The following is a koan involving Chuanzi in Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koan Shobogenzo. It is a difficult, but very powerful teaching:

Chuanzi Decheng was practicing together with Daowu and Yunyan at Yaoshan’s community. Chuanzi left Yaoshan and lived on a small boat on a river in Huating Prefecture. Before he left, he had said to Daowu, “If you meet a promising teacher, please send him to me.”

Zen Master Jiashan was abbot of Zhulin Monastery. Daowu happened to visit the monastery and attended one of Jiashan’s lectures. A monastic asked, “What is the dharma body?” Jiashan said, “The dharma body has no form.” The monastic asked again, “What is the dharma eye?” Jiashan said, “The dharma eye has no scratch.” Daowu could not help laughing. Jiashan noticed it. After getting down from the teaching seat, he greeted Daowu, made a formal bow and said, “Did you laugh because I gave a wrong answer to that monastic? Please be kind enough to explain.” Daowu said, “Although you have become the abbot of this fine monastery, you have not yet met a true master.” Jiashan said, “Please tell me where my fault lies.” Daowu said, “I cannot explain it to you, but I have a peer who gives teachings on a boat. Let me suggest that you go and meet him. I am sure you will attain something.” Jiashan said, “Who is this person?” Daowu said, “There is not half a slate above him. There is not an inch of ground beneath him. But, when you go, you had better not wear your robe.” Jiashan soon dissolved his assembly, changed his clothes and went straight to Huating.

Seeing Jiashan approaching, Chuanzi said to him, “Of which monastery are you the abbot?” Jiashan said, “I am not abbot of a monastery, or I wouldn’t look like this.” Chuanzi said, “What do you mean by ‘not like this’?” Jiashan said, “It’s not like something right in front of you.” Chuanzi said, “Where did you study?” Jiashan said, “No place that ears or eyes can reach.” Chuanzi said, “The phrase you understand can still tether the donkey for a myriad kalpas.” Then he said, “I hang a line one thousand feet deep, but the heart is three inches off the hook. Why don’t you say something?” Jiashan was about to open his mouth. Chuanzi knocked him into the water with the boat pole. Jiashan surfaced and climbed onto the boat. Chuanzi said, “Say something. Say something!” Jiashan was about to open his mouth when Chuanzi hit him again. Jiashan was suddenly awakened and bowed three times.

Chuanzi said, “You’re welcome to the fishing pole. However, the meaning of ‘it ripples no quiet water’ is naturally profound.” Jiashan said, “Why do you give away the fishing pole?” Chuanzi said, “It is to see whether a fish of golden scales is or is not. If you have realized it, speak quickly; words are wondrous and unspeakable.” While Chuanzi was speaking, Jiashan covered his ears and began to walk away. Chuanzi said, “Quite so, quite so.” Then the master instructed Jiashan: “From now on, erase all traces, but do not hide your body. I was at Yaoshan’s for thirty years and clarified just this. Now you have this. Do not live in a city or village. Just be in a deep mountain or on a farm and guide one or half a person. Succeed in my teaching and don’t let it be cut off.” Jiashan accepted Chuanzi’s entrustment and bid him farewell. He went ashore and started to walk away, looking back again and again. Chuanzi called out, “Reverend, Reverend!” Jiashan turned around. Chuanzi held up the oar and said, “There is something more.” Upon uttering these words, he jumped out of the boat and disappeared into the mist and waves.




When Jiashan asked, “Why do you give away the fishing pole?” Chuanzi said, “It is to see whether a fish of golden scales is or is not.” To see whether it is or is not realized. You can see such a fish only after you’ve gone beyond discrimination. The fishing pole is a symbol of the teaching. In other words, Chuanzi was transmitting the job of teaching on the boat to Jiashan. Handing over the fishing pole is very similar to handing over the kutz or the shippei or the staff, items that are part of the mind-to-mind transmission ceremony between teacher and student. All of the symbols of transmission are ordinary objects. The fly whisk, which looks very exotic to Westerners, is just a fly swatter used to shoo insects away. The stick is just a crooked stick, the shippei is a broken bow, and the staff is just a length of a tree branch used to cross the river. These everyday objects became the symbols of the mind-to-mind transmission. Here the teacher was a boatman, so the fishing pole was the symbol of the transmission.

In the Eihei Koroku, another collection of Dogen’s teachings, he comments on this case: “Although when Jiashan was at the temple he was excellent in discussion, he expounded the teachings to humans and celestials, he was perfect in speech and no one could defeat him in argument, it still wasn’t complete.” Jiashan had all of the intellectual capabilities. He had everything that any fine abbot would have, and still, his practice was incomplete. After seeing Chuanzi, he realized himself. There was nothing more to be desired.