Later, another master said, “If Tianping had such an understanding, then he didn’t see Xiyuan, even in his dreams.” Tianping had concluded that his “wrong” was to have gone out on a pilgrimage to begin with. Encountering the wrongs of Xiyuan—which didn’t fit his view of himself—he rejected them; he wouldn’t stay with Xiyuan to discuss them. After some time passed he was able to sort it all out in his mind, but by following his own ideas, he still didn’t understand. That’s the power of the mind. The power of logic is to give us a conclusion that is satisfying; it covers all the bases, except the truth.

Hakuin said, “Tianping immediately went away after these three wrongs. He seemed to be right, but he wasn’t really. Then again, I don’t say he wasn’t right, it’s just that he couldn’t catch up.” Why does Hakuin say, “I don’t say he wasn’t right?” Xiyuan’s wrongs don’t belong to yes and no, to gain and loss. They don’t belong to Tianping either, and yet, they are like an unmovable mountain. How do you proceed when you encounter an unmovable mountain? An old master said, “When encountering something that won’t yield, you yourself must change.” From the beginning, Tianping was that very truth he was seeking. Even in the midst of Xiyuan’s “wrongs” it could not be concealed, though Tianping had yet to realize it.


photo by Francesc Lopez Valls


The poem says, Followers of the Ch’an house like to be scornful: Having studied till their bellies are full, they cannot put it to use. Being scornful is sometimes a way of expressing praise, sometimes a way of expressing one’s spiritual freedom. For this to be authentic, we must be able to put it to use in our lives.

How lamentable, laughable old Tianping; After all he says at the outset it was regrettable to go traveling on foot. Tianping sorted out all these wrongs by concluding that to have set out on his pilgrimage was his error. Wrong, wrong. Xiyuan’s pure wind suddenly melts him. Did it? Or did it just pass him by? To be melted by the pure wind is to be dissolved of one’s illusory self. This is why Dogen says that we can’t follow our own ideas. When we don’t give them up and we encounter the true dharma, it can seem unmovable. It does not yield because we are clinging to our solid and fixed ideas of things. The moment we give up those ideas, everything moves.

That’s why Zen training is vigorous, because of the multitude of our attachments. These are what we know, they are everything we see. We have to be willing to encounter that unmovable mountain and step forward, to not give up or turn away. That’s why aspiration is so important.

Ango is translated as peaceful dwelling. It’s an invitation to dwell peacefully, anywhere, everywhere—in all circumstances. But that doesn’t just happen because we want it to. It doesn’t happen because we make a declaration of intent. It happens because every day we encounter the dharma and we bring our practice and our mind and our lives in accord—not with our ideas, but with what’s true and present in front of us. Looking around at our world, peaceful dwelling can seem elusive and difficult to find. Yet all this difficulty points to the fact that this practice is more important than ever

Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei is vice-abbot and resident teacher of Zen Center of New York City: Fire Lotus Temple and head of the National Buddhist Prison Sangha. He received dharma transmission from Daido Roshi in 1997.