Leaping Inward

Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi
True Dharma Eye, Case 104
Deshan's Enlightenment

Featured in Mountain Record 29.1, Fall 2010

John Daido Loori Roshi (1931-2009) was the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery and founder of the Mountains and Rivers Order. A successor to Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi Roshi, Daido Roshi was a lineage holder in both the Rinzai and Soto schools of Zen.

Main Case

Priest Luoshan accompanied Yantou and visited a mountain. He said, “Master.”

Yantou said, "What is it?"

Luoshan went close to him, bowed, and said, "Master, is it true that you did not approve Dongshan when you were at his assembly thirty years ago?"

Yantou said, "That is true."

Luoshan said, " Is it rue that you inherited dharma from Deshan Xuanjian and did not approve him?"

Yantou said, "That is true."

Luoshan said, "I am not asking why you did not approve Deshan. Just let me ask you, what was lacking in Dongshan?"

Yantou paused for a while and said, "Dongshan was a good buddha. He just didn't shine."

Luoshan bowed.


Yantou traveled widely and studied with many masters. He was difficult to please. Haven’t you heard that once, when Dongshan said, “If it wasn’t for Yantou, then the meaning couldn’t be grasped,” and at that time Yantou said, “Old Dongshan doesn’t know right from wrong. He’s made a big error. At that time I lifted up with one hand and pushed down with the one hand”? At another time Yantou said of his teacher, “Old Deshan doesn’t know the last word of Zen.”

See how he has a naturally sharp and demanding edge to his personality. There is no one who can really handle him. If you want to get to the real meaning of Yantou’s two disapprovals, you must examine the two encounters. What does he mean when he says that old Dongshan doesn’t know right from wrong, that at the time he was lifting up with one hand and pushing down with the other? What does it mean not to shine?

It seems obvious that Yantou would know that Deshan was a truly accomplished master; he succeeded him. Why did he then say, “Old Deshan doesn’t know the last word of Zen?” What is the last word of Zen? If you can see into this, you will know why Luoshan didn’t even bother to ask about it.

Capping Verse

If the student's understanding equals the teacher's,
the teaching is diminished by half.
Only when the student hs surpassed the teacher,
has the teaching been truly transmitted.

Yantou is a very important character in the history of Zen. As the koan says, he succeeded Deshan, and was also the dharma brother of Xuefeng. In fact, he was instrumental in Xuefeng’s enlightenment. Although Xuefeng received the transmission from Deshan, he was really enlightened under Yantou. And so, Yantou had a special relationship with his dharma brother. Xuefeng was older in years, but Yantou was much more mature in the dharma. He traveled widely, had a great reputation, and became a teacher of many monks. During the latter part of his life, he became quirky in the way he taught. Whenever anyone asked him about buddha or dharma or the Tao, or if they asked anything about Zen, Yantou would only sigh. Perhaps he had been listening to those questions all his life, and he just about had it.