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Q. If a person knows 30,000 words, does this mean that a clump of brain cells knows these words?

A. When a person has 30,000 words input in his computer, can we say that the memory chip of the computer knows these words? If a person knows 30,000 words, this means that he remembers 30,000 imaginary labels that are the symbols of promises amongst and within certain groups of people.

He can be said to have a great ability to accumulate and store the imaginary labels well in his clump of brain cells, which is a kind of storehouse for the labels, and to retrieve them whenever he wants. What matters here is what it is that stores, retrieves and uses the imaginary labels. That is what we Zen practitioners try to know.

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Jinfeng Holds Up a Pillow

One day Jinfeng held up a pillow and said, “People call this a pillow. I say it is not a pillow.”

A monastic said, “Master, what do you call it?”

Jinfeng held up the pillow.

The monastic said, “If so, I will practise accordingly.”

Jinfeng said, “What do you call it?”

The monastic said, “A pillow.”

Jinfeng said, “You have fallen into my pit.”

Student: “How would you have responded if you had been in the monastic’s shoes?”

Master: “I would have snatched the pillow from the master and hit him with it.”

Student: “Why did the master say that the monastic had fallen into his pit?”

Master: “Because you have fallen into his pit.”

Commentary:

He who is addicted to staying in a pit is prone to forget his situation.

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Rinzai 80

There are people who select one single phrase which is half hidden, and half revealed, and from that doubt is born. So, they search heaven and earth, run around asking others and keep themselves busily occupied. But the man who has nothing further to seek does not pass his days arguing about ruler and robber, this and that, is and is not, form and essence, and other vain propositions.

Commentary:

‘One single phrase which is half hidden, and half revealed’ means a koan, Zen question, which is often explained as being half hidden and half revealed, since we cannot grasp what it means by accepting it just as it superficially seems and sounds, that is, by interpreting it literally. That is why those who try to understand the one single phrase by following words and forms cannot do so, even though they ‘search heaven and earth, run around asking others and keep themselves busily occupied’. They should grasp that which is beyond what their eyes and ears meet. ‘The man who has nothing further to seek’ implies the true-Self that we are looking for. We should remember that the true-Self we are anxious to see is always with us and at leisure all the time, even when we are busy searching heaven and earth, running around asking others.

Student: “Who is the man who has nothing further to seek?”

Master: “He is with you now but not asking me.”

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I have a bitter feeling, resentment against my parents.

Your resentment against your parents is not towards them but towards yourself. It results from the idea that your current unsatisfactory situation is due to your parents. You are blaming your parents for what you are. If you attribute what you are to your parents, why don’t you think instead that your current situation is less poor, or less disadvantageous than it could otherwise have been thanks to your parents?

Buddhist teaching is that everything is neutral and that whether it is advantageous or disadvantageous depends on how you see it. In other words, what is more important than whatever situation you are in now, is how you accept it. It is up to you whether you will keep detesting them or not.

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Yangshan Chanting the Sutras

One day when Yangshan was a novice, he was reciting a Sutra. Shaozhou said, “Yangshan, your chanting sounds like weeping.” Yangshan replied, “This is how I do it, Master. I wonder how you would do it.” Shaozhou just looked around. Yangshan said, “If you chant like that, how is it different from weeping?” Shaozhou was silenced and walked away.

Student: “Why did Shaozhou just look around when he was asked how he would chant the Sutra?”

Master: “He showed how to chant the Sutra.”

Commentary:

Reciting what is not written in the Sutra is true chanting.

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Rinzai 79

The master addressed his monks, “What students of the Way need is to have self-reliance. Do not search for anything outside, for all is idle dust, and you cannot discern the false from the true. Even if there are patriarchs and Buddhas, these are only the traces in the Teachings.”

Commentary:

Students of the way, practitioners who seek enlightenment should have firm belief that enlightenment is within, not without their minds. If we try to find it outside, we come to follow forms and sounds, which are all illusions because we cannot distinguish the false, illusions from the true, the true-Self. We should not be attached even to patriarchs and Buddhas, which is also to be deluded by illusions because they are no better than kinds of expedient in the Buddhist Teachings. That is why ancient masters would warn their students, “Even if hundreds of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas appear, you should never be tempted to follow them.”

Student: “If hundreds of Buddhas are not the true-Self, what is the true-Self?”

Master: “The Buddha.”

Student: “What do you mean? You said that the Buddha is not the true-Self.”

Master: “I mean that not the Buddha, but the Buddha is the true-Self.”

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Q. How can we prove the existence of the Buddha? Why doesn’t He reveal Himself clearly?

A. The truth is not that Buddha hides Himself but that we cannot see Him. We should not blame Buddha for our being unable to see Him. Let me quote a dialogue between a Master and his student. When they heard birds singing during a walk one day, the master said to his student, “What sound is it?”

The student answered, “The sound of birds.” The master said, “Don’t speak ill of the Buddha’s Dharma talk unless you want to go to hell.” The master’s words imply that the Buddha is present everywhere all the time. We don’t recognise Him who is revealing himself before us. The only way we can prove the existence of the Buddha is to recognise Him in person. Zen meditation is a means of attaining the way to recognise Him.

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Ruiyan Calls “Master!”

Ruiyan was in the abbot’s room when he called to himself, “Master!”

He himself responded, saying, “Yes, Master.”

Then he said, “Clear all the time. Never be deceived by others.”

Then he answered himself, “Yes, yes.”

Student: “What did Ruiyan mean by saying to himself, ‘Clear all the time. Never be deceived by others.’”

Master: “You are being deceived by Ruiyan now.”

Commentary:

Don’t be deceived by the words ‘Don’t be deceived’.

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Rinzai 78

And a moment of the light of non-differentiation in your heart, this is the true Samantabhadra (Dharma) everywhere and always. If for a moment your heart by itself gets released from its bonds, everywhere is deliverance; this is the Dharma-Samadhi Kannon (Avalokiteshvara). Mutually they appear as master and companions; and simultaneously they appear as one in three and three in one. Only when one can understand thus is one fit to read the Teachings.

Commentary:

‘A moment of the light of non-differentiation in your heart, this is the true Samantabhadra (Dharma), everywhere and always’ means that the moment you stop discriminating, the state without any illusions appears, which is the true Samantabhadra that is everywhere all the time. ‘If for a moment your heart by itself gets released from its bonds, everywhere is deliverance; this is the Dharma-Samadhi Kannon (Avalokiteshvara)’ implies that if you realise that all the bonds of illusions are empty even for a moment, that is to realise that all things, including you, are perfection itself, the Buddha. ‘Mutually they appear as master and companions; and simultaneously they appear as one in three and three in one’ means that you can see things as the true-Self and as forms at the same time. You realise that Oneness is many, and many are Oneness, that is, Emptiness is forms and forms are Emptiness. Only when we can understand thus can we be said to grasp the Teachings.

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Q. If God loved human beings, why would he have given suffering and death to them?

A. The truth is not that he gave people suffering and death, but that people turn happiness into suffering, and eternal life into death. God gave people free will; the freedom to make their own decisions as they please. Suffering and death result from the decisions made by people.

If you blame God for having granted you the right of decision, it means that you wish you were like a robot that only works in a predetermined manner, which, I am sure, is also not in the least what you want. The role of religion can be said to be to teach people how to make wise decisions by seeing things just as they are.

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