The Direct Experience
of Reality

Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi
True Dharma Eye, Case 261
Yunmen Composes a Verse

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 give this discourse in 2005.

Featured in Mountain Record 29.4, Summer 2011

The Main Case

Yunmen was once asked by a monk, “How do we not waste time throughout the day?”
Yunmen said, “How do you focus on that question?”
The monk said, “I don’t know, master. Please instruct me.”
Yunmen composed a verse and gave it to the monk:

If you don’t pay attention,
you will miss it.
If you think about it,
in what eon will you realize it?


This monk came to Yunmen seeking crumbs and was instead served a six-course meal. Lowering your head and lingering in thought, trying to figure it out with your intellect, simply moves you further from the truth. Yet if you don’t pay attention, you will surely miss it. Now tell me, without falling into intellect, without being caught up in affirmation and negation, how do you understand paying attention without thinking? Haven’t you heard Master Yaoshan’s teaching, “Think not-thinking”? How do you think not-thinking? Nonthinking. We should understand clearly that non-thinking is not just to transcend thinking and not-thinking but to realize both as this very life itself. Nonthinking is objectless, subjectless, formless, goalless, purposeless, but it’s not a vacuum, void of vitality and life. It is rather the self-fulfilling samadhi of joyous activity—the life of the Buddhas and ancestors, your life and my life. To miss it is to miss our life.

Capping Verse

Ten thousand kinds of clever talk—
how can they be compared to the great reality?
From within the myriad forms,
the single body is revealed.

The great master Yunmen was known for his use of live words, his ability to turn a phrase that could bring someone to realization. In this koan the monk asks, “How do we not waste time throughout the day?” It seems like a trivial question. But in fact, every night here at the Monastery we remind ourselves of the importance of not wasting our time. We chant: Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken, take heed: do not squander your life. This is exactly what this monk is asking: how do you not squander your life?

Most of us are constantly preoccupied with our thoughts. We talk to ourselves about things that have already happened or that haven’t happened yet and so we miss the moment. And if we miss the moment we miss our lives. Most of our training is simply to get us to be aware, to be present, to be alert, cognizant, alive. It’s very simple, yet very difficult to do. So, how do we not waste time? Yunmen said, “How do you focus on that question?” How do you bring this question under the magnifying glass and really look at it? The monk said, “I don’t know, Master. Please teach me.” And Yunmen offered him a verse:

If you don’t pay attention,
you will miss it.
If you think about it,
in what eon will you realize it?