The story of Yantou’s death is also interesting. During the 1880s, there was a great persecution of Buddhism in China. As the army advanced and destroyed temples right and left, Yantou’s whole sangha fled. Only the teacher remained practicing zazen in the empty zendo. One day, bandits broke in and one of them approached the sitting master. Wielding his sword, the bandit asked Yantou, “Who are you?” Yantou let out a great Zen shout that could be heard for many miles. With that, the bandit took off Yantou’s head.
Luoshan is the successor of Yantou, and he also turned out to be quite a teacher in his own right. In one encounter, a student came to him and Luoshan asked, “What’s your name?” The monk answered, “Migyo.” Luoshan asked, “So can you teach or not?” The monk said, “A little.” Luoshan held up his fists and said, “If you can climb the Spirit Mountain, what do you call this?” The monk said, “Fist teaching.” Luoshan laughed and asked, “So you call it fist teaching?” He then lifted up his robe and stuck his foot out and asked, “What do you call this—foot teaching?”
In this encounter we have Luoshan, who had heard rumors of Yantou not approving Dongshan and Deshan, both of whom were much senior to Yantou. So Luoshan wanted to find out more about this. In the first line of the koan Luoshan approaches Yantou, bows and says, “Master, is it true that you did not approve Dongshan when you were in his assembly?” The footnote to this line says, “He wants to separate the rumor from the truth.” We all do that. I remember doing it many times with my teacher Maezumi Roshi, trying to pick his brain on this or that teacher.
Yantou answered, “That is true.” Luoshan went on, “Is it true that you inherited the dharma from Deshan and did not approve him?” Yantou replied, “That is true.” The footnote says, “At this point, it would be hard to deny.” There he was, a well-known successor of Deshan, so how could he deny what everybody knew?
Luoshan said, “I’m not asking you why you did not approve Deshan. Let me just ask you, what was lacking in Dongshan?” The footnote to that says, “Haven’t you heard? He’s deaf, dumb and blind.” That is, Dongshan is deaf, dumb and blind. Yantou paused for a while and said, “Dongshan was a good buddha. He just didn’t shine.” The footnote to that says, “He did not shine, nor was he dull. Do you understand?”
Those last two footnotes are the key to finding your way into this koan. In the commentary it says, “Yantou traveled widely, 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 could not be grasped,’ and that 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 other’?”
This encounter is taken from another koan that involved both Deshan and Dongshan. One day when Yantou was studying with Deshan, Yantou stood straddling the doorway, and said, “Sacred or mundane?” Asking a question like that is an obvious trap. Deshan’s response was a great shout. Yantou bowed. A monk told Dongshan about this. Dongshan said, “If it wasn’t for Yantou, then the meaning couldn’t be grasped.” And 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 pressed down with the other.” See what he’s saying here? He’s not falling to one side or the other side. Lifting up and pressing down at the same time. “Dongshan doesn’t know right from wrong.” He doesn’t know about lifting up and pressing down.