Zen Mountain Monastery

Library of Dharma Discourses by Daido Roshi

Titles and Key Passages: Click on title for full discourse.

The Whole Earth is Medicine Blue Cliff Record, Case 87

As people begin to practice, they often have questions about attachment and nonattachment, trusting themselves, and about the relationship between the problems they encounter in the world and the way to deal with them. All of these questions are dealt with in this koan, in Yunmen’s teaching of “Medicine and sickness heal each other.” “All the world is medicine,” he said. Where do you find yourself?

Moshan’s Nature of the Summit Mountain Koans of the Way of Reality

Moshan lived around 800 ad, the Golden Age of Zen in China. She was a contemporary of another famous womanteacher of those times, Iron Grindstone Liu, successor of Master Yangshan. Other significant Zen figures of that era were Guishan, Linji, Dongshan, Deshan, and Zhaozhou, a worthy company of sages.

In her name, “mo” means “summit” and “shan” means “mountain.” Moshan literally translates into English as “Summit Mountain.” She was a disciple of Dayu and the first woman dharma heir to be noted in the official Zen transmission records. Miriam Levering, who has translated Moshan’s records and teachings, writes that Moshan was the first nun to be portrayed in Zen texts as taking up formal training activities traditionally reserved for male teachers. She was an abbess of a monastery and had a group of loyal students. She was a challenging and demanding teacher. There is a chapter dedicated to Moshan in the Record of the Transmission of the Lamp, compilation of stories about Chinese Zen masters, written in 1004 ad.

Xuefeng’s Thirst and Starvation Koans of the Way of Reality

When you see the truth clearly, you know how to use it freely. You use it like a bird uses flight or a fish uses water. There’s no reflection. It’s spontaneous and immediate. It doesn’t require judgment, analysis or understanding. If you have not seen the truth clearly, however, then you are like a bird in a cage, a fish in a bucket. There’s no freedom. This koan points to freedom.

When adepts meet, they can see what is appropriate. These three teachers, Xuefeng, Xuansha and Yunmen, belong to the same lineage, and they can see what is or isn’t in accord with the Way. They are able to distinguish right from wrong and together witness each other’s clarity. Testing with a word, a gesture, a question and answer, they clarify the truth. This testing is an important part of our tradition. It’s not enough to just sit on a cushion day after day. Teacher and student constantly encounter each other in order to test their understanding — in order to set right what has gone askew.

No Communication Whatsoever Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 44

Guishan was a famous Tang Dynasty master, co-founder of the Igyo School, one of the five houses of Zen during the Golden Age of Zen in China. He was an extraordinary teacher and had a very subtle way of communicating the dharma. Among his many successors were Kyogen, Kyozan and Iron Grindstone Lu.

To clarify each line in the koan, I added line comments. Guishan sat on the teaching seat. A monastic came up and said, “Master, please expound the dharma for the assembly.” The line comment says, Don’t be greedy. He already has given everything he has to give. Guishan said, “I have already exhausted myself for you.” The line comment adds, Poor old teacher. There’s nothing left of him. Then, The monastic bowed. The line comment asks, It’s easy to bow, but what does he really mean by doing so?

I Do What I Like Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 99

In looking at ancient koans and events that took place 1,500 years ago in China, it is vitally important to understand that koans, if taken up with the right spirit, do not loose relevance. Each and every one of them addresses the fundamental questions and problems of human existence, questions and problems that haven’t changed since humans and human consciousness appeared on the face of the Earth. These koans have been here since the beginning of humanity. And they are a very personal matter, needing to be resolved by each individual. For the most part, except for a handful of people in each generation, they remain not only unresolved; they are rarely authentically engaged. They are not put to rest. Instead of using them to see into the nature of reality, we just keep reinventing them, giving new shapes to our confusion and delusion.

Trusting Buddha Master Keizan's Transmission of the Light, Case 1

The story of Buddha’s quest for enlightenment is a story about trust. Buddha, throughout his life, trusted himself deeply. He wasn’t a Buddhist. He simply practiced his life, and engaged it fully, convinced that he had what was necessary to respond to his questions and the challenges he encountered. His enlightenment confirmed that trust. In seeing the morning star and exclaiming, “I and all sentient beings on earth, together, attain enlightenment at the same time,” Buddha essentially declared, “Trust yourself.”

Dropping Off Body and Mind Koans of the Way of Reality, Case 108

When we read about the enlightenment experiences of the ancient teachers, we should remember that the person did not exist in a vacuum and that their realization emerged within a specific personal and cultural context. To fully appreciate the nature and significance of a person’s enlightenment we need to look beyond the time when they received approval of their insight, and study both the teachings that followed and what preceded their breakthrough.

Bringing It to Life Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 132

This koan features teachers in the Soto lineage, the lineage of Master Dogen. It goes back to the time of Dongshan, who was the founder of the Soto lineage in China. Benren was a successor of Dongshan. In this case, he is addressing the aspect of the dharma that cannot be expressed, the teaching that is not present in what is said, but in what precedes and follows that expression. What’s transmitted in Zen doesn’t come from the outside. The realization of the buddhadharma is a discovery; it’s making real that which is already present. All communication can do is catalyze a process of discovery that ultimately takes place within each individual.

The Realm of True Seeing Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 291

We should carefully examine Master Zhaozhou’s “eye that grasps the universe” and see that it is untainted, free of attachment, beyond being and non-being and not dependent upon intellectual comprehension. This is the true eye of all beings that creates the clarity that allows us to see that nothing in this universe is hidden. When the true eye functions, it goes beyond looking and enters the realm of seeing. Looking is superficial perception; it’s about labeling, identifying, accepting, and rejecting. It speaks to what things are. Seeing reveals what else things are. It is a direct encounter that involves the whole body and mind. The barrier of subject and object dissolves and one understands it intimately. If you wish to understand the wondrous functioning of such spiritual powers, you must avoid describing and discussing at all costs, or else you will see ghosts in front of your skull. If you seek it in thought, you’re sitting beneath the black mountain. Look! The bright shining sun lights up the sky. Listen! The pure whispering wind circles this great Earth. Enter here.

It Just Can’t Be Discussed Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 295

Although you may understand Yunmen’s “It holds up the lantern and goes inside the Buddha Hall,” the question is how do you understand “It brings the monastery gate to the top of the lantern?” It just cannot be discussed. It is here that Yunmen demonstrates his skill at shattering intellection and dualities. He pulls out the nails, kicks out the wedges, and lets the whole construct collapse. Only the wonder of the mystery remains. We should enter here. An old master once said, “The spiritual light shines alone, far transcending the senses.” Yunmen has snatched the senses away for you. Are you willing to trust and enter the mystery? Real teachers of our school don’t just present Buddhist principles and doctrines. They cut away the complications. Don’t you see? Self-nature is Buddha nature. The true nature of ignorance is at once Buddhahood. The pure body of illusion is in itself the pure Dharmakaya. The question remains, where do you find yourself?

Shape of a Buddha Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 172

This is an old case that’s been echoing in the halls of Zen monasteries for centuries, and yet there have been only a handful of students who have been able to penetrate its meaning. People immediately rush to the words to understand, not realizing that words and speech are just vessels to convey the truth, not yet the truth itself. If you take Dongshan’s “three pounds of flax” to mean that this is, in and of itself, Buddha, then you have missed his intent by 100,000 miles. We should understand at the outset that “three pounds of flax” is not just a reply to the question about Buddha, and cannot be understood in terms of Buddha. This being the case, you tell me, “What is Buddha?”

Jiufeng’s “One Who Transmits Words” Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 221

The Great Master Bodhidharma said, “Zen is a special transmission outside the scriptures, with no reliance on words and letters.” Master Jiufeng said, “One who transmits words is outstanding among the sages.” The visiting monastic came seeking clarification on this matter. He did not yet understand that language and activity are one reality. Sutras, koans, words, silence, the cooing of an infant, images, gestures, right action, the sounds of the river valley and the form of the mountain are all expressions of the buddha nature in absolute emptiness. Jiufeng said, “I call him one who transmits words because he pointed to heaven and earth.” I say that even insentients transmit words. These mountains and rivers themselves are continually manifesting the words of the buddhas and ancestors. Indeed, if we examine this teaching carefully, we see that all of the phenomena of this great universe — audible, inaudible, tangible and intangible, conscious and unconscious — are constantly expressing the truth of the universe of the buddha nature. Do you hear it? Can you see it? If not, then heed the instructions of the Great Master Dongshan and “see with the ear, listen with the eye.” Only then will you understand the ineffable reality of the word.

Dongshan and Shenshan Cross the River Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 160

Face-to-face there is never anything hidden. Yet, fundamentally, there is no way of explaining it all. No self and no other. Then how can we speak of right and wrong? Dongshan and Shenshan are from the same household. Both know well the contents of the kitchen pantry. We should understand that mistake is in reality called learning. The state of no-mistake is called nowness. In nowness there is no before or after, no goals, agendas, or fixed direction. Like the meandering river, it twists and turns in accord with circumstances, but always knows how to find its way to the great ocean. If you wish to travel like this, you must go alone and not carry any baggage. You must trust yourself implicitly.

Jinfeng’s Rice Cake Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 187

Zen ancestors have always understood that explaining the teachings inevitably results in a mire of words in which the truth sinks away. Jinfeng thus took up a rice cake and rolled it into the assembly. The monastics, not knowing how to take it, responded like a herd of trained seals. The master, trying to press the matter further said, “Even if you had picked it up, you still would have only half of it.” Half of what? Later, when asked by a monastic to please say it all, he held up a rice cake, but the monastic did not understand. Again he said, “I have expressed only half of it.” Why didn’t he express it all, as the monastic had asked? If you say it cannot be expressed, then why did he bring it up in the first place? If you say that it can be expressed, then show it now. After all, if there’s one half here, there must be another half somewhere.

Guishan’s “Do Not Betray Others” Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 47

All masters throughout time have always looked to guiding and aiding all living beings. They would set up their shops according to their capacities, and in response to the imperative of time, place, position, and degree. Appearing and disappearing in harmony with the occasion, they created countless kinds of expedient means to alleviate suffering. Guishan wanted everyone to know, so he stirred things up by saying, “All hours of the day we receive people’s support. We should not betray them.” Yangshan was an adept, and could not help but respond. Guishan’s intention, however, was unfathomable; he wanted more. Without hesitation, Yangshan again rose to meet the old man’s challenge. But say, what was Yangshan’s meaning? We should understand that to wear socks for others is a very personal matter. It is the seamless Dharma activity that is the ten thousand hands and eyes of great compassion itself. It is the spiritual light of four virtues of the bodhisattva manifesting in the ten directions. But tell me, right now, how do you manifest it in your life?

Yaoshan's Non-Thinking Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 129

Abide in neither thinking nor not thinking. Thinking is linear and sequential, a separation from the reality that is the subject of thought, and thus is an abstraction rather than the reality itself. Not thinking is suppressive. It cuts away thoughts the moment they arise, making the mind into a great impenetrable mountain — dead, unresponsive. Non-thinking has no such edges. It is the boundless mind of samadhi that neither holds on to, nor lets go of, thoughts. It is the manifestation of the buddha mind in which the dualism of self and other, thinking and not thinking dissolve. This is the dharma of thusness that is the right thought of all the buddhas in the ten directions.

Zhaozhou’s Buddha Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 80

Zhaozhou, seeing this monastic teetering on the edge, lost no time in precipitating the situation. Finding no place to abide, the monastic was stopped dead in his tracks. Again the old bodhisattva pulled the rug out from under him. Do you understand? There are no side roads along the great way, yet there is no place that it does not reach. The truth of the way is not in seeing or hearing nor is it in words and ideas. If you can cut through the entanglements and untie the bonds of the Buddhas and ancestors, you have discovered the land of clarity and peace where even heaven and hell cannot reach. If you seek it from others, you go astray. If you seek it within, you are far removed from it. What will you do?

Bodhidharma’s Skin, Flesh, Bones and Marrow Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 201

If you take these different responses as being superior or inferior to each other, you have missed the intent of the Ancestor. We should realize that although each disciple’s expression of the Dharma was different than the others, nonetheless, each in his or her own way contained the teacher’s whole being. Given that Bodhidharma was not approving the depth of understanding by the use of the terms "skin, flesh, bones and marrow," who did he transmit the Dharma to? If you say all four received the Dharma, why then is it said that "thus he transmitted the Dharma and robe to Huike" alone? If you are able to see into it here, you will understand the heart of the Ancestor.

The World-Honored One’s Intimate Speech Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 34

The intimate speech of the Buddha is the original face of all buddhas and ancestors. It cannot be given, nor can it be received. It is not inherent, nor is it newly acquired. If you think that Master Yunju’s calling and the official’s answering is the Buddha’s intimate speech, you have missed it. In intimacy the ten thousand things have merged and thus cannot be spoken of. In understanding, heaven and earth are separated, and nothing is hidden.

Dongshan’s Heat and Cold Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 225

Dongshan’s “go to the place where there is no cold or heat” is like flowers blooming on a withered tree in the midst of a frozen tundra. His “let the cold kill you, let the heat kill you” is the roaring furnace that consumes every phrase, idea, and thing in the universe. Even the Buddhas and sages cannot survive it. Nothing remains. We should understand clearly, however, that this “let the cold kill you” is not about cooling off. Cold is just cold, through and through. Also, “let the heat kill you” is not about facing the fire. Heat is just heat, through and through. Further, there is no relationship whatsoever between Dongshan’s heat and cold. Heat does not become cold. Cold does not become heat. The question really is, where do you find yourself?

Caoshan's Love Between Parent and Child Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 211

At 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 Old Woman of Taishan Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 29

This koan about an old woman and Zhaozhou presents a wonderful opportunity to deepen our appreciation of how to work with traditional koans. Frequently our tendency when confronting a barrier is to respond to what is on the surface. When we practice koans, we often only deal with what is immediately provided by the translator. We rarely investigate other sources and dig below the surface. And there is always a lot more to a koan, or any barrier for that matter, than first meets the eye.

Sansheng’s Golden Fish Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 52

The net is elusive: appearing and disappearing it creates edges that are nonexistent. When it knows the net, the golden-scaled fish is inherently free in every way . Be that as it may, the golden fish who has passed through the net clearly does not eat ordinary food. What is its food? Sansheng is a distinguished adept, so why did Xuefeng say, “I will tell you after you have come out of the net?” Although Sansheng knew how to turn the spear around, still old Xuefeng remained poisonous. Can it be said that these two have passed through the net, or is it that they are just harmonizing in delusion?

Daowu Won’t Say Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 29

Grappling within the forest of brambles, Zen practitioners the world over probe the question of life and death. Before it is realized, it is like a ten mile high wall or a bottomless gorge. After it is seen, it is realized that from the beginning the obstructions have always been nothing but the self. Lost in the double barrier of life and death, the monk in this Koan has to know. Because of intimacy the old master won’t say. From the time of the Buddha down to the present, this is how it has been. However, if you think this old koan is about the corpse being alive or dead, then you too have missed the old master’s teaching. There is no place to put this gigantic body. When the universe collapses, It is indestructible.

Yunyen’s Insentient Beings Preach the Dharma Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 148

The ten thousand things are neither sentient nor insentient; the self is neither sentient nor insentient. Therefore, the teachings of the insentient cannot be perceived by the senses. The teachings are heard before there is a body and after the mind is forgotten. It is heard before our parents were born and before the Buddha appeared. It is not a matter of ordinary consciousness. How then can it be heard? When body and mind have fallen away, in the stillness that follows, the teachings are intimately manifested and in great profusion. Whether we are aware of it or not, it’s always taking place.

Mazu’s "What is the Meaning of Bodhidharma’s Coming from India?" Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 108

This monastic is sad indeed. His questions only succeeded in driving these adepts nostril-deep in muck and water, in an effort to help him, and in the end he still didn’t get it. Be that as it may, do you get it? Mazu was tired and sent him to Zhichang. Zhichang tried to send him back to Mazu. When that failed, he said he had a headache and sent him to Baizhang, who in turn said he didn’t understand it. These adepts were accomplished Dharma Masters; why would they avoid such a challenge? Is it just that it is inexpressible given the context of the monastic’s question, or did they indeed address the matter? If you can see clearly into this you will understand it from the outset. The whole scenario was a redundant disaster up to and including Mazu’s "Zhichang’s head is white; Hai’s head is black." And yet, at the same time, all of it went beyond the four propositions and hundred negations.

Vimalakirti’s Gate of Nonduality Blue Cliff Record, Case 84

Though you say "it is," there’s nothing which "is" can confirm. Though you say "it is not," there’s nothing that "is not" can negate. When "is" and "is not" are left behind and gain and loss are forgotten, then you are clean and naked, free and at ease. But tell me, what is in front of you and behind you? If there is a patch robed monk who comes forward and says, "In front is the Buddha shrine and the main gate; behind is the abbot’s room and private quarters," tell me, does this person have eyes or not? If you can judge such a person I’ll allow that you have personally seen the ancients.

Changsha’s Liturgy 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 271

    In ceremony there are forms and there are sounds, there is understanding and there is believing. In liturgy there is only intimacy. Haven’t you heard the ancient master’s teaching: “Seeing forms with the whole body-and-mind, hearing sounds with the whole body-and-mind one understands them intimately” Intimate understanding is not like ordinary understanding. Ordinary understanding is seeing with the eye and hearing with the ear; intimacy is seeing with the ear and hearing with the eye. How do you see with the ear and hear with the eye? Let go of the eye, and the whole body-and-mind are nothing but the eye; let go of the ear, and the whole universe is nothing but the ear.

Fayan’s Single Body Revealed 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 177

    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.

Advice of the Caterpillar Koans of the Way of Reality, Case 52

The very body and mind of all beings is as great and boundless as the universe itself. As for how small it is, it is finer than a single atom. We should understand that holding on and letting go are not another’s doing. Rolling up and rolling out are both within one’s own power. If you want to free what is stuck and loosen that which is bound, simply remove all traces of mental activity. At this very moment, if one’s vision and hearing are clear, and color and sound are purely perceived, tell me, which side is the right side? "This side" doesn’t reach it; "that side" doesn’t reach it. "Neither this nor that" misses it. "Both this and that" are ten thousand miles from the truth. Avoid the slightest trace of right and wrong, and say a word.

Hsuan-sha’s One Bright Pearl 300 Koan Shobogenzo, Case 15

When our lives are not free of fixed positions we drown in a sea of poison. Following after another’s words and mimicking others’ actions is the practice of monkeys and parrots. Zen practitioners should be able to show some fresh provisions of their own. Be that as it may, you should understand that even in the cave of demons on the black mountain the one bright pearl’s radiance is not diminished.

Cho Hsiu-ts’ai’s Poem Koans of the Way of Reality

Art practice is one of the Eight Gates in the matrix of training we have developed at Zen Mountain Monastery. We regularly offer retreats on the artless arts of Zen, and use the creative process to study the self. Yet Zen art is not Buddhist art. It’s not Eastern art, and it’s not Western art. It’s not modern art or ancient art. It’s not self-expression, evocation, or communication. It is simply the endless spring revealed. Zen art is not just a matter of brush and paint, words and paper, music, movement, or image, but rather the unfolding of a single blossom from beneath ten feet of snow.

Precepts and Environment

Imagine a universe that is a self-creating, self-maintaining, and self-defining organism - a universe in which all the parts and the totality are a single entity, all of the pieces and the whole thing at once, one thing. This description of reality is not a holistic hypothesis or an all-encompassing idealistic dream. It is your life and my life. The life of the mountain and the life of the river. The life of a blade of grass, a spiderweb, the Brooklyn Bridge. These things are not related to each other. They’re not part of the same thing. They’re not similar. Rather, they are identical to each other in every respect. But the way we live our lives is as if that were not so. We live our lives in a way that separates the pieces, alienates and hurts. The Buddhist Precepts are a teaching on how to live our lives in harmony with the facts described above. When we look at the Precepts, we normally think of them in terms of people. Indeed, most of the moral and ethical teachings of the great religions address relationships among people. But these Precepts do not exclusively pertain to the human realm. They are talking about the whole universe and we need to see them from that perspective if we are to benefit from what they have to offer, and begin healing the rift between ourselves and the universe.

Transmission of the Light 1995 Tokubetsu Sesshin Talk

Master Dogen comments in the Eihei Goroku:
Although when Kassan was at the other temple he was excellent in discussion, he expounded the teachings to humans and celestials, he was perfect in speech and no one could defeat him in argument, it still wasn’t complete. Since he had seen Tokujo, he had realized himself, so there was nothing more to be desired. He succeeded in the essence of the Buddha and became the master. We may seek such a person in the world now, but we find it impossible - ah, what a shame. Noble Buddhist trainees must know this: first of all you must have an indestructible bodhi-seeking mind and fix your eyes upon the absolute realm beyond increase and decrease; see how Tokujo left a fishing hook. Who could do such a deed?

Seppo and Gensha Build a Cemetery Koans of the Way of Reality

Once when Gensha was attending Seppo, they went to enjoy the mountain scenery. Seppo said, "I’d like to make this piece of land into a cemetery. " Gensha said, "Yes, it’s a good place to build a seamless tomb." Seppo began taking measurements. Gensha said, "That’s right. But I wouldn’t say it like that." Seppo asked, "How would you say it then?" Gensha replied, "Build a tomb!" Seppo said, "Good, good."

"Painting Spring" excerpted from The Eight Gates of Zen

Master Dogen, addressing the assembly, said:
My late master, old Buddha (T’ien-t’ung Ju-ching) said, "The original face has no birth and no death, spring is in the plum blossoms and enters into a painting." When you paint spring, do not paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots, but just paint spring. To paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots is to paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots - it is not yet painting spring. It is not that spring cannot be painted, but aside from my late master, old Buddha, there is no one in India or China who has painted spring. He alone was the sharp, pointed brush who painted spring. This spring is spring in the painting because it enters into a painting. He does not use any other power, but lets plum blossoms activate spring. He lets spring enter into a painting and into a tree - this is his skillful means. Because my late master, old Buddha, clarified the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, he correctly transmitted it to the Buddhas and ancestors who assembled in the ten directions of past, future, and present. In this way, he thoroughly mastered the eyeball and opened up the plum blossoms.