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Zen teachings of Master Lin-Chi

The following passages are from "The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi" translated by Burton Watson:

The Master instructed the group, saying: "Those who study the Dharma of the buddhas these days should approach it with a true and proper understanding. If you approach it with a true and proper understanding, you won't be affected by considerations of birth and death, you'll be free to go or stay as you please. You don't have to strive for benefits, benefits will come of themselves.

"Followers of the Way, the outstanding teachers from times past have all had ways of drawing people out. What I want myself to impress on you is that you mustn't be led astray by others. If you want to use this thing, then use it and have no doubts or hesitations!

"When students today fail to make progress, where's the fault? The fault lies in the fact that they don't have faith in themselves! If you don't have faith in yourself, then you'll be forever in a hurry trying to keep up with everything around you, you'll be twisted and turned by whatever environment you're in and you can never move freely. But if you can just stop this mind that goes rushing around moment by moment looking for something, then you'll be no different from the patriarchs and buddhas. Do you want to get to know the patriarchs and buddhas? They're none other than you, the people standing in front of me listening to this lecture on the Dharma!"Students don't have enough faith in themselves, and so they rush around looking for something outside themselves. But even if they get something, all it will be is words and phrases, pretty appearances. They'll never get at the living thought of the patriarchs!

"Make no mistake, you followers of Ch'an. If you don't find it in this life, then for a thousand kalpas you'll be born again and again in the three-fold world, you'll be lured off by what you think are favorable environments and be born in the belly of a donkey or a cow!

"Followers of the Way, as I look at it, we're no different from Shakyamuni. In all our various activities each day, is there anything we lack? The wonderful light of the six faculties has never for a moment ceased to shine. If you could just look at it this way, then you'd be the kind of person who has nothing to do for the rest of his life.

"Fellow believers, 'There is no safety in the threefold world; it is like a burning house.' This is no place for you to linger long! The deadly demon of impermanence will be on you in an instant, regardless of whether you're rich or poor, old or young.

"If you want to be no different from the patriarchs and buddhas, then never look for something outside yourselves. The clean pure light in a moment of your mind--that is the Essence-body of the Buddha lodged in you. The undifferentiated light in a moment of your mind~that is the Bliss-body of the Buddha lodged in you. The undiscriminating light in a moment of your mind--that is the Transformtion-body of the Buddha lodged in you. These three types of bodies are you, the person who stands before me now listening to this lecture on the Dharma! And simply because you do not rush around seeking anything outside yourselves, you can command these fine faculties.

"According to the expounders of the sutras and treatises, the threefold body is to be taken as some kind of ultimate goal. But as I see it, that's not so. This threefold body is nothing but mere names. Or they're three types of dependencies. One man of early times said, 'The body depends on doctrine for its definition, and the land is discussed in terms of the reality.' This'body' of the Dharma-realm, or reality, and this'land' of the Dharma-realm we can see clearly are no more than flickering lights.

"Followers of the Way, you should realize that the person who manipulates these flickering lights is the source of the buddhas, the home that all followers of the way should return to. Your physical body made up of the four great elements doesn't know how to preach the Dharma or listen to the Dharma. Your spleen and stomach, your liver and gall, don't know how to preach the Dharma or listen to the Dharma. The empty spaces don't know how to preach the Dharma or listen to the Dharma. What is it, then, that knows how to preach the Dharma or listen to the Dharma? It is you who are right here before my eyes, this lone brightness without fixed shape or form--this is what knows how to preach the Dharma and listen to the Dharma. If you can see it this way, you'll be no different from the patriarchs and the buddhas.

"But never at any time let go of this even for a moment. Everything ~ that meets your eyes is this. But'when feelings arise, wisdom is blocked; when thoughts waver, reality departs,' therefore you keep being reborn again and again in the threefold world and undergoing all kinds of misery. But as I see it, there are none of you incapable of profound understanding, none of you are incapable of emancipation.

"Followers of the Way, this thing called mind has no fixed form; it penetrates all the ten directions. In the eye we call it sight; in the ear we call it hearing; in the nose it detects odors, in the mouth it speaks discourse; in the hand it grasps, in the feet it runs along. Basically it is a single bright essence, but it divides itself into these six functions. And because this single mind has no fixed form, it is everywhere in a state of emancipation. Why do I tell you this? Because you followers of the Way seem to be incapable of stopping this mind that goes rushing around everywhere looking for something. So you get caught up in those idle devices of the men of old.

Someone asked, "What is the Buddha devil?" The Master said, "If you have doubts in your mind for an instant, that's the Buddha devil. But if you can understand that the ten thousand phenomena were never born, that the mind is like a conjurers trick, then not one speck of dust, not one phenomenon will exist. Everywhere will be clean and pure, and this will be Buddha. Buddha and devil just refer to two states, one stained, one pure. "As I see it, there's no Buddha, no living beings, no long ago, no now. If you want to get it, you've already got it--it's not something that requires time. There's no religious practice, no enlightenment, no getting anything, no missing out on anything. At no time is there any other Dharma than this. If anyone claims there is a Dharma superior to this, I say it must be a dream, a phantom. All I have to say to you is simply this. "Followers of the Way, this lone brightness before my eyes now, this person plainly listening to me--this person is unimpeded at any point but penetrates the ten directions, free to do as he pleases in the threefold world. No matter what the environment he may encounter, with its peculiarities and differences, he cannot be swayed or pulled awry. In the space of an instant he makes his way into the Dharma-realm. If he meets a buddha he preaches to the buddha, if he meets a patriarch, he preaches to the patriarch, if he meets an arhat, he preaches to the arhat, if he meets a hungry ghost, he preaches to the hungry ghost. He goes everywhere, wandering through many lands, teaching and converting living beings, yet never becomes separated from his single thought. Every place for him is clean and pure, his light pierces the ten directions, the ten thousand phenomena are a single thusness.

Followers of the Way, the really first-rate person knows right now that from the first theres never been anything that needed doing. Its because you dont have enough faith that you rush around moment by moment looking for something. You throw away your head and hunt for your head, and you cant seem to stop yourselves. You are like the bodhisattva of perfect and immediate enlightenment, who manifests his body in the dharma realm but who, in the midst of the pure land, still hates the state of common mortal and prays to become a sage. People like that have yet to forget about choices; their minds are still occupied with thoughts about purity and impurity. But the Chan school doesnt see things that way. What counts is this present moment; theres nothing that requires a lot of time. Everything I say to you is for the moment only, medicine to cure the disease. Ultimately it has no true reality. If you can see things in this way you will be true people who have left the household, free to spend ten thousand pieces of gold every day.

Followers of the Way, dont let just anyone put their stamp of approval on your face; dont say, I understand Zen; I understand the Way, spouting off like a waterfall. All that sort of thing is karma, leading to hell. If you are a person who honestly wants to learn the Way, dont go looking for the worlds mistakes, but set about as fast as you can looking for true and proper understanding. If you can acquire true and proper understanding thats clear and complete, then you can think about calling it quits.

"Followers of the Way, you take the words that come out of the mouths of a bunch of old teachers to be a description of the true Way. You think, 'This is a most wonderful teacher and friend. I have only the mind of a common mortal, I would never dare to try to fathom such venerableness.' Blind idiots! You go through life with this kind of understanding, betraying your own two eyes, cringing and faltering like a donkey on an icy road, saying, 'I would never dare speak ill of such a good friend, I'd be afraid of making mouth karma!'

"Followers of the Way, the really good friend is someone who dares speak ill of the Buddha, speak ill of the patriarchs, pass judgment on anyone in the world, throw away the Tripitaka, revile those little children, and in the midst of opposition and assent search out the real person. So for the past twelve years, though I've looked for this thing called karma, I've never found so much as a particle of it the size of a mustard seed.

"Those Ch'an masters who are as timid as a new bride are afraid they might be expelled from the monastery or deprived of their meal of rice, worrying and fretting. But from times past the real teachers, wherever they went, were never listened to and were always driven out--that's how you know they were men of worth. If everybody approves of you wherever you go, what use can you be? Hence the saying, let the lion give one roar and the brains of the little foxes will split open.

"Followers of the Way, here and there you hear it said that there is a Way to be practiced, a Dharma to become enlightened to. Will you tell me then just what Dharma there is to be enlightened to, what Way there is to practice? In your present aetivities, what is it you lack, what is it that practice must mend? But those little greenhorn monks don't understand this and immediately put faith in that bunch of wild fox spirits, letting them spout their ideas and tie people in knots, saying, 'When principle and practice match one another and proper precaution is taken with regard to the three types of karma of body, mouth, and mind, only then can one attain Budhahood.' People who go on like that are as plentiful as springtime showers.

"A man of old said, 'If along the road you meet a man who is master of the Way, whatever you do, don't talk to him about the Way.' Therefore it is said, 'If a person practices the way, the Way will never proceed. Instead, ten thousand kinds of mistaken environments will vie in poking up their heads. But if the sword of wisdom comes to cut them all down, then even before the bright signs manifest themselves, the dark signs will have become bright. Therefore a man of old said, 'The everyday mind--that is the Way.' "Fellow believers, what are you looking for? This man of the Way who depends on nothing, here before my eyes now listening to the Dharma--his brightness shines clearly, he has never lacked anything. If you want to be no different from the patriarchs and buddhas, learn to see it this way and -- never give in to doubt or questioning. When your mind moment by moment never differentiates, it may be called the living patriarch. If the mind differentiates, its nature and manifestations become separated from one another. But so long as it does not differentiate, its nature and manifestations do not become separated."

Someone asked, "What do you mean by the true Buddha, the true Dharma, and the true Way? Would you be good enough to explain to us?" The Master said, "Buddha--this is the cleanness and purity of the mind. The Dharma--this is the shining brightness of the mind. The Way--this is the pure light that is never obstructed anywhere. The three are in fact one. All are empty names and have no true reality.

"The true and proper man of the Way from moment to moment never permits any interruption in his mind. When the great teacher Bodhidharma came from the west, he was simply looking for a man who would not be misled by others. Later the Second Patriarch encountered Bodhidharma, and after hearing one word, he understood. Then for the first time he realized that up to then he had been engaged in useless activity and striving.

"My understanding today is no different from that of the patriarchs and buddhas. If you get it with the first phrase, you can be a teacher of the patriarchs and buddhas. If you get it with the second phrase, you can be a teacher of human and heavenly beings. If you get it with the third phrase, you can't even save yourself!"

Someone asked, "What was Bodhidharma's purpose in coming from the west?" The Master said, "If he had had a purpose, he wouldn't have been able to save even himself!"The questioner said, "If he had no purpose, then how did the Second Patriarch manage to get the Dharma?" The Master said, "Getting means not getting." "If it means not getting," said the questioner, "then what do you mean by not getting?"

The Master said, "You can't seem to stop your mind from racing around everywhere seeking something. That's why the patriarch said, 'Hopeless fellows--using their heads to look for their heads!' You must right now turn your light around and shine it on yourselves, not go seeking somewhere else. Then you will understand that in body and mind you are no different
from the patriarchs and the buddhas, and that there is nothing to do. Do that and you may speak of'getting the Dharma.'

"Fellow believers, at this time, having found it impossible to refuse, I have been addressing you, putting forth a lot of trashy talk. But make no mistake! In my view, there are in fact no great number of principles to be grasped. If you want to use the thing, then use it. If you don't want to use it, then let it be.

"Followers of the Way, don't take the Buddha to be some sort of ultimate goal. In my view he's more like the hole in a privy. Bodhisattvas and arhats are so many cangues and chains, things for fettering people. Therefore, Manjushri grasped his sword, ready to kill Gautama, and Angulimala, blade in hand, tried to do injury to Shakyamuni.

"Followers of the Way, there is no Buddha to be gained, and the Three Vehicles, the five natures, the teaching of the perfect and immediate enlightenment are all simply medicines to cure diseases of the moment. None have any true reality. Even if they had, they would still all be mere shams, placards proclaiming superticial matters, so many words lined up, pronouncements of such kind.

"Followers of the Way, there are certain baldheads who turn all their efforts inward, seeking in this way to find some otherworldly truth. But they are completely mistaken! Seek the Buddha and you'll lose the Buddha. Seek the Way and you'll lose the Way. Seek the patriarchs and you'll lose the patriarchs.

"Fellow believers, don't mistake me! I don't care whether you understand the sutras and treatises. I don't care whether you are rulers or great statesmen. I don't care whether you can pour out torrents of eloquence. 1 don't care whether you display brilliant intellects. All I ask is that you have true and proper understanding."

"Fellow believers, do not use your minds in a mistaken manner, but be like the sea which rejects the bodies of the dead. While you continue to carry such dead bodies and go racing around the world with them, you only obstruct your own vision and create obstacles in your mind. When no clouds block the sun, the beautiful light of heaven shines everywhere. When no disease afflicts the eye, it does not see phantom flowers in the empty air.

"Followers of the Way, if you wish to be always in accord with the Dharma, never give way to doubt. 'Spread it out and it fills the whole Dharma-realm, gather it up and it's tinier than a thread of hair.' Its lone brightness gleaming forth, it has never lacked anything. 'The eye doesn't see it, the ear doesn't hear it.' What shall we call this thing? A man of old said, 'Say something about a thing and already you're off the mark.' You'll just have to see it for yourselves. What other way is there? But there's no end to this talk. Each of you, do your best! Thank you for your trouble."

The Master was entering an army encampment to attend a dinner when he saw one of the officers at the gate. He pointed to a bare wooden gatepost and said, "A common mortal or a sage?" The officer had no reply. The Master struck the gatepost and said, "Even if you had managed a reply, it would still just be a wooden post!" With that he entered the camp.

Someone asked, "what is the true nature of mind?" The Master replied, "officially even a needle cannot enter; unofficially you can drive a horse and cart through."

The following is translated by D.T. Suzuki

An ancient doctor says that the body is dependent on its meaning, and the ground is describable by its substance. Being so, we know that Dharma-body and Dharma-ground are reflections of the (original) light. O Venerable Sirs, let us take hold of this person who handles these reflections. For he is the source of all the Buddhas and the house of truth-seekers everywhere. The body made up of the four elements does not understand how to discourse or how to listen to a discourse. Nor do the liver, the stomach, the kidneys, the bowels. Nor does the vacuity of space. That which is most unmistakably perceivable right before your eyes, though without form, yet absolutely identifiable—this is what understands the discourse and listens to it.

When this is thoroughly seen into, there is no difference between yourselves and the old masters. Only let not your insight be interrupted through all the periods of time, and you will be at peace with whatever situation you come into. When wrong imaginations are stirred, the insight is no more immediate; when thoughts are changeable, the essence is no more the same. For this reason, we transmigrate in the triple world and suffer varieties of pain. As I view the matter in my way, deep indeed is (Reality), and there is none who is not destined for emancipation.

O Followers of the Way, Mind has no form and penetrates every corner of the universe. In the eye it sees, in the ear it hears, in the nose it smells, in the mouth it talks, in the hand it seizes, in the leg it runs. The source is just one illuminating essence, which divides itself into six functioning units. Let all interfering thoughts depart from Mind, and you experience emancipation wherever you go. What do you think is my idea of talking to you like this? I simply wish to see you stop wandering after external objects, for it is because of this hankering that the old masters play tricks on you.

* * *

Followers of the Way, when you come to view things as I do, you are able to sit over the heads of the Enjoyment- and Transformation-Buddhas; the Bodhisattvas who have successfully mounted the scale of ten stages look like hirelings; those who have attained the stage of full enlightenment resemble prisoners in chains; the Arhats and Pratyeka-Buddhas are cesspools; Bodhi and Nirvana are a stake to which donkeys are fastened. Why so? Because. O Followers of the Way, you have not yet attained the view whereby all kalpas are reduced to Emptiness. When this is not realized, there are all such hindrances. It is not so with the true man who has insight into Reality. He gives himself up to all manner of situations in which he finds himself in obedience to his past karma. He appears in whatever garments re ready for him to put on. As it is desired of him either to move or to sit quietly, he moves or sits. He has not a thought of running after Buddhahood. He is free from such pinings. Why is it so with him? Says an ancient sage, "When the Buddha is sought after, he is the cause of transmigration."

O Venerable Sirs, time is not to be wasted. Do not commit yourselves to a grave mistake by convulsively looking around your neighborhood and not within yourselves. You make mistakes by truing to master Zen, to master the Way, to learn words and phrases, to seek for Buddhas and Fathers and good friends. There is just one parenthood for you, and outside of it what do you wish to acquire? Just look within yourselves. The Buddha tells us the story of Yajnadatta. Thinking he had lost his head, he wildly ran after it; but when he found that he had never lost it, he became a peaceful man. O Followers of the Way, be just yourselves, stop your hysterical antics. There are some old baldheaded fools who know not good from bad. They recognize all kinds of things, they see spirits, they see ghosts, they look this way and that way, they like fair weather, they like rainy weather. If they go on like this, they are sure one day to appear before the King of Death, who will ask them to pay up their debts by swallowing red-hot iron balls. Sons and daughters of good families become possessed of this uncanny fox-spirit and go wildly astray even against their original sanity. Poor blind followers! Some day they will have to pay up their board.

This passage is translated by Thomas Cleary

True Perception and Understanding:

People who study Buddhism should seek real, true perception and understanding for now. If you attain real, true perception and understanding, birth and death won't affect you - you are free to go or stay. You needn't seek wonders, for wonders come of themselves.

Self Confidence:

What I point out to you is only that you shouldn't allow yourselves to be confused by others. Act when you need to, without further hesitation or doubt. People today can't do this - what is their affliction? Their affliction is in their lack of self-confidence. If you do not spontaneously trust yourself sufficiently, you will be in a frantic state, pursuing all sorts of objects and being changed by those objects, unable to be independent.

Buddha Within:

There is no stability in the world; it is like a house on fire. This is not a place where you can stay for a long time. The murderous demon of impermanence is instantaneous, and it does not choose between the upper and lower classes, or between the young and old. If you want to be no different from the Buddhas and Zen masters, just don't seek externally. The pure light in a moment of awareness in your mind is the Buddha's essence within you. The nondiscriminating light in a moment of awareness in your mind is the Buddha's wisom within you. The undifferentiated light in a moment of awareness in your mind is the Buddha's manifestation within you.

No Obsessions:

It is most urgent that you seek real, true perception and understanding, so you can be free in the world and not confused by ordinary spiritualists. It is best to have no obsessions. Just do not be contrived. Simply be normal. You impulsively seek elsewhere, looking to others for your own hands and feet. This is already mistaken.

The Mind Ground:

The mind ground can go into the ordinary, into the holy, into the pure, into the defiled, into the real, into the conventional; but it is not your "real" or "conventional," "ordinary" or "holy." It can put labels on all the real and conventional, the ordinary and the holy, but the real and conventional, the ordinary and the holy, cannot put labels on someone in the mind ground. If you can get it, use it, without putting any more labels on it.

Understanding People:

When followers of Zen come to see me, I have already understood them completely. How can I do this? Simply because my perception is independent - externally I do not grasp the ordinary or the holy, internally I do not dwell on the fundamental. I see all the way through and do not doubt or err anymore.


Just be autonomous wherever you are, and right there is realization. Situations that come up cannot change you. Even if you have bad habits, you will spontaneously be liberated from them.

Spiritual Dilettantes:

Zen students today are totally unaware of truth. They are like foraging goats that pick up whatever they bump into They do not distinguish between the servant and the master, or between guest and host. People like this enter Zen with distorted minds, and are unable to enter effectively into dynamic situations. They may be called true initiates, but actually they are really mundane people. Those who really leave attachments must master real, true perception to distinguish the enlightened from the obsessed, the genuine from the artificial, the unregenerate from the sage. If you can make these discernments, you can be said to have really left dependency. Professionally Buddhist clergy who cannot tell obsession from enlightenment have just left one social group and entered another social group. They cannot really be said to be independent. Now there is an obsession with Buddhism that is mixed in with the real thing. Those with clear eyes cut through both obsession and Buddhism. If you love the sacred and despise the ordinary, you are still bobbing in the ocean of delusion.

Labels and Objective Truth:

Because you grasp labels and slogans, you are hindered by those labels and slogans, both those used in ordinary life and those considered sacred. Thus they obstruct your perception of objective truth, and you cannot understand clearly.

The Free Self:

If you want to be free, get to know your real self. It has no form, no appearance, no root, no basis, no abode, but is lively and buoyant. It responds with versatile facility, but its function cannot be located. Therefore when you look for it you become further from it, when you seek it you turn away from it all the more.

No Concern:

Just put thoughts to rest and don't seek outwardly anymore. When things come up, then give them your attention; just trust what is functional in you at present, and you have nothing to be concerned about.

Blind Baldies:

There are blind baldies who, after they have eaten their fill, do zazen and practice meditation, arresting thoughts leaking out to prevent them from arising, shunning clamor and seeking quiet. This is a deviated form of Zen.

Uncritical Acceptance:

You take the words of these ordinary Zen teachers for the real Way, supposing that Zen teachers are incomprehensible and as an ordinary person you dare not attempt to assess those old timers. You are blind if you take this view all your life, contrary to the evidence of your own eyes.

Tourist Trap:

At Zen centers they say there is a Way to be practiced and a religious truth to be realized. Tell me, what religious truth is realized and what Way is practiced? In your present functioning, what do you lack? What would you fix? Younger newcomers, not understanding this, immediately believe these mesmerists and let them talk about things that tie people up.

Supernormal Faculties:

The six supernormal faculties of the enlightened are the ability to enter the realm of form without being confused by form, to enter the realm of sound without being confused by sound, to enter the realm of scent without being confused by scent, to enter the realm of flavor without being confused by flavor, to enter the realm of feeling without being confused by feeling, to enter the realm of phenomena without being confused by phenomena.

Objective Perception and Understanding:

If you want to perceive and understand objectively, just don't allow yourself to be confused by people. Detach from whatever you find inside or outside yourself - detach from religion, tradition, and society, and only then will you attain liberation. When you are not entangled in things, you pass through freely to autonomy.

Zen Teaching:

I have no doctrine to give people - I just cure ailments and unlock fetters.

Adding Mud to Dirt:

There are Zen students who are in chains when they go to a teacher, and the teacher adds another chain. The students are delighted, unable to discern one thing from another. This is called a guest looking at a guest.


When I say there is nothing outside, students who do not understand me intepret this in terms of inwardness, so they sit silent and still, taking this to be Zen Buddhism. This is a big mistake. If you take a state of unmoving clarity to be Zen, you are recognizing ignorance as a slave master.

Movement and Stillness:

If you try to grasp Zen in movement, it goes into stillness. If you try to grasp Zen in stillness, it goes into movement. It is like a fish hidden in a spring, drumming up waves and dancing independently. Movement and stillness are two states. The Zen master, who does not depend on anything, makes deliberate use of both movement and stillness.