Huangbo was a successor of Master Baizhang and Baizhang was a successor of the great Master Mazu. When Huangbo first met Baizhang, the latter said, “Magnificent, imposing. Where have you come from?” This is a testing question. Baizhang was trying to find out the depth of clarity of this new monastic. Huangbo said, “Magnificent, imposing. I’ve come from the mountains.” Baizhang said, “What have you come for?” Huangbo said, “Not for anything else.” Baizhang accepted him as a student. The next day, Huangbo was getting ready to leave when Baizhang saw him and asked, “Where are you going?” Huangbo said, “I’m going to pay my respects to the great master Mazu.” Mazu was Baizhang’s teacher. Baizhang said, “He’s already passed on.” Huangbo replied, “What did he have to say when he was alive?” Baizhang told him the story of his own encounter with Mazu: When Mazu saw Baizhang approaching, he took the fly-whisk off the hook that was behind him and held it up. Baizhang said, “Do you identify with this action or detach from this action?” And in response to this, Mazu took it and hung it back up on the hook. Later on, Mazu said, “When you’re flapping your lips [about the dharma], how will you help people?” Baizhang took the fly-whisk down and held it up. Mazu said to him, “Do you identify with this action or detach from this action?” Baizhang took it and hooked it back up. Mazu gave a shout that left Baizhang deaf for a week.

Having told the story, Baizhang then turned to Huangbo and asked him, “After this, won’t you be a successor of the great Master Mazu?” Huangbo said, “No, today, because of the master’s recital, I’ve gotten to see Master Mazu’s great capacity and great function; but if I were to succeed to Master Mazu, in the future I would be bereft of descendants.” Baizhang said, “It is so. It is so. If your view equals your teacher’s, you have less than half your teacher’s virtue. It’s only when your wisdom goes beyond your teacher, that you’re worthy to pass on the transmission.” This is one of the tenets of Zen. If your view is equal to that of your teacher’s, you diminish the dharma by half. It’s only when your view has exceeded the teacher’s that the transmission is complete.




In the pointer, Yuanwu says, “The great capacity of buddhas and ancestors is completely within his control; the lifeline of humans and gods is entirely subject to his direction.” This is a person who has mastered him or herself. When you master yourself, you master the universe, because self and universe are not two separate things. What does it mean to master the universe? What does it mean to be master of one’s self? Yuanwu says, “With a casual word or phrase he astounds the crowd and stirs the masses. With a single device or object he smashes chains and knocks off fetters.” We need to keep in mind, always, that those chains and fetters that restrict us, those barriers that block our way, don’t exist. They only exist in our mind. They exist because we’ve placed them there. The fact is, there are no chains, there are no fetters, there are no hindrances. Each one of us is vast and boundless, without edges.

In smashing the chains and knocking off the fetters, Huangbo is dealing with the ideas and positions that we’ve created in order to define our limits. Instructing his community one day, Huangbo mounted the rostrum and addressed his assembly, “All of you people are gobblers of dregs; if you go on traveling around this way, where will you have today? Do you know that there are no teachers of Chan in all of China?” The dregs are the words and ideas that describe reality, and the wine of that reality is our own direct experience.