The commentary continues: “As for the mind of the son of Sha and fishing for a person, fishing for a self on a fishing boat, haven’t you heard the saying of master Xuansha?: Xuansha addressing the assembly said, ‘The old man Shakyamuni and I had the same encounter.’ A monk came forward and asked, ‘I don’t understand. Who was it that you encountered and saw?’ The master said, ‘We encountered and saw the third son of the Sha family on a fishing boat.’”
In his Shobogenzo, Dogen wrote a fascicle called “Henzan,” which means to encounter everywhere. Hen is “everywhere.” Zan means to have an interview with, or to meet a teacher—also to see, to serve, to encounter a teacher or a temple. We find the word zan or san in sanzen, to practice zazen under a teacher, and dokusan, solitary encounter with a teacher. It is in “Henzan” that Dogen brings up the encounter between Xuansha, the Buddha, and the third son of Sha:
Xuansha addressed the assembly saying, “The old man Shakyamuni and I had the same encounter.” Then a monk came forward and asked, “I don’t understand. Who was it that you encountered and saw?”
The master said, “The third son of the Sha family on a fishing boat.”
The complete correctness of Shakymuni’s encountering the depths is naturally the same encounter as Shakymuni. The complete correctness of Xuansha’s encountering the depths is naturally the same encounter as Xuansha. That is why both old man Shakyamuni and old man Xuansha had the same encounter. For both Shakyamuni and Xuansha the teaching of encountering everywhere means investigating the concept of sufficient and insufficient encounters. Because old man Shakyamuni had the same encounter as old man Xuansha, he is an ancient Buddha. Because old man Xuansha had the same encounter as Shakyamuni, he is his descendant. You should encounter this teaching everywhere in detail.
“The third son of the Sha family on a fishing boat.” You should study and clarify the main point of this. In other words, both old man Shakyamuni and old man Xuansha made the effort of encountering everywhere this occasion when they had the same encounter at the same time. There is the old man Xuansha who encounters and sees the third son of the Sha family on a fishing boat and he has the same encounter.
All-inclusive study of the self—encountering the self—is a whole body and mind activity. It’s not the accumulation of information. It’s not the ability to regurgitate pithy Zen sayings. It’s how we embody what we have realized—how that realization manifests in the world. That’s what it means to give life to the Buddha.
This is why it is so important to be diligent in our practice. Once we have a little bit of clarity it’s easy to get complacent and think that we know how things work. That’s why we have teachers in Zen. Their job is to pull the rug out from under us and to keep doing it over and over again until the moment comes when the rug is pulled out and we remain on our feet. But most of us will have to fall a thousand times, ten thousand times, before we learn how to stay on our feet. As we say in Zen: “Seven times knocked down, eight times get up.”