object, but simultaneously it shouldn’t be an object: it must be within you, because it must be alive. When the object must be fully alive, at that time the object comes into you, very naturally. If you are alive fully, very naturally you can penetrate your object. So at that time, there are no particular categories. Is it white? Is it black? Is it crooked? Is it straight? No. This is called total dynamic working.

At this point, how will you discriminate?

Nevertheless, this is not a “spiritual dimension” which makes you spaced out. Still you are you, object is object. Very clearly, we have to discriminate. You cannot mix it up. You are you, your object is your object; you have to see it there. So how will you discriminate? This is a bodhisattva practice. It’s pretty hard, but you can do it.

34:10

So let’s see the case.

Manjusri asked Wu Cho, “Where have you just come from?”

Wu Cho said, “The South.”

This is a very common question and answer. At that time, Buddhism was developing from the south of China. So very naturally maybe Wu Cho practiced in the south, that’s why he said, “The South.”

Manjusri said, “How is the Buddhist Teaching being carried on in the South?”

In other words, how do you take care of Buddhist teachings in the South?

Wu Cho said, “Monks of the Last Age have little regard for the rules of discipline.”

The Last Age means the complicated, muddy period of time in the world, where there is lots of confusion. There is teaching there, but no experience and no enlightenment. The Counterfeit Age is the period which there are teaching and practice but no enlightenment. The authentic period, while Buddha was alive, or after his death for five hundred years or a thousand years, we call the Right Dharma Age. At that time, there are still the teaching and experience and also enlightenment, awareness there. So here he says there is not a really great man of Buddhism there, but still there are some who obey Buddhist discipline in their lives.

Manjusri said, “How numerous are the congregations?”

[He means] how big the organization is.

Wu Cho said, “Some three hundred, some five hundred.”

In those days monasteries were very popular, so there were many monks there. Some monasteries had three hundred, some five hundred, some monasteries had a thousand monks, two thousand monks. Baso Zen Master’s and Setcho Zen Master’s monasteries, it is said, had a thousand, sometimes two thousand. They were really famous, popular Zen Masters. But on the other hand, some Zen Master had just four or five monks and practiced seriously. The temple was not fancy, the rain was freezing, and they were very poor, but he also was one of the famous Zen teachers. But generally speaking, particularly Rinzai Zen was very popular in those days.

For instance, in the United States, Buddhism started from the West and then jumped to the East, you know, skipping the Midwest. And now, little by little, it’s in the Midwest – even though you don’t like it. [Laughter.]

Wu Cho asked Manjusri, “How is it being carried on hereabouts?”

So how about you, Manjusri? How about your monastery?

Manjusri said, “Ordinary people and sages dwell together; dragons and snakes intermingle.”

[He says] in my monastery, ordinary people and sages practice together, and dragons and snakes are all practicing together. That means no discrimination between man and woman, dragons and snakes, poor or rich. All come together and practice.

Wu Cho said, “How numerous are the congregations?”

How big are your monasteries?

Manjusri said, “In front, three by three; in back, three by three.”

That means, my monastery is immense. That’s great, huh? My monastery is immense – huge, vast. Even though there are just the five monks, or three, or one, anyway it’s immense. And then you can practice very stably, very stably. But if you are always caught by the number of people who practice at the monasteries, comparing them with other monasteries, you become very unstable.

42:05

The verse:

The thousand peaks twist and turn, the color of indigo.
Who says Manjusri was conversing with him?
It is laughable, “How many the people?” on Ch’ing Liang:
In front three by three, and in back three by three.

The thousand peaks twist and turn, the color of indigo.

This is representing the beautiful scenery of Mount Wutai. The scenery is completely beautiful, beyond words, beyond discrimination, beyond the sense of comparison. Perfect. Mountain is mountain, but mountain is not mountain, mountain is really beings interconnected or interpenetrated with skies, birds, trees, peoples’ lives – and creating a harmonious life in the sahā human world.

That is the scenery of Mount Wutai. That means completely accept the mountain’s life, the scenery’s life. Completely and totally accept your presence and others’ presence. That is a little bit different from acceptance of the mountain’s or others’ life and your life in terms of common sense.

I told you several years ago, in Zen there are three ways of thinking and understanding. In the first stage, mountains are mountains. Second stage, mountains are not mountains. The third stage, mountains are mountains. (See Diamond Sutra: Introduction, etc.)

(Transcriber’s Note: The conclusion of this talk seems to be missing.)

45:05 end of recording.

This talk was transcribed by Kikan Michael Howard. Audio recordings of Katagiri Roshi are being used with permission of Minnesota Zen Meditation Center.

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