Nishijima says in his commentary, “The layman’s words mean that the universe conceals nothing; it’s all open and obvious. But Master Reisho criticized the layman’s way of speaking. It seemed too proud and smug, as if he were an old priest experienced in great Buddhist practice.” Well, the fact is, he was an extraordinary practitioner, no question about it. The criticism wasn’t criticism in the sense of putting him down; it was criticism in the sense of the dialogue that ensued. “When asked to comment on the situation, Master Reisho repeated the words of the ancient master because they express reality very nicely. Although their words were the same, the states of the master and the layman were very different. The layman realized the master’s mind and laughed loudly at the way his balloon had been burst.” Not true. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
So what is going on here? What is really happening? “While sitting, Layman Pangyun asked his daughter Lingzhou, ‘A teacher of old said, ‘Bright and clear are the one hundred grasses, bright and clear is the meaning of the ancestral teaching.’” Bright and clear essentially means there’s nothing hidden and nothing obscured—the truth, the transparent luminosity of the dharma, is present not only in the teachings of the buddhadharma, but in the one hundred grasses. The one hundred grasses are often used as a metaphor for discrimination, for delusion. The grasses are like weeds. But many times in his teachings, Dogen points to the fact that the moon—enlightenment—is reflected in the dewdrops on the tips of ten thousand grasses. Within delusion is the perfection and completeness of buddha nature. What the Layman is saying is clearly the truth of the universe, no question about it. So why did Lingzhou say, “How could someone who is mature and great say such a thing?” Why was she apparently poking at him? Or, as Nishijima thought, disapproving him, putting him down? Pangyun then turned it around and asked, “Well, how would you say it?” and Lingzhou said precisely the same thing, “Bright and clear are the one hundred grasses, bright and clear is the meaning of the ancestral teaching.’” So, if what the layman said was right, why did the daughter seemingly put him down? Did she indeed put him down? Or was she pointing to something here? If he was wrong, why then did she turn around and say exactly the same thing? And what was Pangyun’s laugh about?
I added footnotes to this case to help clarify it. “While sitting, Layman Pangyun asked his daughter Lingzhou, ‘A teacher of old said, ‘Bright and clear are the one hundred grasses.’” And the footnote to that line says, Exiting the gate, there is grass all over. Entering the gate, there is grass all over. There is no place that the grass does not reach. There is a koan in which Master Dongshan instructs his monastics: “The ango is about to end, and all of you will leave and go east and west, all over the place. You should go to a place where there is no grass for ten thousand miles.” Commenting on this, one master said, “The minute you step out the gate, there is grass for ten thousand miles.” Another master said, “Before you even step out the gate, there is grass for ten thousand miles.” So what are they saying? They’re saying samsara is nirvana, nirvana is samsara. Enlightenment is delusion, delusion is enlightenment. Enlightenment is precisely delusion, delusion is precisely enlightenment.
The next line, “Bright and clear is the meaning of the ancestral teaching.” The footnote here says, Although it is so, it’s a shame to have said it. Why is it a shame to have said it? Because the minute we speak of it, it’s no longer what it is. It’s the words and ideas that describe it. It’s not the reality itself. Remember the dialogue between Changqing and a monastic who pointed to the ground and said, “Right here is the summit of the great mystic peak.” Changqing said, “Although it is so, it’s a pity to have said it.” The minute you say, “Right here is the summit of the great mystic peak,” it no longer is. It is just the words and ideas that describe the summit of the great mystic peak.
The next line says, “How about yourself?” Here the layman challenges his daughter. The footnote to that says, It would seem that he wants to drag her into the pit with him. He’s in a pit, involved with words and ideas, and not with reality itself. Lingzhou said, “How could someone who is mature and great say such a thing?” The footnote, She will have none of that. Pangyun said, “How would you say it?” The footnote to that says, He won’t let her go. Lingzhou said, “Bright and clear are the one hundred grasses, bright and clear is the meaning of the ancestral teaching.” The footnote to that says, They know how to switch heads without batting an eye. This is something that appears again and again in Zen dialogues or dharma encounters—one is the host, the other is the guest; one is the master, one is the student. Sometimes they are so close in understanding that you can’t tell who is the host and who is the guest; there’s a total merging. This is a case where host and guest have changed heads, in a sense—one has become the other. The teacher becomes the student, the student becomes the teacher; the parent becomes the child, the child becomes the parent. That kind of merging is the mind-to-mind transmission of the dharma from one generation to the next. Pangyun’s response was to laugh. The footnote to that says, This is a thief recognizing a thief. Since they are from the same household, they know well the contents of the cupboard.