2023-09-D6-DK: Shoyoroku (Book of Serenity) #89, “Dongshan’s ‘No Grass’”
1:48AM Oct 10, 2023
Today is day six of this September 2023, seven day sesshin. And we're going to take a look at a koan. Case number 89 of the show your Roku, the book of serenity. Dung Shan's no grass so let's read the case and then we'll get into some biographical material. Dung Sean said to the assembly of monks it's the beginning of autumn brothers. And now that the summer training period is over, some of you will go east and some West. But you must go at once to where there is no grass for 10,000 miles. And then after a pause, Dong Shan then added, but how can you go to where there is no grass for 10,000 miles
later, she Shuang said, Go out of the gate, and there's grass
still later, Diane said, I'd say even not going out the gate. There's grass everywhere
so we have these three masters expressing their understanding. But they're not all together at the same time in place having a conversation. Dang Shawn lived from 807 to 856. And she swans years were 807 to ADH.
They were not only contemporaries, but they were disciples of the same master. And then the third one Diane lived from 943 to 1027.
So she Sean's response might have been expressed. Who knows maybe a few weeks or months later, after Dong Shan gave his instruction to the monks. While Diane's would have been some 100 years after that
we don't have time to get into the biography of all three of them. So we'll just focus on dung Shan and I'll be using Zen Chinese heritage by Andy Ferguson. And for the sake of clarity. As usual, I'll simplify my reading in places to minimize the number of references to historical places and names which can make it confusing to the year Dong Shan is one of the most important teachers of the Tang Dynasty and the so called Golden Age of Zen. He is recognized as the founder of the cowdung School of chon In other words, the Soto school, as it's called in Japanese. And Andy Ferguson begins with a story from dung Sean's youth. He says, As a youth dung Sian was reading The Heart Sutra and came upon the words. No, I know ear, no nose, no tongue, no body. And he asked his teacher I have eyes ear ORS a nose and so on. So why does the sutra say there is none?
The teacher was reportedly dumbfounded at the Insight revealed by Dong Shan Dong Shawn's question and he replied, I can't be your teacher. He then sent the young prodigy to study under another Zen master. And at the age of 21, Dong Chun took the monks vows on the famous Mount Song. In the tradition of the Zen school, he then went traveling to visit the great adults of his time.
Melt song is located in a remote mountain range in northern China. And in Chinese mythology, it's seen as the center of heaven and earth.
And what follows is an excerpt from the record of dialogues involve involving Dong Shan. And we're going to begin with an exchange that happened when he was still in his youth.
Dong Shan first went to see Zen master Nan tshwane. At the time, the congregation was working to prepare a feast for the following day in honor of nonchalance, nonchalance, late master mouth Zoo. Nan Swan asked the congregation. Tomorrow we will have mount Seuss feast, but will mount su come or not?
So mount SU was already dead. And here, Nan swan is asking the monks if mount to will attend the feast, held in his honor.
The monks were unable to answer. But then Dong Xiao Chun stepped forward and said if he has a companion he'll come. If he has a companion, mouse who will come
we can just imagine in doing this dung Shun, not only demonstrated some real spunk, but he also he also understood at this young age, the interrelationship between a teacher and a student
only if he had a companion, a student with whom he had worked with with the late mount su be at the feast
what we call a teacher and a student
the two cannot exist without the other. The same goes with other kinds of dichotomies like right and wrong up and down, inside and outside.
They're inter woven when non Swan heard when non Swan heard dung Shawn's statement, he approved and said though this child is young, he's a gem worthy of polishing. To which dunk Shawn replied master Don't crush something good into something bad
So what's he saying
he appears to be saying that a gem that is a student doesn't need polishing doesn't need refinement after all a gym is already perfect just as it is
next dung Shan studied with Glaceon. And this next story involves quite a long exchange. So rather than go through it line by line, I'm going to summarize it in a nutshell. Dung Sian tells Gration a story that he had heard from someone else about a conversation between a monk and the national teacher. So it's a secondhand story that he's pondering. And by the way, a national teacher is, this is a official title, given to the teacher to the Emperor. So the story goes, the National Teacher instructed a monk saying that even inanimate things, that is non sentient beings expound the Dharma. They embody our true nature. The monk then replied to the national teacher, pointing out that he cannot hear inanimate things. He cannot hear a wall tile. How could a wall tile convey the Dharma so this monk wasn't buying it. And the exchange ends with the national teacher standing his ground by reciting a line from a sutra. And then, when Dong Shan finished telling this story to Grayson, Grayson then said, I have this teaching, but one seldom encounters a person who understands it. Dang, Shannon said. I'm not clear about it. I asked you for instruction about this too, which Glaceon lifted his whisk upright into the air and said Do you understand? A whisk is a teacher accoutrement. It's called a Hosszu in Japanese and it's basically a short staff perhaps made of wood with a bundle of horsehair or cow hair flowing from the tip. So in this simple act of holding up his whisk in the air, what was going on saying?
Dang, Shawn said I don't understand. Please explain it to me, Master Glaceon said the mouth that my parents gave to the world is utterly unable to explain this to you. Then Dong Shan said Is there anyone else of your generation whom you respect? And who can explain it? So duction He's persistent. Any he sounds kind of desperate. He's saying please Is there someone else if you can't help me as if someone else who can help me understand? Glacia and then at vies Dong Shan to go see another teacher union for insight on his question. So Dongshan goes to see him he relayed to Union the same story about the national teacher and asked who can hear inanimate things expound Dharma
who can hear a wall tile a flower or a cushion? Expound our true nature union said what is inanimate can hear it what is inanimate can hear it and what does that mean? Can all can a wall tile hear a flower
then Dong Shan said Can the master hear it or not? Union replied. If I could hear it, then you could not hear me expound Dharma Heir Dong Shan came back why couldn't I hear you and union held up his whisk and said Can you still hear me or not? So he does the same action as Gration we can't really read too much into that. And assume there there's some special meaning. It could be that in both of them raising their whisk it was just happened to be the object that was closest to them. That each had on hand
Can you hear it?
Dong Shan said, I can't hear you. Union said, when I expound Dharma, you can't hear me. So how could you hear it when inanimate things proclaim it. Dong Shan then said, what sutra teaches about inanimate things expounding Dharma Heir.
Dong, Shawn's persistence, shows that he was really absorbed in this absorbed in the questioning even though he was still looking for an explanation from the teacher looking outward. Okay, you won't tell me then what do the sutras say? And interestingly, as the story continues, union then replied by reciting a line from a sutra, kind of giving Dong Shan what he was asking for an explanation. But we shouldn't see that as necessarily unskilful. Union was meeting Dong Shan right where he was in that moment. So union said, haven't you seen that in the Amitabha Sutra, it says, The lakes and rivers, the birds, the forest, they all chant Buddha, they all chant dharma.
And upon hearing this, dog shun experienced a great insight
everything embodies our true nature.
too toothbrushes teacups and wall tiles each thing has its place
now not includes us we have our place dang Shawn then wrote a verse about his insight how incredible how incredible inanimate things proclaiming Dharma is inconceivable. It can't be known if the ears try to hear it. But when the eyes hear it then it may be known
hearing with the eyes seeing with the ears sounds like he had experienced some kind of synesthesia
a union of senses
the text continues with various other dialogues involving Dong Shan.
But instead of getting into those we'll go to the case. Dong shuns no grass
again, dang Shawn said to the assembly of monks it's the beginning of autumn brothers. And now that the summer training period is over, some of you will go east and some West. But you must go at once to where there is no grass for 10,000 miles. Then he added, but how can you go to where there is no grass for 10,000 miles.
Dating back to Zen's Chinese roots. The traditional training period was three months long, and it was held twice a year.
And for the length of the training period, the monks would pretty much stay within the enclosure of the monastery and practice together for 90 days.
And in bidding the monks goodbye as the period of training ended, and as they were about to disperse and set off in different directions. Dong Shan said you must go at once to where there is no grass for 10,000 Miles What is this place of no grass
this koan is rich with subtle meaning.
But if we were to interpret it simply from the vantage point We have the context we could see that Dong Shan was offering parting advice to the monks as they were about to leave leaving the monastery and returning to everyday life some perhaps going to their hometowns, others going off on pilgrimage and they had just completed three months of intensive Zen training
by that point, they would have cultivated a significant level of absorption in their practice
now Go at once to this place of no grass
and some time after dawn, Shawn had given this instruction to the assembly she Shuang said go out of the gate and there's grass so no sooner than you step foot out of the monastery gate you're going to find grass
is the saying that as soon as you go into the world you're going to face all the challenges that come with every day worldly affairs
including working with thoughts, attachments, cravings delusion of all kind
How can you bring your awareness into the life that you're living?
Perhaps we could substitute grass for weeds or dandelions which we've been conditioned to regard as unsightly and unacceptable
our lawn needs to be perfect although weeds and dandelions get a bad rap
each one of us has to work our way through the weeds or the grass in order to experience this this place of no weeds, no grass.
And then, much later on, Diane chimed in. And he said I'd say even not going out of the gate. There's grass everywhere.
So forget about going beyond the monastery gate, grasses everywhere, inside and outside how are you going to work with that?
Know the reference to grass in this koan is is intriguing. It's something that the student working on it needs to decipher. And there can be more to it than mere advice to the monks
when I first read this koan. It reminded me of a time about 15 years ago, when I traveled to China and visited some temples
if you've ever traveled to China and visited a temple or just seen photos, you'd know that the temple design the landscape of the temple, the grounds that sort of immediately surrounded it, don't include grass
the temple I went to was on a famous mountain, Mount omae located in the Sichuan Province, not far from Shang do, the city of Shang do. And I was there as mainly as as a professor leading a group of students on a study abroad program
and we visited a bunch of World Heritage sites including this mountain so this particular temple on the mountain involved a long trek upwards. The trail went through a thick forest but once you got to the temple, the temple grounds themselves were barren, very, very simple and Stark in appearance, there was a spacious courtyard and it had a floor made of tile stone tile and there wasn't a single blade of grass in that courtyard sticking up between the tiles let alone much greenery even though it was in a very remote locations surrounded by forest it actually had a feel similar to our courtyard here at Chapin Mill
which is no doubt was part of the design inspiration
so what does Diane mean? In saying that the grass is even inside the gate not just outside
with each master having their say we're left with this imagery of grass and no grass
what is the This place
the mystic poet Rumi
out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field I'll meet you there when the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about ideas language even the phrase each other don't make any sense