Caoshan was once asked by a monk, “A child went back to her parent. Why didn’t the parent pay attention to her?”1Caoshan said, “It’s quite natural just like that.”2The monk said, “Then where is the love between parent and child?”3 Caoshan said, “The love between parent and child.”4The monk said, “What is the love between parent and child?”5 Caoshan said, “It cannot be split apart even when you hit it with an ax.”6
The CommentaryAt the time of birth parent and child become each other. This means that in the middle of the night before the moon has appeared, do not be surprised if people meet without knowing each other. At this point the empty sky has vanished and the iron mountain has crumbled; there’s not an inch of ground to stand on. Be that as it may, still mountains are high and valleys are low. Thus, Caoshan says, “The love between parent and child neither arises nor vanishes.” How then can they be divided into fragments and segments? All this notwithstanding, how is it that parent and child can meet and yet not know each other?
The Capping Verse
Why must Yin and Yang be placed in an arrangement?
If you do, you will never have today.
When the wind blows, the grasses bend.
When the rain comes, the river fills.
1. They meet but they don’t recognize each other.
2. Although this is true, why does he call it natural?
3. This monk thinks love is about differentiation.
4. Beginningless and endless, intimacy is a continuum. It doesn’t start and it doesn’t end.
5. He’s still sitting by the river dying of thirst.
6. It is simply not two.
[Return to Main Case]
Footnote: *300 Koan Shobogenzo is a collection of koans
gathered by Master Dogen during his study in China. The koans from this
collection, often called the Chinese Shobogenzo, appear extensively in the
essays of Dogen’s Japanese Shobogenzo. These koans have not been available in
English translation but are currently being translated and prepared for
publication by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Abbot John Daido Loori. Abbot Loori has
added a commentary, capping verse and footnotes to each koan.
Master Caoshan (Jpn., Sozan) was a Dharma heir of Master Dongshan (Jpn., Tozan). These two teachers are considered the cofounders of the Caodong, or the Soto, School of Zen, one of the five key lineages of Zen in Tang Dynasty China. They are responsible for creating The Five Ranks of the Relative and the Absolute, a collection of poems and commentaries on the relationships of all apparent dualities. They derived and elaborated the Five Ranks from the Flower Garland Sutra, studied by the Hua-yen Buddhists at the time.
Although Master Dogen, five hundred years after Dongshan and Caoshan, bluntly stated that the Five Ranks were overly intellectual and he wasn’t interested in using them, his Shobogenzo is filled with the teachings of the Five Ranks. Dogen’s originality and clarity shine in the way he presents the Five Ranks as a way of understanding the relationship between apparently different entities, reminding us that differentiation has to do with what we do with our minds.
In this koan, the reference to a parent and a child applies to a biological kinship as well as the relationship between a teacher and a student. The koan could be reworded from that perspective. The monk said, “The student went back to her teacher. Why didn’t the teacher pay any attention?” Caoshan said, “It’s quite natural.” The monk said, “Then where is the intimacy between teacher and student?” Caoshan said, “It’s the intimacy between teacher and student.” The monk said, “What is the intimacy between teacher and student?” Caoshan said, “It cannot be split apart even when hit with an ax.”
I added footnotes to shed some light on this exchange. Caoshan was once asked by a monk, “A child went back to her parent. Why didn’t the parent pay attention to her?” The footnote says, They meet but they don’t recognize each other. Caoshan said “It’s quite natural like that.” The footnote says, Although this is true, why does he call it natural? Caoshan’s response may seem shocking, but he is coming from a point of view in the Dharma that is critical to understanding this and any other relationship between dualities: parent and child, form and emptiness, good and bad, up and down, this and that.
The monk said, “Then where is the love between parent and child?” The footnote says, This monk thinks love is about differentiation. We all think love is about two things when, in reality, it is about intimacy. Intimacy means no gaps. When there are no gaps, no differentiation is possible.
The next line: Caoshan said, “The love between parent and child.” The footnote says, Beginningless and endless, intimacy is a continuum. It doesn’t start and it doesn’t end. The monk said, “What is the love between parent and child?” The footnote to that says, He’s still sitting by the river dying of thirst. The last line says, “It cannot be split apart even when hit with an ax.” The footnote says, It is simply not two.
The commentary begins, At the time of birth parent and child become each other. During the summer months, many of the creatures that were born on this mountain in spring time come to maturation. When attentive, one gets many opportunities to witness this process and how it plays itself out within a parent and child relationship.
Recently, I watched ducklings imitating their mother as the family meandered up and down the stream. She turned, they turned. She ran on top of the water, they ran on top of the water. They were learning how to be ducklings. When a hungry mink appeared at the edge of a clearing, the mother duck first gave a warning signal for the ducklings to disappear into the thicket, and then proceeded to put on an incredible act. She played being wounded, flopping around on the water, distracting the mink. The mink immediately went after her. Apparently, she was an easy prey. The mink was quicksilver fast. Like lightning, it would close in on the duck. She would let it almost touch her, and then she would somehow slip away. Of course, she had the power of her flight. She could have simply taken off straight up from the surface of the water. She didn’t. She had another agenda, another responsibility. That mink was not a threat to her. Now, those ducklings were her body, and a concern for them was her personal responsibility.
Clearly, that duck had been transformed into a parent.In the Mountains and Rivers Sutra, Master Dogen talks about how that transformation takes place. He says, “We should understand the true nature of birth. At the time of birth are both parent and child transformed?” Dogen goes on to say, “We must study and fully understand not only that birth is actualized in the child becoming a parent, but also that the practice and verification of the phenomenon of birth occurs when the parent becomes the child.” The line in the koan’s commentary At the time of birth parent and child become each other, arises from Dogen’s statement. And what Dogen says about the parent and the child holds true for the teacher and student relationship. That relationship, too, is marked by many transformations.
In the beginning, the teacher-student relationship is very similar to a parent-child relationship. The student is in a completely new territory, unsure. There is a need for lot of fundamental instructions from the teacher. After a while that changes and the teacher becomes a guide, fine-tuning the assessment of the student and pointing appropriately. Still the student is dependent on the guide. The next phase is characterized by the teacher being more like a spiritual friend. That evolves into spiritual equality between the teacher and the student. Still, the relationship continues.
At the time of the transmission of the Dharma, the parent becomes the child, the child becomes the parent; the teacher becomes the student, the student becomes the teacher. That fact is concretely expressed in the ceremony of transmission. First, the student circumambulates the teacher sitting on the high seat. Then the teacher steps down so that the student can sit on the high seat and the teacher circumambulates the student. The differences between the two become blurred.
A student can see the teacher because they are the teacher. A teacher seeing the student is meeting himself. My teacher meeting me is my teacher meeting himself, just as it is me meeting myself. Isn’t this the same as the Buddha meeting the Buddha?
We often say that to realize oneself is to be really intimate with oneself. Isn’t being intimate with oneself also the same as Buddha meeting Buddha? That’s what the transmission of the Dharma is about. It doesn’t go from A to B. It’s realized within A, just as it was realized within B.
In birth, both parent and child transform; they become each other. We don’t usually realize the full impact of that fact. It is fascinating when parents and their kids come to the Monastery for our Sunday programs. It is very clear which child belongs to which parent. Even if we scrambled the whole group, it would be straightforward to sort the families out. The kids are a perfect reflection of their parents. But we are not very conscious of that when we are raising our children.
When I look at my own children right now, I see myself the way I was twenty years back. I have a son who is forty-three and one who is forty. The things they struggle with are the things I was struggling with when I was raising them. Our appreciations are similar. Both of my sons have a deep love of nature and a need to spend long days in the wilderness. And that sense of confidence in the wild is being passed on to their kids. My two grandchildren are both avid hikers and canoeists who know their way around the back country. They also deal with anger much the same way I do.
As parents and teachers, we transmit our ways of life whether we realize it or not. What is most indelibly transmitted is what we do, not necessarily what we say. Master Dogen called this teaching through the whole body and mind. It’s not just words. It’s the actuality of our lives — our actions, our silence, our movements, the way we use our minds.
We create karma through body, speech, and thought. What we do with our bodies, what we say, what we think, teaches. You can be thinking hate while smiling, and what you are communicating is hate and a mixed message.
In the koan, the monk asks Caoshan, “A child went back to her parent. Why didn’t the parent pay attention to her?” The commentary says, At the time of birth parent and child become each other. This means that in the middle of the night before the moon appeared, do not be surprised that people meet without knowing each other. This is a reference to the first rank of Master Dongshan, the absolute containing the relative.
The poem that Dongshan wrote to illuminate this stage goes:
The first line, Early in the evening before the moon shines, refers to the absolute emptiness devoid of all differentiation. There is nothing left to see. Just as we chant in the Heart Sutra, “No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; no color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomenon.”
The second line states, No wonder they meet without knowing each other. It can’t be known. There is no way to differentiate. Knowing is about differentiation. Searching exhaustively, it cannot be grasped.
Then the third line: For still hidden is their mutual aversion. Still hidden refers to differentiation. The mountain is high, the valley is low. The differences do indeed exist, though on the surface you are dealing with complete identity. That’s the first rank. But keep in mind these ranks don’t exist independently of each other. When Caoshan said, “It’s quite natural just like that,” he was referring to the absolute perspective where two things are identical. When the parent and child become each other, the other is nothing but oneself. The teacher is nothing but oneself. The student is nothing but the teacher. Since there is no distinction between the two, how can you recognize them?
Before the moon appears there is darkness. With the appearance of the moon, light allows for differentiation to take place. The moon is also symbolic of realization. In the light of the moon there is differentiation — this and that, self and other. In the Identity of Relative and Absolute that we chant in our services, there is a line which says, The dark makes all words one. Within darkness there is nothing to be seen or heard. Then, The brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases. With light the differences appear. The chant goes on to say, Within light there is darkness, within darkness there is light. They are completely linked and interdependent. We separate them to talk about them, to understand them, to philosophize, or to create koans about them, but the fact is they are one reality. It is the same way when we talk about teacher and student, parent and child, or self and other. Once we begin to understand the identity of these apparent polarities in circumstances where it is easy to appreciate them, like in the relationship between a parent and a child, it then becomes much easier to understand them in our relationship to the environment, or in our conflicts at work. This very body and mind is the body and mind of the universe. Past, present, and future are this very body and mind. Whatever happens to any aspect of this universe, throughout all space and time, affects this body and mind.
This means that in the middle of the night before the moon has appeared — before differentiation is possible — do not be surprised if people meet without knowing each other. At this point the empty sky has vanished and the iron mountain has crumbled. The intangible emptiness and the solidity of phenomena are both gone. There is no knowing, no differentiation whatsoever. In that first stage of the Five Ranks, there is no realization. It’s only when you come out of that state that realization can occur. That’s the second rank of Dongshan.
The second rank is the relative containing the absolute. You now see everything from the relative point of view, and within it you see the absolute basis of reality. There’s not an inch of ground to stand on. Be that as it may, mountains are high and valleys are low. Thus, Caoshan said, “The love between parent and child neither arises nor vanishes.” How then can it be divided into fragments or segments? When asked “Then where is the love between parent and child?” Caoshan answered, “The the love between parent and child.” It’s not something that arises or vanishes. Intimacy is a beginningless and endless continuum.
All this notwithstanding, how is it that parent and child can meet yet not know each other? In order to know there needs to be distinctions and a sense of separation.
The Capping Verse
Why should self and other be placed in an arrangement? Male and female, parent and child, teacher and student, good and bad, up and down — all of these pairs of opposites can be understood in terms of Master Dongshan’s integration or identity of absolute and relative.
In all of the aspects of Zen training we constantly point to the fact of unity. Every time we gassho we express unity. We gassho and bow to each other. We gassho and bow before we take a shower, before we eat a meal. We are bringing together the differences, left and right-handedness, into one reality. We are saying you and I are the same thing. When we bow to the Buddha, we say the Buddha and I are the same thing, the same reality. We are mutually arising and interdependent. We can’t exist separate from each other. You can’t have good unless you have bad. You can’t have up unless you have down. You can’t have self unless you have other. You can’t have enlightenment unless you have delusion.
We can choose to see two things as separate entities, or as aspects of the same reality. There is a big difference in how you combust your life depending upon which point of view you take. There is a big difference in how you deal with anger, fear, and anxiety depending upon how you understand self and other.
Why must Yin and Yang be placed in an arrangement? Essentially what I’m doing is denigrating the Five Ranks because the ranks are a series of arrangements of Yin and Yang: Yin coming from Yang, Yang coming from Yin, Yin and Yang interpenetrated. Each rank has a value in terms of understanding a particular facet of the relationship, but the fact is that while you’re understanding these facets you miss your life. You will never have today. What is today? Today is right now, this moment. Today is this breath, this action, this very thusness itself. It doesn’t know about Yin and Yang. It just is. When the wind blows, the grasses bend. When the rains come, the river fills. That moment is the reality of our lives.
Holding on to the absolute is a dead end. That’s one of the diseases of incomplete Zen practice. It’s got to do with using zazen as a place to hide. That’s not what zazen is about. We think of zazen as meditation. Zazen is not meditation. It’s not contemplation, introspection, quieting the mind, focusing the mind, mindfulness, mindlessness. Zazen is a way of using your mind. It is a way of living your life, a way of being with other people. In order to be able to do that you have to go very deeply into yourself to find the foundations of zazen, the foundations of your life.
Talking about recognizing and not recognizing that the love between parent and child are omnipresent is an important way of appreciating how our minds work. This way of talking about it helps us appreciate what the reality is behind this phenomenon. The fact remains “When the wind blows the grasses bend and when the rain comes the river fills.”
When we are dealing with children we are creating a karma that will continue for generations to come. Parents create that karma. Kids create that karma. Teachers in schools help create that karma. There are teachers I had in elementary school I still bow to because I recognize now the transformation that took place in me through their encouragement, by simple words they said. There were also teachers in my elementary school that introduced inadequacies that even to this very day, twenty-eight years of Zen practice notwithstanding, I need to be alert for.
Kids are perfect. Each one of us arrives in this world perfect and complete, lacking nothing. Each of us lives this life perfect and complete, lacking nothing. The difference between us and the kids is that we have piled years of conditioning on top of that inherent perfection, conditioning by parents and teachers, nation, education, culture, peers. We’ve bought into conditioning. We reach adulthood and don’t know who we are and what our lives are. Then we encounter something like Zen practice — an opportunity to examine all of our presuppositions. Not just to arbitrarily throw them all out, but to examine and to learn from them. To study the Buddha Way is to study the self, layer by layer, nuance by nuance. Ultimately, to study the self is to forget the self, because once you’ve looked at all of the attributes you call the self, you realize that those attributes are not what the self is. The self is not a collection of personal aggregates. The self is not an idea. The self occupies the whole universe. There’s no place to put this gigantic body.
The kids are still malleable, still collecting their conditioning, so please be gentle, be aware, be sensitive to how you condition them. That doesn’t mean being laissez-faire. That doesn’t mean not doing anything. It means really being yourself. It means trusting yourself completely. When you learn to trust yourself, they’ll learn to trust themselves. When you learn to really be yourself; they’ll learn to be themselves. Whether you like it or not, you’re their teacher. That means in order to really do your parenting right you need to do it with wisdom and compassion. If you want your kids to be wise, you have to be wise. If you want your kids to live the precepts, you have to live the precepts. Is there any question that at the time of birth parent and child are transformed?
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