Teisho by Roshi Philip Kapleau: Mumonkan #38 "A Buffalo Goes Through a Window"
4:14PM Aug 22, 2023
This is the first day of this seven-day October 1975 session. Today, we will work on a koan in the Mumonkan.
But before we do so, let me say something about about a subject that even people who've been practicing zazen for some time, seem to be confused about.
And this is the subject of the role of a teacher, and the relation of the student to the teacher. In Zen, it is said that a teacher's function is to preserve his student from the teachers' influence. We have the Buddha himself saying, Don't accept anything that I give you. on faith, don't accept anything that anybody your teachers, or anyone gives you on faith, but subjected to the test of your own reason, which means your own life experiences. And insofar as you are able to your own spiritual awareness, then as always develop this strong feeling of independence in its practices. Sometimes it's this feeling of independence, is confused with a conceit, sometimes even a seeming arrogance. But it is not this at all. Unless the student becomes at the very least, as good as his teacher, he's only half as good as his teacher. There's another saying in Zen. In the golden age of Zen, we have some sayings here, by some of the great Zen masters and others. One, she doubt she tell, who was a great Chinese master said, I would rather sink to the bottom of the sea for endless eons, then seek liberation to all the saints of the universe.
And then there's another master as Amis well, when she
that he was, at one time he was working in the kitchen. And while he was working in the kitchen, and an apparition of mon juicery, often appeared to him. In one day one, she took up a cooking utensil, and threw it at the apparition saying, man just sweet what a Chinese it's one jewel, and juicy is one one Jewish, one Jew. But when she is when she
won she each one of us is what he is. Each one is unique, unique in the sense that each one has his his or her own karma.
And to try to be like anyone else, even like your teacher, is a great mistake. You couldn't become like your teacher or anyone else actually. Even if you tried. Best, you'd be a poor carbon copy. And there's another master, sweet young, who said, the full grown man aspires to pierce through the heavens, let him not walk in the footsteps of the Buddha did not walk in the footsteps of the Buddha. The book came out a number of years ago called in the footsteps of the Buddha. We find in other traditions on well known book in Christianity, Imitation of Christ. But in Zen Buddhism, at least, this sort of thing is not is not encouraged tall does another to shun was another one of the great Zen masters, toxin and Japanese or other rather schwa Thung, who was a disciple of Deshawn said, speaking of Tyshaun, empty handed I went to him and empty handed, I returned, empty handed I went to him and empty handed I returned. Of course, there are not many people that can go, unfortunately empty handed to the teacher. Empty handed of course means with your mind empty of all of the baggage that most people carry around with them.
But if one is able to go with an open mind, open mind here means an empty mind
when doesn't return from the teacher with a lot of things that you've learned. You return with a lot of thing you return empty of a lot of things you've unlearned. And here we see, the main function of the master is how to draw she used to say, function of a teacher is to teach that there is nothing to learn, nothing to teach, and nothing to learn.
Why then, do you need a teacher? Well, you need a teacher to learn just that. People always want to acquire something. Whether it's learning at the hands of the teacher or anybody else,
to acquire something to add to their store of knowledge. This is considered to be such a wonderful thing in our culture. To say to anybody that you go to, to Zen, let's say, to unlearn everything you've ever acquired to get rid of that? What seemed like astounding kind of seem to the ordinary person.
There's another anecdote here, where when this Xie Tao when he visited his master for the first time, the master said, Where do you come from? And she tell answered that he was from Tao chi. That was where the Sixth Patriarch had been teaching. And then his Master Ching, one ask, What have you brought with you? Tao said, That which has that which had never that which had never been lost, even before I went to him, before I went to Tao chi that's a place and then the master further asked, if that is the case, why did you go to tau chi at all? And Tao said, If I had not gone to tau chi, how could I realize that it had never been lost? Of course, this it is odd to nature. To give the temporary name a tentative name. One has to one has to. One has to have a teacher. Ideally, to learn that one has everything within himself.
Teacher can put anything into anybody. But he can help. He can help people to open their eyes. You can preserve them from going wrong, but he can't tell them what is right. Students are constantly asking for this kind of information. Students will say I did everything my teacher asked me to do. I followed very closely, his every word and I never came to awakening. And the implications implication of course of that is there must be something wrong with a teacher not with not with me but with the teacher because I did everything you told me to do. It didn't help so there must be something wrong with the teacher not with me. It's kind of a subtle kind of thing that operates with any people.
Often we hear in the course of the session, at a certain point in the session. You are now completely on your own. You must find your own way. Nobody can tell you what is your way
This is a very important point. It's all its whole role and relationship of a teacher and the student is quite different in other traditions. And nobody is really a to Zen student who doesn't follow out these teachings of Zen Now, let us go on to the, to the Koran today
and this is number 38 in the Mumonkan. We've talked about the Mumonkan. So there's no need to say what kind of book that is, except that it's a book of 48 cons, and is the first book which is usually assigned people who are working on subsequent carts. The title of the con is a buffalo passes through a window and the case reads. Go so said, To give an example. It's like a buffalo passing through a window. Its head horns and four legs have all passed through. Why is it that its tail cannot. And that's the end of the case. Then we have morons commentary. If you can penetrate to the point of this koan, open your Zen eye to it, and give a turning word to it, you will then be able to repay the four obligations above and help the three existences below If you still cannot do so, with the tail single heartedly, until you can really grasp it as your own. Then we have Mormons verse
If it passes through, it falls into a ditch. If it turns back, it is destroyed. This tiny tail, how extremely marvelous. And that's the end of the verse. For some biographical material on this, the master here goes Oh, and this of course, is the Japanese and the Chinese is what to fly in. And his dates are 10 124 to 11 104.
said that he had reached the age of 35, before he left his home, to become a monk. And after taking the precepts, he first studied the consciousness only doctrines. But he became dissatisfied with these studies and began looking for a Zen master. A teacher in the SEC that transmits the buddha mind, you know, reading from Zen dust. And eventually he came to master one Qin phi one who was living on Mount for Shawn. And the first time that he met is Incan to give him his Japanese pronunciation. The old master said to him, the data gotta had a secret word, but Mark has sharper could not keep it hidden.
This is a very interesting expression. The Tathagata Of course, refers to the Buddha, the Buddha Shakyamuni and Mahakashyapa You will recall was his foremost disciple and there is the incident of where the Buddha didn't speak he twirled a flower and only Mahakashyapa smiled this became a call on is number four in the Mumonkan Tata gotta had a secret word, but Maka shopper could not keep it hidden
and this and then when it's wood, so phi n. He pondered this statement for a year and he couldn't undo Standard. And then the master told him that since he that is the master was becoming aged, it would be better for him for Hawaiian to see another master who was living in the same district. And then he followed his old teachers advice and then after a number of years of practice, he became this teacher. His name was panache, tun, and Japanese his most outstanding air. Then after the death of this teacher, he spent some time on what is called Mount Schumann shore. And then he journeyed north and took up his residence on the famous yellow plum mountain. On May Sean, this were the fifth patriarch of Zen had lived 400 years earlier. It began it was called the fist patriarchs mountain in memory of the fifth patriarch, and then this hole and lived for over 4030 years on this mountain. That's where he got his name. He said to have been a straightforward unassuming man. He was well known for his plain, colloquial style. In his lectures, he used to call himself uncle toe of West River, which translates as the fellow who lives somewhere or other at the foot of East mountain. And then we have here the account of the end of his life. One day, looking at his disciples, the master said, after my death, how will you students carry on my teaching? And then one of them said, the same with Khan, the brilliantly colored Phoenix dancers in the red heaven. Phoenix, you know, is this mythical bird which lives for 500 years in the beauty in full bloom and the beauty for all 500 years, then it emulates itself and then rises from its own ashes to live another 500 years. The brilliantly colored Phoenix dances in the red heaven. And then another disciple once again said, the iron snake lies across the old road.
And then the third one, Buddha said he raised his leg and he said, Look at my uplifted foot. And the master said, He who will destroy my sect is Buddha.
This can be taken in two ways. This last this could be said in a in a very in a very positive sense. Or, of course, it could be said in a negative sense. However, since the Hmong the most famous of all of his disciples was this, Booker, it seems reasonable to take it in its favorable sense.
Then one, this account, he says in the summer of 1100, the year 11 104. This whole end took the high seat. This is where the Roshi usually sits in a high seat where he gives his lectures. And he said, farewell to his disciples in these words. Zen master Joshua Chouchou, had a last phase. How do you understand it? Let someone step forward and speak. If you can understand, there will be no hindrance to your freedom and joy. If you cannot, how shall I explain this good thing to you? And the master said quietly for a time and then he continued, my explanation is finished. But not everyone knows it. Do you want to understand? For the rich man 1000 miles are too few. For the poor man, one buddy is too much. Farewell
can be understood the rich man 1000 mouths to few because also means those who are constantly accumulating endlessly greedily. Knowledge, there is no end to it. But for the for those who are emptying their mind even one thought is too much.
And then this account goes on to say that at that time the main gate of the temple was under construction, and the master went personally to inspect it. And then he said to the workmen, presumably they were monks, and others, all of you must exert yourselves, I shall not come again. Then he returned to his own rooms, washed his hair and bathed his body. And the next morning at dawn, he quietly passed away sitting in the full lotus posture. The time of his death, he was more than 80 years old.
To come to the to the koan again. Gosho, said, This Gosho, this is the same person we've been reading about. To give an example. It is like a buffalo passing through a window. As to give an example, this evidently was taken from one of his T shirts, he was talking about something and then gave this as an example. And there are many, many commentaries written about where exactly this expression comes from. It's been found one of the statements of the Buddha was talking about an elephant in a dream where an elephant goes to a narrow its whole body goes to an very narrow orifice, but its tail doesn't go through. But of course, we'd need to be concerned with where gosl got this from this is an important important thing is, of course, the value of this kind of Con, to strengthen our practice. It's like a buffalo. Sometimes this is translated as a cow red cow passing through window, its head horns and four legs have all passed through. Why is it that its tail cannot. This is just the opposite of what the ordinary person would think. You'd think that the tail would be easy to get to. But the head, the horns in the four legs would have a hard time getting through a small window
we must understand that head horns and four legs, this corresponds to our, you might say, our body, our phenomenal body, or for that matter, the phenomenal world, but this case, we can take it as standing for our phenomenal body.
The tail, tail stands for that, which is a kind of a tentative name
for that, which is always present, and yet, can't be seen or really named. We can say what our what our head and our head and our arms and our legs are.
Can we say what is it that behind our arms and our legs and our feet and hands? What makes the move? You notice that about animals that the tail in some respects is the most especially for dogs. It's the most graphic thing of the animal. It's a kind of a semaphore. It tells you the animal's whole state
of mind. This may very well be true of the tail for all animals
sometimes we see animals who have had their tails cut off and they look very strange indeed. Not only do they look weird but they look unhappy
on a very superficial level we can we can think of this con as meaning that the important the so called important things in life don't give us any problems. But it's the tiny little things that give us problems. It's the little things that bother a lot of people. People get hung up very often on the most insignificant kinds of things. The big things in life they take for granted when they ought not to.
One time, many years ago, somebody came to me and was telling me about a woman the difficulties that she was having with her husband. She very much in love with him, but he had such little habits and knowing little habits, which he just would not correct. And when I asked her what were some of these, and one of them, she said was, he would never put the toothpaste cap back on the toothpaste when he took it off. And she was really hung up on this kind of thing. He was such an fine man, except for this kind of thing. And you would have thought that he would have been considered enough, because just annoyed that no end to see the toothpaste oozing out of the
we also find cases where people, people who who work they're able to get the main aspects of their work done, but then when it comes to the little fine details, somehow they get hung up on them hung up in the sense that they never get around to doing them. This is what around here around the center we call the 90% syndrome where it gets 90% done and that last 10% somehow never gets done on as to push three times as hard to get that 10% done than one did for the 90%.
Why is it that the tail cannot go through? Why is it that our delusive, our delusions, assume such a disproportionate aspect of our life.
After all, the tail is no different from the body. The same, it is the same flesh and blood essentially.
And our delusions are no different. From the rest of our perceptions, enlightenment is ignorance ignorance is enlightenment. When the tail is seen for what it is, when we are able to live through these annoying, these distractions which become annoying or when we are able to see through our wrong thinking then the tale is not seen, or at least does not function apart from the rest of the body. We are able to move freely, we don't get hung up
it's gone by the way is considered to be by Zen master Hakuin. He calls his con this in Japanese, the most difficult cons are called a non tow cons and this is considered to be one of the most difficult even of the of the eight or nine non tow koans in the Mumonkan. There's a commentary on this con by Zen master Erdogan, where he says in this world, the cow's tail, that should come out from the window always remains behind unless we pull it like mad. Unless we make a strong effort to rid ourselves of these, this notion of self and other of good and bad profit and loss, birth and death the whole system of dualities by which we separate ourselves from our daily lives, unless we make a real strong effort. We always are getting hung up on them. And hunger means that the rest of just as just as in the koan, the head the horns and the four legs although they have gotten through the window they still can't move the tail is caught And until we see these things, see through this basic delusion of self and other we're always living a kind of on the edge of doom life, always vulnerable. We think that we've achieved a certain amount of, of tranquillity. And then one is presented with a certain painful or a certain situation which turns out to be to become painful to oneself and to everyone else.
Of course, even with a slight awakening, one begins to get some real insight into this into this problem of taking tentative names for final realities, for being caught up by form, by becoming attached to the phenomenal world.
And of course, by working on subsequent cons, this one for example, and others. Gradually, what we what we have dimly perceived becomes clearer and we're able to act on what we know to be true, because the koans forces just as this one to really act out the truth. In the ducks on loan, you just can't talk about the con, one must demonstrate that one understands the koan understands the principle that is involved. And of course, every con and this one included, is pointing to our to mind, which is beyond all words, all conceptions, all notions of this and that all naming and calling.
How does one live this kind of way?
There's one Zen master said. First, I went out after the fresh green grass, then I returned pursuing the fall the falling blossoms. Do you see the relation between this and being able to live the corn that we just talked about? There's another there's another one by Hakuin where he says always the same is the moon before the window. Yet if there's only a plumb Blanche, plumb branch, it is no longer the same.
Always the same as the moon before the window, always the same is the moon before the window to mine never changes, it is always shining. But just one delusive thought even a beautiful one. And a Plum plum branch is certainly a beautiful is a beautiful thing. One conception and the minds purity has been obscured.
Next, we come to Mu Monze commentary. If you can penetrate to the point of this con,
open your Zen eye to it and give a turning word to it. You will then be able to repay the four obligations above and help the three existences below of course, penetrate to the point of the koan means to to perceive, what is involved here, to throw off to scruff off all of the non essentials and get right to the heart of the problem. And this not in a in an intellectual kind of way, not to recognize what is involved here, but to experientially penetrate. Now, open your Zen i What is the Zen I? Sometimes we speak of the third eye, the eye in the forehead. You know when you look at a Buddha figure, you very often see it has this This mark this light and this is called a third eye a mind's eye, mind with a capital M. Or we can call it a Zen eye. It means the eye that sees beyond the temporary be constantly changing temporary phenomena into that which makes possible this constant arising and constant disappearing and rising again reality and attuning word means a key word which expresses this kind of insight.
Now, the four obligations above and the three existences below four obligations, this refers to the obligation to one's parents.
The obligation of gratitude, what is called filial piety, rather, awkward expression really, filial piety piety and piety really means, gratitude.
For having been given body, a body by our parents, we have not been given the will to be born by our parents.
This is this does not come from our parents, but certainly a certain kind of, not even a certain kind of body, but the basic rudiments of a body. And of course, the body is fashion according to our own our own karma and our own thinking and feeling and acting. It has the other obligations to the sovereign, to people in general and to the three who does treasures the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. gratitude for having for hearing that teaching. And of course, the teaching is the Dharma, the Buddha, who first expounded the Dharma and then the Sangha, those fellow practices will make it possible for us such as in a session to practice and the three existences, to help the three existences, but these three existences referred to the realms of desire of form and no form this is a another division of reality of the non enlightened the non enlightened mind the lowest is the is the realm of desire, like a young child, just a bundle of desires give me this give me that well, the form of course, means the phenomenal world being still being attached to it and no form means the non phenomenal world one can still be attached to the non phenomenal world when there is no real understanding of emptiness and one one treats it as a kind of concept.
These represent these represent progressively advanced stages in AI development.
There are three stages in which in which we are constantly being oscillated between going from one to the other. When one can go from desire to form and even no foul and then go back again to desire because the person in the realm of no form means that one is not attached to the phenomenal world and one is relatively free of desire.
And this goes on to say If you still cannot do so, that is if you cannot penetrate to the point of the car.
Then work with the tail single hot, single heartedly until you can really grasp it as your own. Here of course Move on, move on is urging us to to work on our on our delusions, on our hangups on our frustrations, to see them for what they are
See our own selfishness to see our own limitations. To see one's own limitations clearly, sometimes overwhelms people. But we must remember that everybody, everybody has limitations. There's an old saying, the greatest sin is to be aware of none. Perhaps put it in other words, the greatest limitation is to be aware of none have no limitation. Mind is capable of endless expansion. The work of ridding ourselves of our defilements goes on endlessly. This is what normal is really saying. When the tail really becomes part of our life when there's no longer standing outside of this delusive mind that delusive mind is our two mind, it can no longer be called elusive or true. One does what one needs to do? How does a buffalo How does a buffalo pass through a window, not only with his head horns and four legs. But also with his tail? It passes to it just doesn't think about it. It doesn't think how I'm going to do it. How am I going to live my life? People who live lifeless lives are the people who are constantly thinking about them. This may seem to be a kind of a contradiction. When here's that, we need to reflect on certain things. And this is true enough. But at the same time to constantly weigh and analyze, should I do this should I do that? This is not living life. This is thinking life and there's a big difference. In one case, one becomes like the thinker, you know, bent over alone in a fade in a world I never made. The other case we have the Buddha sitting, serene and calmly. One with everything. Throughout heaven on earth, I am the only one. This means this is a world of non separation. The world of no antagonisms. As long as one doesn't assert one's own opinion about this or that one doesn't get stubborn about things. One doesn't dam up the flow of one's life, then one moves freely, there are no constrictions there are no contradictions.
This is what this call is teaching. We have the Mormons verse. If it passes through, it falls into a ditch. If it turns back it is destroyed.
Again, we have what seems to be a great contradiction. If it passes through it falls into a ditch even after enlightenment there are many hazards
many people have the wrong notion that after enlightenment there's nothing really to do life becomes a shining and radiant is a halo
this is not so people who have who are stubborn, bumptious. conceded they have a great deal of that knocked out it is quite true. That is the conceited self is knocked out. Rather the roots of it, it's cut out. It's a good deal like a chicken that has its head cut off, the body still continues, it will move around yet for some while before it finally dies. And it is the same way with enlightenment. This is why training after enlightenment is so vital. Dogon says there is no end to enlightenment. There is no beginning to to practice an end to enlightenment or there is no beginning to enlightenment an end to practice, practices enlightenment enlightenment is practice must really think both of those things together to really understand each other. So simply do photos simply to come to awakening is not enough. Still the process of working on oneself. Remember that he was sucky letters where she talks about this if it turns back it is destroyed
although it doesn't seem possible, perhaps too many of you, yet there are people who've had an awakening. And yet they fall back. They don't, either. In a few rare cases of spontaneous, spontaneous awakening, it's been even some training. And then they don't do those anymore. Pretty soon they lose. They lose, not the awakening the perception, but they lose the ability to live according to the perception. And this is a vital point, we must not get confused here. There are people from time to time who come and tell me that they have had an awakening. And they describe it in in a few cases. It seems that they're absolutely right. But because they haven't known what to do with it, so to say, and this also may seem strange, why do you have to do anything with it, because to do something with it means to continue to cleanse one's mind, not only of past defilements, but the dust you might say, that continues to change the metaphor, the dust, that from daily thinking and acting, even the enlightened person, there is a certain residue. A certain certain amount of the dregs of life, you might say in here, not in the psychological sense, which continued to obscure the mirror of one's mind. And to dues as in which of course means to live a life of single mindedness or to become careless and negligent. Not to give away to temptations. And the the ability to resist temptations also is a matter of God and not awakening. One will see people who have even trained he's been Zen or some other tradition, and yet you find them still weak, unable to resist certain temptations. It is true that their their reaction to their response to these temptations is quite different from the unenlightened person. There is no there is not the kind of guilt and the self the bleeding of oneself. Nonetheless, there's a marked difference between people who, through long training have developed a real strength and have been able to surmount weaknesses in their character and personality, certain karma which has been inherited from the past and deliver a free and easy and pain free life and be able for those reasons to help other people. Now, this this tiny tale, how extremely marvelous
you remember, in the first koan of Mu, in the Mumonkan, where move on in his verse talks about how enlightenment What a marvelous thing enlightenment is, after many years of darkness, this wondrous thing called enlightenment.
How wonderful that there is this tale, which means how wonderful that there are obstructions and struggle in our daily life. Because until we have confronted and work through the challenge of these kinds of these obstructions this tail does not in a self conscious manner, begin to operate in our lives. Our true nature is always working, of course, because we don't know it. It is of a different order than when we are aware. And awareness is everything. One can have many kinds of comforts, and what it's called of course in Buddhism or heaven The existence of Deva, like existence. But you remember in the three pillars where he has done it all she talks about, that this kind of existence is not is not to be sought for. Because after the karma, which brought you to that state is exhausted, you can fall all the way into hell. And we see this in life all the time, on our recent visit to Switzerland, seeing all the marvels of this beautiful country in the accomplishments of the people. And then to find out that Switzerland we were told by somebody who lived in Switzerland a long time that Switzerland has a high divorce rate, alcoholism is very high and the suicide rate is also high. This is also true in Sweden, and some of the other countries, the so called welfare states where life is comparatively is protected at every well as much as it can be, I suppose, by the state.
We see how struggling pain, when they are understood, can be a real means to our enlightenment. The tale is no different from the rest. Our delusions are our enlightened mind. And so and so to try to avoid the painful situations, which arise out of our deluded mind, this is a mistake to wallow in them as equally a mistake as nothing but pure ego, but to honestly and courageously face up to the situations and circumstances that come to us, in our daily life, whatever they are, and to transcend them. This of course makes us stronger, and it strengthens our practice.
And it makes us finally see at the tail is no different from the rest of the body. Stop here