Qinshan originally studied with Yantou and Xuefeng, and at one point in their training the three of them went to study with Deshan. One day Qinshan asked Deshan, “Your master and your master’s master spoke this way about the dharma. How do you say it?” Deshan replied, “Try to cite what my teacher and my teacher’s teacher said.” And as Qinshan started to speak, Deshan pushed him into the nirvana hall. This is the place where monks go to die. Deshan was telling Qinshan, “What you’re doing is dead. There’s no life to it.” To this Qinshan answered, “You may be right, but you beat me too much.”
In this case, Liang approaches Qinshan and asks, “How is it when a single arrowhead smashes three barriers?” What these three barriers are, is not clearly specified; they could be the barriers of greed, anger and ignorance. Ultimately, this is not so important. Liang is really asking, is there one single arrowhead—one action, one realization—that can free one from all entanglements?
We often see different barriers as being distinct from each other. When we encounter greed within ourselves, we recognize that we have to be more generous. When we’re angry, we know we have to be calmer. In our ignorance, we strive for greater clarity. But barriers can’t be divided from each other. They all interpenetrate and arise from one place. They manifest in one body and mind, expressing one delusion that takes different forms at different times. They all arise from the attachment to a permanent self. What is the one single arrow that dissolves all forms of bondage?
Qinshan says, “Bring out the master within the barriers for me to see.” In a moment of delusion or enlightenment, of heaven and hell, who is the master? Qinshan says, bring out the master for me to see. In the pointer, Yuanwu says, “Right now, where do seeing and not seeing, hearing and not hearing, speaking and not speaking, knowing and no knowing come from?” What is their source? Who is the master? Qinshan is not asking for an explanation of or justification for the barrier’s presence. He’s saying, go to the place before seeing and hearing, realize the self before the arising of any sound, sight, smell or idea.
When Qinshan was studying with Master Dongshan, Dongshan asked him, “Where did you come from?” Qinshan said “From Great Compassion [Temple].” Dongshan said, “Did you see the master of great compassion?” Qinshan said, “I did.” Dongshan pressed him further, “Did you see him before form or after form?” Qinshan replied, “It was not seen before or after.” Dongshan was silent. At this, Qinshan said, “Having left my master too soon, I didn’t get to the bottom of the meaning.” How refreshing, Dongshan must have thought, to encounter such honesty. Before or after form—right now, Dongshan was asking, show me the master of great compassion.
Yuanwu says, “Since people of these times do not understand, they frantically search outside themselves.” Searching outside is deceptive, because every time we search, we’ll find something. And if we already have a sense of what we’re searching for, we might very well find that very thing. This, in turn seems to confirm the search. But what does it mean to not search outside? Seeking outside doesn’t just mean looking to our external world. We can be looking within ourselves and still be seeking outside. At the moment when we understand our complete responsibility, there can be no more outside of ourselves.