September 2021 Sesshin, Day 7: Mumonkan # 17, "The National Teacher Calls Three Times"
4:47PM Oct 9, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the last day of this September 2021 seven day sesshin. It's actually October 1 today. And we're going to turn to a koan this morning. This is one from the Mumonkan - Gateless Barrier. And it's called the National Teacher Calls Three Times. It's number 17 in the Mumonkan.
I'll read just the case first, and later, I get to the commentary, Mumon's commentary and verse. The case. The National Teacher called his attendant three times, and three times he responded. The National Teacher said, I thought I had transgressed against you, but you, too, have transgressed against me. That's it.
For some biographical material about the National Teacher is his name. This is China. Of course, his name is non young way, John. And he was one of the five What are regarded as the five primary disciples of way no way known. The sixth patriarch. His scholars say that it's he who gave him the stamp of his style of, of Chon that it persists today, before him Bodhidharma and his immediate successors was a little different. But we known was, was is really considered the, the, the first certainly the main Chinese ancestor. And we known had these five, the big five of his Dharma errors, and Nanyang was one of them Nanyang, his dates are listed as 675 to 775. So, live to be 100.
He, he came to be known as the National Teacher, because he taught the three Tang Dynasty emperors. Now, his early years I'm reading here from Zen's Chinese heritage, by Andy Ferguson. His early years were not a typical for those of Zen master in China, he entered the monastic life as a boy. He first studied under a vineya Master vineya being the concentration on the the precepts, the monastic rules and regulations and the precepts the ethical side of Zen. We have no information about his awakening, experience or any of might have been his waking experiences. It says here that he spent 40 years of rigorous practice under way known during which says he thoroughly mastered all aspects of sutra study, and meditation practice.
lon Young's centuries spanned the golden age of classical Zen
says that, during during his life, the original teaching of way nung branched into different different schools were called schools lages. But Nanyang himself was not closely associated with any particular school.
When, after his many years of training, and he had started to acquire reputation, he was the Emperor dispatched an envoy to invite him to the imperial capital says he received Him, the Emperor received Nanyang with great ceremony turned into another text, we get an idea of the kind of respect that the Emperor had for nanyuan
not finding it right now. But what I remember is that when the Emperor when he went out of the palace to meet young Nanyang, who was coming forth in some kind of a primitive, this was the seventh century or eighth century, some kind of vehicle, and that the Emperor himself took hold of the, of the, the,
side the the wooden ridge of the cart, or whatever it was, it wasn't clear and pushed, pushed this push the Nanyang on to the courtyard of the palace. This this would be unheard of, for the Emperor himself to do this. These emperors often like the Zen masters themselves, had their their attendance and others their courtiers doing everything for them.
Once in a big assembly, the Emperor asked Nanyang many questions, but Nanyang didn't even look at the Emperor. The Emperor became annoyed and said, I'm the emperor of the great Tang Dynasty. How is it that my master does not even deign to look at me to which Nanyang asked him in turn. Does your majesty see the empty space? Yes by the Emperor. And wait John said does the empty space wink at your majesty
says this concluded the conversation
now for a minute I'm reading from from the golden age of Zen. This is just for one story. It says what a severe master this Nanyang was can be seen from how he treated his disciple and attendant Tanya one. One day one of non Young's younger friends. I won't give the name because it gets too confusing with names that sound familiar. They sound the same. One day, the master Nanyang one of his younger friends came to call him at the time, the master have to be taking a nap. And when the caller asked the the Masters attended, whether the master was at home, the attendant who had just had an awakening of some kind, replied at home, he is only he is not to be interviewed by any guest. The visitor said, You're being too profound and remote. And then the attendant said, not even the Buddha I can see him. And then the visitor must have gotten testy because he said, Indeed it takes a dragon to beget a little dragon and a phoenix to bear a baby finix. Referring to the attendance, recent sanctioning of some kind, but when the master got up from his nap, the attendant reported what had taken place with this visitor who made the mistake of reporting what had happened. And to the great surprise of the attendant, the master gave him 20 blows with his cane and drove him away from his door. When the visitor heard this, he said, it is not for nothing that Nanyang has been honored as a national teacher.
So you have attended here was taking liberties that he wasn't reading he didn't obviously didn't know of what the master really would have preferred then is to is to be roused from his nap.
Some more, some more anecdotes and dialogues involving the National Teacher Nanyang.
Another Master pated pays a visit to the National Teacher, national teacher said Where did you come from? The other master answered. The National teacher said then maybe you brought Zen master mod Zoo's true Dharma along with you. In other words, show me what you got. And the other Master said here it is. National teacher said on your back these words the other master attained and awakening Oh the other master is non tshwane nonsense.
is an interesting one. When another famous Mark came to practice with a National Teacher, he circled the meditation platform three times, then struck his staff on the ground and stood there upright. The National teacher said you are the US I am also the US. Mio struck his staff on the ground again. The National teachers said get out of here you wildfox spirit I would he scold him for striking it a second time.
Is that saying sometimes less is more.
One day the National Teacher entered the monks Hall and and said those who practice them should venerate the words of the Buddha. There is but one vehicle for attaining Buddhahood and that is to understand the great principle that is to connect with the source of mind. If you haven't become clear about the great principle Then you haven't embodied the teaching. And you're like a lion cub whose body is still written with fleas. And if in that state you become a teacher of others, even attaining some worldly renown and fortune, you're still spreading falsehoods. What good does that do to you or anyone? A skilled axman does not harm himself with the axe head. What is inside the incense burner can't be carried by a donkey. What's inside the incense burner that the the ash represents the lineage and some, some contexts.
Another time Mark asked, How can one become a Buddha, meaning become enlightened? The National teacher said cast off the Buddha and all beings and at that moment, you'll be liberated. Forget about enlightenment. dislodge that idea from your head. dislodge all ideas from your head. The only way to be free.
Here's a longer one. The National teacher asked a monk Where are you from? The monk said from the south. The National teacher said Are they are there any teachers their monk said a great many. The National teacher said what is it that they teach people? The monk said in that place where these directly impart the teaching mind is Buddha to their students. Very famous response by Bosco, I think, a great Chinese master. But it's what is Buddha. This very mind is Buddha. But the national teachers that right now you completely possess the nature of conscious perception. This benevolent nature can cause the raising of an eyebrow in the twinkling of an eye. It is employed when coming or going and it pervades the body. It's talking of course about this essential nature of ours. If you tap your head, the head knows it. If you stamp the feet, the feet know it. The ancients called it pervasive consciousness. Aside from this, there is no other Buddha. Words awareness, our basic awareness. He continues, this body is subject to birth and annihilation. But the nature of mind is beginningless and does not undergo birth and death. The body subject to birth and death is like a dragon that loses and re grows its bones or a snake that sheds its skin or a human that leaves his old home. This body is impermanent but its nature is eternal.
This was all this was all set by the visiting monk. And then the national t shirt criticize the saying if that's so then they're teaching the monk was citing expounding the teaching of where he came from. So then their teaching is no different from the heretical Seneca doctrine. Let's let's just catch that here that I know what it is. But let's let Andy Ferguson tell us this was a doctrine criticized by the Buddha. It proposes that the mind is eternal, but form is subject to decay and annihilation. In other words is dualistic. And then the natural teacher continues. Teachers of bad doctrine said, within this body is a spirit. Although the Spirit can know the body's affliction, when the body expires, the spirit departs from it. If I am burned up, this spiritual host moves on. Although I am not eternal, this host is eternal. And then he finally says the national teacher says, with such an understanding, true and false can't be distinguished. Always Always. And the Dharma is it rests on non duality. As soon as we talk about this, and that, then we are slipping off of the fundamental, the real, the true.
My guess how does one sit in meditation and observe purity? The National teacher said, since there is neither pollution nor purity, why do you need to assume a posture of observing purity? Never forget that these masters responses and any any really any qualified teacher? Are they? They're there in response to that particular student. So two different students get asked the same question and get two different responses. This is the the net the nature of the Dharma is not it's not bound to any dogma. It's emerges in the particular context.
So in this case, you can can infer that there is some attachment on the monks part, to the idea of getting somewhere where there's purity in Tibet, that the national teachers reminding him that this purity is our nature, or that it's even beyond purity and impurity. It's really what he's saying. And that, we can also assume that the, the mark is attached to this dichotomy.
One last step, dialogue this is this is when the National Teacher was near death. It's actually a koan in its own right, in another collection. When he was near death, he took leave of the Emperor. The Emperor said, After you have gone, how should your disciple memorialize you? Nanyang said, Please build me a seamless monument. After a long pause Nanyang said, Do you understand? The Emperor said no. Nanyang said, after I'm gone, my disciple, Don Yuan, will understand about this matter, please ask him about it. So they after the natural teacher had died, this this the Emperor asked this other Master, and this master to was silent for a long while and then said, Do you understand? The Emperor said, I don't understand. And then, the master recited the following verse, south of Shawn north of Thomas rivers. In the middle, a unified golden nation. beneath a shadowless tree, everyone ferried together in the porcelain palace. Know where these are found.
Via another translation the one in our book is beneath the shadow was tree, a community ferryboat? No. Holy One in the Emerald palace. You see. She's fascinating when you compare translations from the Chinese fascinating how, how different they can be, which makes koan study quite interesting. Now back to the case,
the National Teacher called his attendant three times, and three times he responded. These these Chinese and Japanese teachers, least the senior ones, seem to always have attendance around them. And it was considered quite an honor to be assigned to be the attendant. as I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate the idea. I don't have an attendant as such, but the idea of having an attendant who can remind you of things as your memory fades.
It's it's not really in sync with our, our gala, terian. Western ethos. Although there are plenty of American teachers who have attendance, it's not something I've turned over my mind. And I've just feel as long as I'm able, able bodied, and some of my memory left, I can manage without an attendant as it is as a full time post. But it's a great opportunity for a student to be that close to the teacher.
I know I can speak myself from the experience of not exactly being Roshi Kapleau is not exactly his attendant, but his secretary kind of his attendant with him a lot in Mexico and elsewhere. You you you absorb more than you realize at the time, there's a saying when i when i when someone is close to a teacher, and it's like walking through the mist, getting getting, eventually getting soaking wet, just from the missed just being in the the proximity of the teacher. So we can we can suppose that this attendant was no beginner at all.
So then, what about this he called his attendant three times, and three times the attendant responded. Now that's just the barest of information. How did he call him? How did the attendant respond? This is the whole of the koan packed into that is the nature of koans. They're like, like coloring books. You buy a coloring book, and it just has the, the, the outlines of the figures, and then it's left to the child or adult to color them in. And that's the job of the student working on with these koans is to try to Intuit what's what's behind the words.
koan work does in there then develop intuition of not relying on just on words, but learning to see through the words into what's what's really being said.
This fits the Chinese language Chinese culture so well, because this is so indirect. And the language is just impossibly ambiguous.
What's going on there?
Did the attendant change and reverse his responses? And if so, how?
to think of yourself being called by your spouse or your parent? George? Yes. Then repeating it twice. Without third, yes be the same as the first map likely, most people? Yes. What do you want? Are you the first time?
So this is what one sits with, with this call on calling three times responding three times. Because then the national teacher said, I thought I had transgressed against you. But you, too, have transgressed against me.
There are there, again, interesting, different translations with this. One is, I thought I was ungrateful toward you. But I see that you were ungrateful toward me. Now there is I thought I have been no, have I been ungrateful to you? Or have you been ungrateful to me is one more I ran across, I thought I had turned my back on you, that I see that you've turned your back on me.
Here's a clue to this, that may or may not be helpful. It may lead you astray or not. There is this idea in, in Zen tradition, that someone it's only when the student stands on the shoulders of the teacher, that she or he is considered worthy of being a successor. And as I say, standing, I'm the head of the teacher.
Normally, in, in East Asian culture, the head is seen as the most exalted part of the body and just as the feet are the lowest. So standing on someone's head sounds dreadful, doesn't it? The The, the idea is that in order to preserve this mind, mind transmission, you can't just be as as deeply wake as your teacher, you have to be more so well. You know, Western logic would follow that out it would. It makes it a little hard to believe that that would mean that I'm more deeply enlightened than Shakyamuni Buddha.
So it's an imperfect system.
What does he mean? transgressing against. Another one is betray. I thought I had betrayed you. But you two have betrayed me.
I've seen a couple different interpretive. I've worked. I've been part of the docs on room a couple of different interpretations of this koan. One is less obscure than the other, the other the other is very subtle. It's a tough one.
Go right on to the commentary. mods commentary, the National Teacher called three times and his tongue fell out. The attendant answered three times, and his responses were brilliant. The National Teacher getting old and lonely, pushed the cow's head down to the grass. The attendant would have none of it. Even delicious food does not attract a person who is full. Now tell me more and says, in what did the transgressing consist.
The more time you spend sitting with a koan, generally speaking, the more rewarding it is.
It's, it's, Zen says Zen is so much so vital. an aspect of koan work to to once you get the outlines of the koan, then to just let everything settle, and let the mind go deeper, and see what insights might come up. We know especially from sesshin, you also outside sesshin, but especially in sesshin, that just good settled, Zen can reveal a lot. Things we aren't even thinking about things from a past. bubble up to the surface. insights, new ways of seeing new new perspectives on our relationships with other people.
And then now there's a verse still. I mean, it's part of the commentary before we get to the verse momon presents a little verse from from China, when the country is at peace, talented people are respected. When the family is prosperous, the children are refined. When the country is at peace, talented people are respected. Gives us a lot. A lot to be concerned about in our culture in our country today. And the family is prosperous, the children are refined. Last so much refinement through social media.
And then the verse you must carry the homeless iron Tang. This curse passes to descendants, no trivial matter. If you want to support the gate and sustain the house, you must climb a mountain of swords with bare feet.
I can ca mg ue is a prison stock. It's like in in the early days of, of our Republic, in New England, they had these for to punish. It's a form of punishment they would put the hapless person in a stock this stock was in the village square. And it was they'd have to drape their hands through the in there sometimes their head through this stationary stock and then people could have their way throwing tomatoes and just basically humiliating the suppose criminal. But this, this can in China, in Tang Dynasty China was put on the person it was a mobile Kang a mobile stock. So you could still move through the village with this contraption on you, same same purpose to announce the new new committed a crime. This is the this whole list though. This, this is little confounding
mean it's not too much to give away to say that. This this is referring and this is based on how readily most students in Doakes on get this. This this cane the stock is pointing to the responsibility of being a teacher
of upholding the Dharma upholding the lineage
says it's no trivial matter to the curse passes to just two descendants. But wait. This is a just a cane. But a whole list one
great significance to that in terms of this burden of teaching the responsibility.
And then if you want to support the gate and sustain the house that is, of course uphold the lineage, you must climb a mountain of swords with bare feet.
very sobering. mission that we're on.
We we naturally want to get as far as we possibly can in this path. Without any more pain than we have to go through. Want to find ways to do it as quickly and as easily as possible. That's just human nature. But really, there's to go all the way. And speaking even as someone who hasn't gone all the way but to knows enough that to go all the way is something that you can't do without paying a price. without going through a lot
is no substitute for pain to mature us to deepen us, deepen our character, first test our character and then deepen and forge strong character. It's one of them, many, many things we learn in sesshin it's one of the things we we derive that we earn in session is this metal, this strength that comes from sleep deprivation and physical pain and emotional pain of uncovering things in the mind and not being able to flee into any kinds of escapes.
Be attendant and of course the teacher the National Teacher and stuff a bent through this all themselves there is a result and as a result of their having worked together then together closely pave developed this rapport that can only come through long close work together
we can say that they're there too. At the same time they're not too There's a line in the in the forming faith in mind in this true world of emptiness both self and other are no more
we get practice at this at the docks on Bell teacher rings his hand Bell the student responds
there's a there's a tradition in least in Japanese and I don't can't speak about Chinese and but in Japanese and training the temples where if your name is called you're expected to respond immediately. Hi. Jennifer height gotcha. And with you I'm with you know gap response if the mind is clogged with thoughts, less likely to be a no gap response. The calling can take a while to reach one's Hearing Center.
It's I think some commentators said it's like the sound of the temple Bell meaning this is huge temple bells in China in Japan and Korea with that are reverberate over the the hills the mountains, like the hat the baton the tolling of the bell and the the echoing of it. Calling response
teacher and student. Our time is up we'll stop now and recite the four vows