This koan is one of the three hundred koans Master Dogen collected, but Dogen never used it or referred to it in all his teachings in Shobogenzo. What did he want to do with it? We don’t know. What I want to do with it is address the stupidity that’s expressed by this teacher Xixian. What was going on here? Why does this koan feel off? It’s not a matter of the translation; as far as what was in Chinese and how it is read in English, it’s exactly like this: “When I took the city of Jinling with an army troop, I killed countless people. Am I at fault?” And the teacher answers, “I am watching closely.”

In a sense, isn’t it true that this is what everybody is doing: watching? Watching closely. Watching TV, watching the Internet, watching the newspapers, watching the radio—tuning in to the experts, the pundits, the politicians. We’re all so busy watching—is anybody doing anything? It’s easy to watch; it’s much more difficult to do.


The footnote to that first line, “When I took the city of Jinling with an army troop, I killed countless people,” is “To kill and destroy is easy. To affirm life and nourish is difficult.” And the footnote to the next line, “Am I at fault?” is “Cause and effect are one. How can you not know I am at fault?’” Xixian said, “I am watching closely.” The comment to that line says, “Stop watching and close the gap. Then there won’t be anything to protect.” When there is no separation, there’s no self, there’s no separate entity.