Dharma Talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei
Blue Cliff Record, Case 98
Tianping Travels on Foot
Featured in Mountain Record 27.4, Summer 2009
Collecting the causes, producing the result, completing the beginning, completing the end. Face to face, there is nothing hidden, but fundamentally I have never explained. If there is suddenly someone who comes forth and says, “All summer we’ve been asking for instruction; why have you never explained?”—Wait till you’ve awakened, then I’ll tell you. Tell me, do you think that this is avoidance of direct confrontation, or do you think it has some other merit? To test, I cite this to see.
The Main Case
When the Master of Tianping was traveling on foot, he called on Xiyuan. He always would say, “Do not say you understand the Buddhist Teaching; I cannot find a single man who can quote a saying.”
One day Xiyuan saw him from a distance and called him by name: “Tianping!”
Tianping raised his head. Xiyuan said, “Wrong!” Tianping went two or three steps; Xiyuan again said, “Wrong!” Tianping approached; Xiyuan said, “These two wrongs just now: were they my wrongs or your wrongs?”
Tianping said, “My wrongs.”
Xiyuan said, “Wrong!” Tianping gave up. Xiyuan said, “Stay here for the summer and wait for me to discuss these two wrongs with you.”
But Tianping immediately went away. Later, when he was dwelling in a temple, he said to his community, “When I was first traveling on foot, I was blown by the wind of events to Elder Ssu Ming’s place: twice in a row he said ‘Wrong!’ and tried to keep me there over the summer to wait for him to deal with me. I did not say it was wrong then; when I set out for the South, I already knew that it was wrong.”
The Capping Verse
Followers of the Ch’an house like to be scornful:
Having studied till their bellies are full, they cannot put it to use.
How lamentable, laughable old Tianping;
After all he says at the outset it was regret– able to go travel on foot.
Wrong, wrong! Xiyuan’s pure wind suddenly melts him.
Tianping was on a pilgrimage, and before he came to Xiyuan’s place, he called on Master Jingshan. The commentary to this koan says that Tianping had gone to various monasteries and “attained this turnip-Ch’an and put it in his belly.” Because of this, “Everywhere he went he scornfully opened his big mouth and said, ‘I understand Ch’an, I understand the Way.’” Tianping would always say, “Do not say you understand the Buddhist Teaching; I cannot find even a single person who can quote a saying.” Tianping had studied with other masters and he had acquired a “bellyful of Zen.” It’s easy for a student to feel self-important when studying the dharma, whether or not he or she has any genuine insight. In our culture we value the expert more than the student, the one who has traveled more than the one who is traveling. Did Tianping have insight when he said, “Do not say you understand the Buddhist teaching; I cannot find a single person who can quote a saying?” Is he making this statement from the perspective of the absolute? Or is he saying he can’t find anyone who can understand the dharma the way he does? Having a bellyful of Zen can also be called having the stink of Zen, which is nothing other than attachment to a sense of spirituality.