A Landmark for Future Generations

Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi
Koans of the Way of Reality
Linji Plants Pines

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 the Rinzai and Soto schools of Zen. He originally gave this discourse in 2005.

Featured in Mountain Record 29.3, Spring 2011

The Main Case

Once, when Linji was planting pine trees, Huangbo asked, “Why plant all these trees deep in the mountains?” Linji answered, “First, I want to create good surroundings for the temple. Second, I want to create a landmark for future generations.” So saying, he took up his mattock and hacked the ground three times. Huangbo said, “That may be so, but I give you thirty blows of my stick.” Linji again hacked the ground three times with his mattock, and then let out a long exhalation. Huangbo said, “Under you, our school will flourish greatly throughout the world.”


Creating good surroundings for a temple involves more than meets the eye. Creating a landmark for future generations has profound implications that resound in the ten directions. Tell me: what was Linji’s intention in hacking the ground three times with his mattock? If you ascribe dharma implications to this action, then why did Huangbo nevertheless say, “That may be so, but I give you thirty blows of my stick.” When Linji again hacked the ground three times with his mattock and let out a long exhalation, Huangbo seemingly approved him. Why was this? The truth of this poem lies in the subtleties. The great master Dogen said, “Create a monk’s hall and a buddha hall within a single particle of dust, and create the entire world in the monk’s hall and the buddha hall. It is in this way the human body is created. And such creation comes from the human body.” If you think Linji’s hacking the ground and planting pine trees are about agriculture, landscaping or landmarks, you are bogged down in the mundane. If you want to understand the compassionate teachings of these masters, you must first realize that in the mundane, nothing is sacred. Then you must go beyond even this and realize that in sacredness, nothing is mundane. Picking up what comes to hand, learn to use it knowingly. When you’re able to be mastered in the dusts everywhere, life becomes sufficient in its own way.

Capping Verse

The buildings and the grounds protect the Dharma
And bring peace to all.
The sangha in the ten directions will increase
In wisdom and compassion.
How this all comes to us
Is a gift we should not miss.

I first walked through the gate of the Monastery on Good Friday of 1980. Neil, a friend of mine, had found the place, and together we came to look at it. When we got here the place was deserted. The doors were all locked but there was an open window in the dining hall, and since Neil knew the caretaker, we decided to climb inside so we could see the building. I realized very quickly that this was the place I had been looking for.

Most people no longer remember that the anniversary of the Monastery happens on Good Friday, but for me, it’s an important event. If it hadn’t been for Neil and I climbing through the window that day, my life would not have changed the way it did. And not just my life, but the lives of all those who live and practice here. Back then, we thought we were in a crazy period of history, and I used to tell people all the time that our job was to create an archive of sanity in a troubled world. Well, this period of time is much crazier and we need this archive of sanity more than ever.