Dogen continues, “He succeeded in the essence of the Buddha and became a master. You may seek such a person in the world now. We find it impossible. What a shame. Noble Buddhist trainees must know this: first of all, you must have an indestructible bodhi-seeking mind and fix your eyes upon the absolute realm, beyond increase and decrease. See how Chuanzi left the fishing hook. How could he do such a thing?” Transmission of the dharma from Chuanzi to Jiashan is no different than it has been for 2500 years. Generation to generation, the form may change, the people may change, the actual encounter may change, the words and ideas that describe it may change, but in each case, it’s the buddha mind that goes from one generation to the next. Because it’s the buddha mind that is transmitted and not words, sutras, forms, or institutions, it has the freedom to take the shape of the vessel that contains it. It has the ability to adapt to circumstances. Nothing is fixed. Everything is in a constant state of becoming. The dharma must evolve accordingly, and always respond to the imperative of the moment.




On the surface, Chuanzi’s teaching may seem rather harsh. Jiashan was a dignified man, the abbot of a temple, but he also had enough bodhi-seeking mind to be able to become a student when he realized there was something missing. The great master Daowu was the one that stirred up his mind. Jiashan went to see Chuanzi, and in the encounter that ensued, gasping for breath as Chuanzi kept shoving his head under water, Jiashan finally got the point that the truth had to be beyond the words and ideas that describe reality. The truth is beyond the notions, explanations, understandings, belief systems, sutras, forms and institutions.

If you’re pressed to explain mind-to-mind transmission, it’s impossible to describe, because nothing goes from A to B. Conventionally, transmission implies that something is transmitted and something is received; but that’s definitely not the case here. Nothing is transmitted and nothing is received. When I say nothing, I don’t mean that emptiness is transmitted. I mean nothing. No information, no ideas, no spirits, no magic, no emptiness. Not a single, solitary thing goes from A to B. And because my teacher gave me absolutely nothing, everyday I express my gratitude to him and to all my dharma ancestors. If they had given me something, they would have been charlatans and bound me with their gifts.

But if there’s nothing to get, then what takes place in the mind-to-mind transmission? Out of the deep recesses of one’s own being, the realization of that which has always been there comes up to surface consciousness and is perceived.That was what the Buddha realized and that was his first teaching. All sentient beings have the buddha nature. The incredible dilemma that all practitioners encounter is that we’re involved in a process of seeking that which cannot be sought. The moment we direct ourselves toward it, we move away from it.

Then what do we do? We find ourselves working on koans that are completely ungraspable. Someone said to me in dokusan, “How can I be Mu if I don’t know what it is?” That’s the very thing that makes Mu such a powerful koan. All of the ideas that we can normally project onto more concrete questions like “Who am I?” are ineffective with Mu. It’s the same with the sound of one hand clapping. You know the sound of two hands clapping; what is the sound of one hand clapping? Be the sound of one hand clapping. “How can I be the sound of one hand clapping if I don’t know what it is?” Hear the sound of one hand clapping. “How? I have no way of perceiving it with my mind.” Exactly. How wonderful!