A Teacher’s Vow
Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori Roshi
Featured in Mountain Record 28.3, Spring 2010
John Daido Loori Roshi (1931-2009) was the abbot of Zen Mountain
Editor’s Note: This talk was given during Rohatsu Sesshin in December,
The Main Case
When Master Guishan was studying under Baizhang, he worked as a tenzo at the monastery. Baizhang wanted to choose an abbot for Dayi Monastery. He told the head monk and all the rest of his disciples to make their Zen presentations, and the ablest one would be sent to found the monastery. Then Baizhang took a pitcher, placed it on the floor and asked the question: “This must not be called a pitcher. What do you call it?” The head monk said, “It cannot be called a wooden sandal.” Baizhang then asked Guishan. Guishan walked up, kicked over the pitcher, and left. Baizhang said, “The head monk has been defeated by Guishan.” So Guishan was ordered to start the monastery.
Extremely valiant though he is, Guishan could not after all jump out of Baizhang’s trap. Upon careful examination, he followed what is heavy, refusing what is light. Why? Nii! Taking the towel band from his head, he put on an iron yoke.
Throwing away bamboo baskets and wooden ladles,
With a direct blow he cuts off complications.
Baizhang tries to stop him with his strict barrier, but in vain.
The tip of his foot creates innumerable buddhas.
When dealing with religious practice we always have to address the question of the role of the mystical experience in a practitioner’s development, yet it’s very difficult to talk about because it doesn’t lend itself to rational discussion—neither do the Buddhist precepts, for that matter. We talk about them to those people whose state of mind is such that they can hear what’s being said. Otherwise, they could become very confusing and cause more problems than they solve. And so it is with many aspects of the teachings. Yet Zen is very practical. Ultimately, it manifests in daily life, but it doesn’t deny the mystical experience—it just goes beyond it. Many practices deal solely with the mystical experience; for example, the Desert Fathers’ practice in Catholicism, Kabbalah and Tantra. In Zen we also have to deal with it at some point, but it’s not the end of training.