Photo by Emin Ozkan


Buddhism is a process of discovery, not a list of principles. There is no book of Buddhist principles. Buddhism is about realization. It is about transformation of consciousness. It means throwing everything out, including Buddhism, and going very deep within yourself to find the foundations of your life. And once you have done that, to learn to live your life out of that which has been realized—not what you’ve been told you should or shouldn’t do.

After Xuansha made his statement, he descended from the teaching seat. The footnote to that says, “When the fish is in the net, the fisherman can go home.” We call this Zen fishing. What does “when the fish is in the net” mean? What’s the net? In a sense, every teacher in the process of teaching is putting out a net. Sometimes the fish don’t get it, they don’t get hooked or go in the net. When the fish is a sharp one and the teacher succeeds in hooking it, this is what’s called upaya or skillful means, which refers to teachers’ use of their own particular methods and techniques in order to introduce others to the dharma. The implication is that even if the technique or process that they employ is not ultimately true in the highest sense, it still may be an expedient practice if it can help bring practitioners closer to realization. That’s what is going on here. Xuansha’s got the net out. A monastic asking for an explanation said, “I don’t understand.” Footnote to that says, “But of course, that’s one of the characteristics of the ineffable.”
“I don’t understand.” Isn’t that what Bodhidharma said? In the Blue Cliff Record, Emperor Wu said to the great Master Bodhidharma, “What’s the highest meaning of the holy truths?” Bodhidharma said, “Empty, without holiness.” The emperor said, “Then who are you, facing me?” Bodhidharma replied, “I don’t know.” The emperor did not understand. What was Bodhidharma saying when he replied, “I don’t know”? He was referring to intimacy. Is that what this monk is referring to?

In response to the monastic, Xuansha said, “Go away. No one will believe you.” The footnote says, “Obviously. The correct imperative must be carried out.” The imperative was to cut off the monastic and throw him back on himself. That’s the only place that the truth can be realized. It can’t come from the outside. Dogen says:

For a moment we should investigate this episode, this koan. There is “informally directing his monastics.” What does that mean? There is “He hears the swallow nestling chirping.” There is the teaching, “It deeply discusses the real form and preaches well the essence of the dharma.” There is “getting down from the teaching seat.” There is “soon after there was a monk seeking some benefits saying, ‘I do not understand.’” There is the teacher who said, “Go away. No one will believe you.”

He’s telling us that there are six points in this encounter that we should investigate.