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Zen Speaks
Shouts of Nothingness

by Tsai Chih Chung

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Introduction by William Powell

Zen Speaks

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Introduction to
Zen Speaks

by William Powell

Copyright © 1994 by William Powell

Introduction It was widely held that the knowledge contained in those texts and in the minds of their teachers was of vital importance to the welfare of the individual, the family, and the society as a whole. This knowledge came packaged in South and Central Asian languages utterly incomprehensible to most Chinese. Hence, the ability to use and manipulate these languages was a skill that conferred elite status and authority on the few so talented. In addition, the texts were so varied and diverse that people came to specialize in one kind of Buddhist knowledge or another. This powerful and influential medieval knowledge industry came increasingly under critical scrutiny from a group known as Chan Buddhists. It is this group of Buddhists that Tsai Chih Chung has brought to cartoon life in Zen Speaks.
To provide a student with simple or straightforward explanations in a conventional manner, no matter how valid, would only reinforce the student’s counterproductive habit of looking for wisdom outside of him or herself. Thus, the ideal teacher would not only seek to embody or manifest “buddha-mind” openly in his own behavior for the sake of the student, but he would seek to jar the student back into his or her own mind. The role of the teacher, then, is not to give the student knowledge, but to put them on track in the only place they can discover wisdom, that is, in their own minds. What is important in these anecdotes is, first and foremost, not the content of what a master says, but how what he says forces the student back into his or her own mind. [...] This is known in Chan literature as “direct pointing.”

Topic:

Zen

text checked (see note) Jul 2012

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Zen Speaks
Shouts of Nothingness

translated by Brian Bruya

Copyright © 1994 by Tsai Chih Chung
English Translation copyright © 1994 by Brian Bruya

Carrying a Woman Across a River

One day while the Zen monk Tanzan and a young monk were travelling, they happened upon a beautiful young lady in distress.

Tanzan:
Here, let me carry you across.

Lady:
Thank you very much. Good-bye!

The two continued on their journey for more than half a day....

Young monk:
I thought we monks were supposed to avoid women. Why did you just do that?

Tanzan:
Huh? Oh, you mean that woman way back there? I put her down long ago. Are you still carrying her?

The Gates of Heaven

Guide:
Heaven and Hell aren’t places that suddenly appear after death. They exist here and now. Good and evil involve just a single instant of thought, and the gates of Heaven and Hell are ready to open for you at any time.

Topic:

Heaven and Hell

Pointing at the Moon

Wujincang:
If you can’t even read the words, how can you understand the truth behind them?

Huineng:
The truth and words are unrelated. The truth can be compared to the moon. And words can be compared to a finger. I can use my finger to point out the moon, but my finger is not the moon, and you don’t need my finger to see the moon, do you?

Topic:

Words

Self and Other

Guide:
Don’t project yourself on things you come into contact with, and don’t differentiate between yourself and other things, because so-called objectivity and subjectivity do not exist. The domain of wisdom is in understanding that there is no self, there is no other, and everything is the way it is.

Do Not Grasp Either Extreme

Guide:
All opposites—good and evil, having and lacking, benefit and harm, self and others—are due to the differentiating mind. As soon as we give rise to such views, we turn away from our original mind and succumb to this dualism. Zen, however, stands in the middle, not on either side.

A Cypress Tree Becomes a Buddha

Guide:
The Buddha-nature is the original nature of all things. The true meaning of Zen is to gain insight into the entire universe as it is and to be one with the truth. This truth has been around since ages past, and will be the same for ages to come.

Xuanjian of Deshan

Guide:
It is not until the external light is extinguished that our internal light shines bright. It is not until our crutch is discarded that we can realize our latent potential.

Cracking a Whip to Stop the Flow

Guide:
In order to attain the realm of Zen and enlightenment, you must first forsake the dualities of: self and others, interior and exterior, small and large, good and bad, delusion and enlightenment, life and death, being and nothingness. We can attain this new life not through thought, but through direct insight.

Same Destination, Different Paths

Student:
Is there any difference between what the patriarchs said and what the scriptures say?

Baling:
When it gets cold, pheasants roost in trees, and ducks go underwater.

Guide:
It’s cold for both, but each has a different way of dealing with it. Everyone has a different way of arriving at the same destination. There is not just one path, and not everyone is fit to travel the same path. By limiting yourself to a certain path, you may actually lead yourself astray.

Easier Known Than Done

Bai Juyi:
How must I lead my life so that I am completely at one with the Dao?

Niawo:
Avoid all evil, and perform all good.

Bai Juyi:
Even a three-year-old knows that much.

Niawo:
A three-year-old may know it, but not even a one-hundred-year-old can do it.

Guide:
Socrates said that if people know what they should do, they will do it; but he underestimated people’s ability to fail themselves. Everyone knows what they should do, but how many people actually do it?

Topic:

Philosophy

The Ordinary Mind

Student:
Master, how should I practice the Dao?

Master:
Eat when you’re hungry, and sleep when you’re tired.

Student:
Isn’t that what most people do anyway?

Master:
No, no, no. That’s not what most people do.... Most people entertain a thousand desires while they eat and untie a thousand knots while they sleep.

No Better Than a Clown

Guide:
Zen transcends the rational and the irrational. When seeking the Dao, be sure to avoid getting too stuffy and taking what are other people’s natural reactions too seriously or too profoundly.

Topic:

Zen

Three Pounds of Flax

Shouchu:
Language is merely a tool for expressing facts. Whoever insists on language sacrifices the truth and will be confused forever. For instance, if a rock is thrown at a dog, the dog will go after the rock; but if a rock is thrown at a lion, the lion will go after the person who threw it. When investigating the language of Zen, you should be like the lion and not the dog.

A Morning of the Moon and Wind

Shanneng:
Do not let one day’s clear moon obscure the eternal emptiness of the interminable past;
do not let the eternal emptiness of the interminable past obscure one day’s clear moon.

text checked (see note) Jul 2012

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