Fayan's Single Body Revealed

Dharma Discourse by Abbot John Daido Loori, M.R.O.

300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 177

Featured from Mountain Record, Spring 1997


The Main Case

Head Monk Zizhao went to see Fayan and asked the Master, "Who is your teaching handed down from?" 1
Fayan said, "Dizang." 2
Zizhao said, "Aren't you turning your back on our belated honorable teacher Changqing?" 3
Fayan said, "I don't understand one of Changqing's sayings." 4
Zizhao said, "Why don't you ask me about it?" 5
Then Fayan asked, "Among the myriad things, a single body is revealed. What does this mean?" 6
Zizhao straightened his fly whisk. 7
Fayan said, "This is the point you learned with Changqing in your head monk's position. What can you do?" 8
Zizhao could not respond. 9
Fayan said, "Just as a single body is revealed among the myriad things does this affect or not affect the ten thousand things?" 10
Then Zizhao said, "It does not affect the ten thousand things." 11
Fayan said, "Two." 12
The attendants and students on both sides said, "It affects the ten thousand things." 13
Then Fayan said, "Among the myriad things only a single body is revealed. 14 J'ang!" 15

The Commentary

Setting up the teachings and establishing monasteries is the function of genuine masters of our school. Distinguishing dragons from snakes, adepts from imitators is what an accomplished teacher must do in order to act in accord with the imperative. Having freed himself from birth and death, he sets the teachings in motion with ease. Without blinking an eye he kills or gives life. After all, if all the waves of Caoxi were the same, the teachings would have long ago lost their ability to heal and nourish.

The Capping Verse

Although he may look like a mountain lion, it turns out he has no fangs and claws.
Affecting and not affecting, dim-witted indeed.
The ancient Way is not to be found in following another's sounds and forms.
Single body revealed is not like anything.

Footnotes

1. He wants to test this old adept.
2. A truthful man is hard to find. He just simply answers.
3. Danger! Playing with a lion you are apt to be bitten.
4. The hook is baited and lowered into the stream.
5. He climbs onto the hook and impales himself. How cooperative!
6. The earth rumbles, the mountains shake, the sky darkens. Something ominous is about to occur.
7. Bah! I see a snake hidden behind a dragon mask.
8. Without batting an eye, he runs him through.
9. That is the nature of the disease. They cannot respond.
10. He can't let him go like this so he digs a pit.
11. Plop! Into the pit he goes.
12. Yeah! He walks right up and pierces him through.
13. They all jumped into the pit.
14. How fresh! How new!
15. Out, out damn spot! A wooden stake for a vampire. A silver bullet for the werewolf. J'ang! for Zen apparitions.

300 Koan Shobogenzo is a collection of koans gathered by Dogen Zenji 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.


In the process of translating Master Dogen's 300 Koan Shobogenzo from Chinese to English with Kaz Tanahashi, it has become evident to me how dependent we are on translators in receiving the written records of Buddhism. This particular koan is a good example of this dependence. It appears in several different texts, and the translations in these texts are different enough so that they can influence how we understand the koan. One of the advantages of a teacher and a scholar collaborating on a translation, as Kaz and I are doing, is that the scholar contributes an understanding of the language, while the teacher adds an appreciation of the Dharma. Together they can iron out their differences and end up with an English translation that comes as close as possible, at least in spirit, to the original Chinese.

It is not clear to me, however, if the English language can capture the subtle nuances of Chinese words. English is very specific and pins things down while Chinese is broad and poetic. A Chinese character can have a multiplicity of meanings. Chinese writers play with these multiple meanings and tend to avoid being precise. In Chinese, for example, there are no explicit pronouns, so it is awkward at times figuring out who the writer is talking about.

We run into this problem with the Blue Cliff Record, a collection of koans we work with at Zen Mountain Monastery. It is available to students here in three translations. On many occasions the translations differ. None of us reads Chinese well, particularly not ancient Chinese, and definitely not ancient Buddhist Chinese, which is very specialized. You cannot take Dharma writing and hand it to anyone who reads Chinese and expect them to read it. It is the same in Japanese. Somebody who can read a Japanese newspaper cannot necessarily read and understand a sutra written in Japanese. So, as students present a koan from the Blue Cliff Record, and come up against different translations, I ask them what they think the right translation would be based on their understanding of the Dharma.

This case from Dogen's 300 Koan Shobogenzo also appears in the Book of Equanimity. The translator of the Book of Equanimity renders the line, "does it affect the ten thousand things?" as "does it efface the ten thousand things?" In yet another translation, the passage reads, "is this separated from the ten thousand things?" "Affect," "efface" and "separate" are very different from each other. If you do not have a sense of what the koan is about, even a single word can trip you up.

Fayan is the central figure in this koan. He was one of the great masters of Tang Dynasty Zen and the head of one of the five Schools of Zen in China at that time. Zizhao was Fayan's Dharma brother, both having studied with Master Changqing. Zizhao appeared at Fayan's abbot installation ceremony and challenged him. He wanted to know who had handed down the teachings to Fayan. Usually during Shinsanshiki, or the Mountain Seat Ceremony, when a new abbot ascends the high seat, there is an opportunity for the sangha to challenge the new abbot in Dharma Combat.

In this case Zizhao wanted to know who Fayan was succeeding in taking the position of abbot. Fayan answered that he was succeeding Dizang who was his late master. Zizhao then said, "Aren't you turning your back on our old teacher?" Their old teacher Changqing was probably dead at that point. Fayan entered right into the middle of the encounter. He said, "Well, there is something our old teacher said that I do not quite understand." Zizhao said, "Why don't you ask me about this?" Fayan said, "Among the myriad things a single body is revealed." That is a phrase that Changqing would often repeat -among the ten thousand things, among the incredible diversity of the universe, a single body is revealed. Fayan asked, "What does it mean?" Zizhao immediately held up his fly whisk. Fayan said, "You learned that studying with Chingqing. What can you do yourself?" He challenged Zizhao to present his own understanding. Zizhao could not answer. Then Fayan went on to say, "Just as a single body is revealed among the myriad forms, does it affect or not affect the ten thousand things?" Zizhao replied, "It does not affect the ten thousand things." To this Fayan said, "Two." The attendants standing on both sides yelled out at the same time, "It affects the ten thousand things." If Zizhao's answer -it does not affects the ten thousand things -was wrong, then their's -it does affect the ten thousand things -must be right. Fayan just ignored them and said, "Among the ten thousand things only a single body is revealed."

Then he ended the encounter using the expression "J'ang." The Japanese equivalent is "Niiiiiii," usually part of a poem offered during a memorial service, though Fayan's exclamation here is not drawn out with a long vowel sound the way it is when it is done ceremonially. "J'ang" has several meanings. Supposedly, it is the sound a ghost makes when dying. It is also a sound used to scare ghosts away -an exclamatory phrase. These meanings have interesting connotations with respect to this koan. Here he is essentially saying, "J'ang! Go away! You don't understand!"

Another translation of this koan presents a very different scenario. When Fayan asked, "Do the ten thousand things affect the myriad forms or not?" Zizhao said, "It does not." In our translation Fayan said, "Two." Another version says, "Both." "Two" and "both" are very different. When Fayan says "two," he means Zizhao's view is dualistic. When he says "both," it includes the two sides and it seems he is saying that inclusion is the answer. That is not correct. It does not affect the ten thousand things nor does it affect the ten thousand things; nor does it both affect and not affect the ten thousand things; nor does it neither affect or not affect them. The question Fayan asked was the classic trap in determining how clear somebody is by seeing whether they fall into one side or the other.

Fayan had been studying with Changqing for a long time. He had become a monastic at a young age. Many of the ancient teachers became monks when they were children the way some monks still do in the Tibetan tradition. He was training with Changqing and having a hard time, struggling as Zen students do. His biography says that his clinging mind was not yet at rest. That is usually what practice comes down to -the clinging mind.

Fayan then decided to go off on a pilgrimage to see if this would help clarify his understanding. He left with several companions. Zizhao was probably one of them. During this pilgrimage it started to snow hard and they sought shelter in Dizang's temple. Fayan got into a dialogue with Dizang who asked, "Where are you going?" Fayan answered, "I'm just wandering aimlessly." Dizang continued, "What is the purpose of your wandering?" Fayan replied, "I do not know." Dizang exclaimed, "Ah! Not knowing, very intimate, very intimate indeed." What he was expressing was his approval of Fayan's involvement in the process, rather than the goal. The journey was about the travel itself, not about the destination. Dizang used this opportunity to give Fayan some teachings about intimacy. No gaps, no separation, no duality. According to historical records, Fayan had an opening experience on hearing Dizang's words and wisely he decided to stay and study with Dizang.

On another occasion, Fayan and Dizang were talking about an old Chinese Buddhist treatise, focusing on the line which says: "Heaven and earth and I have the same root." Dizang asked, "Are mountains, rivers and the earth identical with your own self or separate?" Fayan answered, "Separate." Dizang held up two fingers. If the translator of the Book of Equanimity who in his translation used "both" had bothered to check this biographical account, he would have gotten a clue that the word was "two," not "both." After Dizang held up two fingers, Fayan said, "Identical." There we go again. Students do that all the time. They figure there are two possible answers. If it is not one side, it must be the other. Are you and the ten thousand things separate? You say, "Separate," the teacher says, "Two." You say, "Identical," the teacher again says, "Two." Where is the duality in that second answer when Fayan said identical?

Later when Fayan decided to leave Dizang, the old teacher walked him out to the front gate and said, "You always say that the three worlds are only mind and that the myriad things are only consciousness. Is that true?" Fayan said, "Yes." Dizang pointed to a rock in the garden and said, "Tell me, is this rock inside your mind or outside your mind?" Fayan said, "It is inside my mind." Dizang said, "Why do you carry a rock around in your head?" Fayan could not answer so he put down his bundle, went back inside the temple to study further with Dizang.

Fayan eventually succeeded Dizang, then took over the monastery. His companions on the pilgrimage had long ago gone on to finish their journey and return to Changqing. Changqing died and evidently Zizhao succeeded him, or at least fancied himself a teacher in that lineage, because he came to Fayan's installation ceremony and challenged him. The Dharma combat between these two adepts makes up the main case of this koan.

"Who is your teaching handed down from?" "Dizang." "Aren't you turning your back on our belated honorable teacher Changqing?" Fayan could have gotten into a debate here. He could have given a big explanation, or justified himself in a million ways. But he was truly an effective teacher. For him, every opportunity presented an imperative to turn the Dharma wheel. Some accounts say that after this encounter Zizhao ended up staying, studying with Fayan, and becoming his successor.

In this particular exchange, rather than argue, debate, or explain, Fayan went directly at Zizhao. When we did the Shinsanshiki here at Zen Mountain Monastery, the altar was removed and that space became the platform for the Mountain Seat. The new abbot ascended the seat, holding the traveling staff as he was not as yet approved to stay. Then anyone who wished came forward and challenged the teacher in Dharma combat. There was a freewheeling exchange until the questioner was satisfied. When everybody was finished, the ceremony was complete.

Fayan's response to the question asked at his installation ceremony was, "I don't understand one of Changqing's sayings." Zizhao said, "Why don't you ask me about it?" Zizhao immediately puffed up. Fayan asked, "Among the myriad things, a single body is revealed. What does this mean?" Among all the diversity and differences of the ten thousand things, throughout the universe there is a single body. What does it mean? What is the single body? Zizhao was carrying a fly whisk which is a symbol of a teacher. Immediately, he held up his fly whisk.

His action nicely illustrates one of the big diseases of koan study: the imitation. This business of imitation is becoming endemic as more books on Zen are translated. With our well-read, well-educated sanghas in America, everybody knows everything about Zen and all the little devices used in koan study. Because koan study as direct face-to-face teaching emerged out of the Rinzai lineage, many of the techniques of Master Linji (Jap., Rinzai) are still found in the ways koans are presented.

A number of years ago, a little book that had all the answers to the koans of the Hakuin system appeared on the streets of Kyoto. Of course, the monks rushed to buy it. Years later this book was translated into English, and all the Zen centers in the West were buzzing. One rumor was that Harada Roshi made the book available as a way of completely destroying the imitation that goes on in koan study. All the Zen cliches and little nests that people settle into were featured in the book. It was a standing joke at the training center where I practiced. We all knew what answers the book suggested. In the book, it said that the way you pass Mu is to go in front of the teacher, sit there solidly, suck in a big breath and roar Muuuuuu! We would sit there and somebody would go into dokusan. We would hear a loud Muuuuuu and smile to ourselves as the teacher rang out another imposter.

This particular case addresses the problem of imitation in working with koans. Having read a lot, people tend to give cliche answers to koans. Hold up a fly whisk. Yell "Katsu!" Blink your eyes.Those are the cliches, not what koans are about. A koan does not have an answer. A koan is a state of consciousness. People who have passed koans may think they passed because of the answer they presented. But it really has to do with their state of consciousness, and their state of consciousness is revealed in many ways. If a student goes to the dokusan room, presents something, and is approved by a teacher who does not closely examine the presentation, the teacher is not helping the student. It is important to really chew, digest, and assimilate these koans. You cannot do that in a hurry. Koan study is not a race. It is not about how many koans you have passed. It is about how clear you have become. This clarity is what is being tested by the teacher. Nothing else.

Zizhao straightened his fly whisk. Fayan said, "This is the point you learned with Changqing in your head monk's position. What can you do ?" Someone had probably asked the same question of Changqing, who held up his fly whisk. So, Zizhao figured that was the answer. Hold up the fly whisk. But what does that mean? How do you relate it to your life? Zizhao could not respond. But Fayan didn't leave it at that. He had already stuck in a sword. He should have left Zizhao there wriggling and slowly dying but he didn't. He struck again. He said, "Just as a single body is revealed among the myriad forms, does this affect or not affect the ten thousand things." Then Zizhao said, "It does not affect the ten thousand things." Fayan said, "Two." The attendants and students on both sides said, "It does affect the ten thousand things." Then Fayan said, "Among the myriad things, only a single body is revealed. J'ang!"

I have added footnotes to clarify this koan line by line. In the first line Zizhao asked the Master, "Who is your teaching handed down from?" The footnote says, He wants to test this old adept. This is clearly what he is doing with the question. It is a leading question. Fayan said,"Dizang." The footnote to that says, A truthful man is hard to find. He just simply answers. Zizhao challenged him, "Aren't you turning your back on our belated honorable teacher Changqing?" The footnote says, Danger! Playing with a lion you are apt to be bitten. Fayan said, "I don't understand one of Changqing's sayings." The footnote comments, The hook is baited and lowered into the stream. In the next line: Zizhao said, "Why don't you ask me about it?" The footnote says, He climbs onto the hook and impales himself. How cooperative!

Then Fayan asked, "Among the ten thousand things a single body is revealed. What does this mean?" The footnote says, The earth rumbles. The mountains shake. The sky darkens. Something ominous is about to occur. Zizhao straightened his fly whisk. The next footnote says: Bah! I see a snake hidden behind a dragon mask. A dragon in Chinese mythology is an enlightened being. A snake is a deluded being. Sometimes we speak of a snake's tail with a dragon's head. This is somebody impersonating a dragon. Here I have used a dragon mask as a way of indicating that Zizhao was imitating a dragon.

Fayan said, "This is the point you learned with Changqing's in your head monk's position. What can you do?" The footnote says, Without batting an eye he runs him through. Zizhao could not respond. The footnote says, That is the nature of the disease. They can't respond. Being able to respond means being able to respond in the world, among the ten thousand things. It means to be able to respond to the circumstances of our lives. That is ultimately what koan study and Zen study are about.

In the next line Fayan said, "Just as a single body is revealed among the myriad things, does this affect or not affect the ten thousand things?" The footnote says, He can't let him go like this so he digs a pit. He is going further with it. Zizhao said,"It does not affect the ten thousand things." The footnote says: Plop! Into the pit he goes. Fayan said, "Two." The footnote says, Yeah! He walks right up and pierces him through.

The attendants and students on both sides said, "It affects the ten thousand things." The footnote says, They all jumped into the pit. Then Fayan said, "Among the myriad things only a single body is revealed." The footnote says: How fresh! How new! Finally the word "J'ang!" is added at the end. The footnote says, Out! Out! Damn spot! A wooden stake for the vampire. A silver bullet for the werewolf. J'ang! For Zen apparitions.

The Commentary of the koan says: Setting up the teachings and establishing monasteries is the function of genuine masters of our school. Distinguishing dragons from snakes, adepts from imitators, is what an accomplished teacher must do in order to act in accord with the imperative. Having freed himself from birth and death, he sets the teachings in motion with ease. Without blinking an eye he kills or gives life. After all, if all the waves of Caoxi were the same, the teachings would have long ago lost their ability to heal and nourish.

The waves of Caoxi are the successors of the Sixth Ancestor, Huineng. All the lineages of Zen throughout the world trace themselves back to Huineng. He was an eighteen year old lay practitioner from the southern part of China, who was illiterate at the time of his enlightenment. He became the source of all the living Zen that has come down to us. The waves of Caoxi refer to Huineng as the source from which the successive Zen generations have come. If the successors over the ages were all the same, Zen would have long ago lost its ability to heal and nourish.

The freedom of mind-to-mind transmission realized by each generation is the vitality of Zen. We do not have a Zen canon to consult as to whether something is right or wrong. One of the characteristics of this practice is that it always takes the shape of the container that holds it. As it goes from country to country, from area to area, from sangha to sangha, it takes on different shapes in accord with the imperative of that place and time. It is up to each teacher to manifest the Dharma in accord with the conditions encountered. That is a difficult thing to do, because if a teacher is too tight in the training of successors, the successors become very rigid in trying to adhere to the teachings. The situation changes and they are not able to change with it. If the teacher makes the training too loose, some of the vital aspects of Zen training are lost. It is this subtle, precarious, and critical balance between rigorous training and the granting of freedom that creates the aliveness of Zen. That is why the training takes so long, why the teaching is so meticulous. Each step along the way demands careful attention.

The trap that Fayan set was not so much the question, "Among the myriad things a single body is revealed. What does that mean?" to which Zizhao straightened his fly whisk. The real heart of this koan lies in the line, "Just as a single body is revealed among the the myriad things, does it affect or not affect the ten thousand things?" This is the same beautiful double bind that you find in many koans.

For example: "Tell me! Have my eyebrows fallen off?" Cuiyan said to three monastics in a classic koan addressing this problem. It is said in Zen lore that if teachers talk too much they lose their eyebrows. It means they have been too explanatory. If their eyebrows are still intact, they have been presenting sound Dharma. Cuiyan said, "I have been teaching you now for the entire ango. The ango has come to its end. Do I have eyebrows or not?" That was a trap. Eyebrows fallen off or not fallen off? If you go to one side, you miss it; if you go to the other side, you miss it; if you say both sides, you miss it; if you say neither side, you miss it. How do you respond? The three monastics present at Cuiyan's place were pretty sharp. Each gave an answer and each answer was a little better than the one before. The first one said: "The thief's heart is cowardly." The second one said, "Grown!" The third one said: "Barrier." Did they fall into one side or another? Did they answer the question?

The same trap is going on here with Fayan. Does a single body revealed affect the ten thousand things, or not? Zizhao said it does not affect them. That did not reach it. The others said it did affect them. That did not reach it. If there were more people who said "both," that would not have reached it. If they said "neither," that would not have reached it. The question you need to deal with here is: How do you avoid Fayan's dualistic trap?

The Capping Verse to this koan reads:

Although he may look like a mountain lion,
it turns out he has no fangs and claws.
Affecting and not affecting,
dim-witted indeed.
The ancient Way is not to be found
in following another's sounds and forms.
Single body revealed is not like anything.

The first four lines are pretty clear. The ancient way is not to be found in following another's sounds and forms. That is the crux. How do we not create a sangha of monkey see, monkey do practitioners. It drives me up the wall when I see that happening. Even in training positions people end up being constricted. They are like little wooden soldiers when they do their service positions. That is not the way this practice is supposed to be. It should be relaxed and aware of what is going on. If you understand what the purpose of what you are doing is -and all of it has good reasons behind it -then you are a lot more comfortable doing it. I am constantly asking those who do the training to make sure people understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. It helps those who are being trained make the practice their own. It is the same with the Dharma. Inevitably, when someone presents a koan, I ask them to show it in a fresh way, look at a new way of understanding it, or go to a different level of understanding. I don't want a generation of Daidos to follow me. The lineage wouldn't survive another generation if that were to happen. Each person must manifest this Dharma in their own way. The worst thing any teacher can do is to create clones.

The final line of the verse reads, Single body revealed is not like anything. This means that there is nothing in this universe you can compare it to. There's no place to put this gigantic body. No place to put it because it is not separate and there is no reference system anymore. That is not some esoteric teaching, some obscure tantric mysticism. That single body revealed is your life. It is the life of the universe, and it is not like anything.

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