The Gateless Barrier 7__Master Woohak

The Gateless Barrier 7
Original Text with Explanations by Master Woohak

Zen Master Muil Woohak | After joining the monastic order at Tongdo-sa Temple at age 21, he studied Zen at Dongguk University and then practiced Zen at many Zen centers in Korea. Currently he is the founder of and most eminent elder at the Korea Buddhist College of the Great Gwaneum-sa Temple and the chairman of the Muil Educational Foundation. He has been engaged in many kinds of social welfare work and NGO services. He has published more than 100 books.

Case 13 Master Deshan Holds His Bowl
Original case
One day Master Deshan went to the dining room carrying his bowls. Ven. Xuefeng asked him, “Venerable master, the bell has not yet been rung and the drum has not yet been struck – where are you going with your bowls?” Deshan simply turned and went straight back to his room.
Xuefeng mentioned this to Yantou, who commented, “Even a great monk like Master Deshan doesn’t understand the last word.”
Master Deshan heard of this exchange and asked his attendant to call Yantou to him.
“Do you not approve of me?!”
Yantou whispered something privately to Master Deshan, who did not say anything else. The next day, when Deshan ascended the Dharma seat, sure enough he acted differently than before.
Yantou went to the front of the hall, clapped his hands, and laughed loudly, saying, “Wonderful! Our venerable master has realized the last word. From now on, no one anywhere can outdo him!”
Wumen’s Comment and Verse
If you call this the last word, then neither Yantou nor Deshan has even seen it, even in a dream. Look at it closely; it’s just like a scene of two puppets.
Wumen’s verse:
If you realize the first word,
Then you also understand the last.
The first and last word
Are not the same word.
Woohak’s Comment
Yantou mentioning the “last word” is the main point of this story of Deshan carrying his bowls. But also, what did Yantou secretly whisper into Master Deshan’s ear, and what connection does that have with the last word? What is the last word?
Though it sounds ludicrous, if you grab hold of this question and thoroughly wrestle with it yourself, you’ll become absorbed in the realm of non-discriminating awareness, in which thinking is of no use. Like the saying of the ancients, “That which comes in through the door cannot be your family’s true treasure.” Only you can know for yourself whether the water is hot or cold. In order to do this, you must become the master of this story yourself.
The last word is the omnipresent wisdom that connects all sentient beings, a clear expression of one’s attainment of the deep meaning of the Buddha-Dharma. In other words, it is an exclamation of one’s progress, a Dharma word emitted from the level of the fundamental, original mind. If that is the case, then is it appropriate that Yantou said, as we read in the original story, that in his view Master Deshan didn’t understand the last word? We might even say that this keen-eyed, great teacher, known for the sharpness of his blows, could never be that weak so as to take this kind of humiliation.
However, he did have a clear intention. This episode took place three years before Master Deshan entered Nirvana, and at that time Xuefeng was the kitchen master, responsible for preparing the temple meals. Actually, when Master Deshan appeared in front of Xuefeng carrying his bowls, this in itself was his Dharma teaching on the last word; however, Xuefeng couldn’t grasp his teacher’s teaching. Therefore, Master Deshan intentionally took part in this puppet show by taking in even Yantou. At this point we can realize what Yantou’s intention was when said he didn’t understand the last word. Master Deshan carrying his bowls! Though a thousand Buddhas may appear in the world, they cannot save beings with whom they have no affinity; however, the teacher’s compassionate methods are limitless.
Case 14 Master Nanquan Cuts the Cat in Two
Original Case
Master Nanquan saw that the monks of the eastern and western halls were arguing over a single cat. The Master held up the cat and said,
“All of you! If anyone among you can give me one word, you can save this cat – if you cannot, I will kill it right now!”
Nobody in the assembly could say a word, so Master Nanquan immediately cut the cat in two.
That evening, when Zhaozhou returned to the temple, Master Nanquan related the day’s events to him. Whereupon Zhaozhou took off his shoe, put it on his head and left the room.
Nanquan then said, “If you had been here, you could have saved that cat.”
Wumen’s Comment and Verse
You there, tell me! What did Zhaozhou mean when he put his sandal on his head? If you can speak properly at this point, then you’ll realize that Master Nanquan’s demand was not without reason.
If you can’t do that, then you’re in danger!
Wumen said it again with a verse:
If Zhaozhou had been there,
He would have done the opposite;
If the knife had been taken away,
Then even Master Nanquan would have begged for his life.
Woohak’s Comment
Deciding who the cat belongs to is subjective for the most part, since the cat is not able to say for itself whose cat it is. In other words, the problem is with our judgmental consciousness itself, our mind of relative distinctions and  comparisons. However, one cannot encounter the true aspect of all things with this selective consciousness. That is to say, the monks of the eastern and western halls were acting foolishly, a million miles away from their true practice. Master Nanquan cut the cat in two because the monks were all floundering in a collective dream, trapped by their deluded thoughts of life and death. Therefore, Master Nanquan’s knife is not the blade that kills, but the sword that restores life.
It was really a horrible sight to see monks, who should practice by risking their very lives in order to resolve the great matter of life and death, this one great affair, instead forsaking their original goal and arguing over a mere cat. This was something their teacher could not tolerate at all. Therefore, the master committed a grave sin in order to benefit his disciples’ practice; this kind of strange action is in itself a perfect example of a master using any expedient means in order to enlighten people, even committing the serious sin of taking a life; thereby descending to the animal realm of his own accord.
In the same way, Zhaozhou putting his sandal on his head and leaving the room was the perfect example of “putting the cart before the horse.” Putting a sandal on his head, a sandal that should have been worn on his foot, is an example of “discriminating right from wrong.” In a nutshell, Zhaozhou was saying he wanted to have nothing to do with the incident. He meant to let go of it. Practice that is still based on the relative distinctions of life & death, right & wrong, suffering & pleasure, and self & others, is still far from complete. The completion of one’s practice means that one must have the nondiscriminating awareness that transcends the world of relative distinctions.
True peace, wherein all conflict and ideas of right and wrong have vanished, can be found within the realms that existed “before heaven and earth were separated” and “before you were born to your parents.” To sum it up, the monks fighting over a cat, and also their teacher killing this cat to get rid of the root of the conflict, were both quite ridiculous situations ─ enough to even make a cow laugh! Therefore, rather appropriately, Zhaozhou put his shoe on his head and left the room.
Case 15 Dongshan’s Three Rounds of Blows
Original Case
Dongshan came to practice Seon with Master Yunmen, who asked him, “Where have you come from recently?”
Dongshan answered, “I came from the village of Chadu.”
Master Yunmen asked him again,
“Where did you spend the summer retreat season?”
Dongshan replied, “I was at Baoci Temple in Hunan.”
Master Yunmen asked once more, “When did you leave that place?”
Dongshan answered, “On August 25.”
Master Yunmen then said, “I should give you three rounds of blows with my staff, but I’ll spare you.”
The next day, Dongshan came to the Master’s room and asked him, “Yesterday you said that you spared me three rounds of blows—I just don’t understand where I was at fault!”
Master Yunmen replied, “You idiot! Wandering about like that from Jiangxi to Hunan!”
Dongshan was greatly enlightened by these words.
Wumen’s Comment and Verse
Master Yunmen gave Dongshan some fitting (Seon) food at the time and encouraged him to gather up his vital spirit; he thereby avoided the decline of his tradition. Yunmen trapped Dongshan all night long in the sea of right and wrong—he waited for dawn to break the next day, and then gave him another teaching. Though Dongshan attained enlightenment at that point, he was not yet complete. Therefore, I’d like to ask everyone, “Should Dongshan have received three rounds of blows or not?” If you say yes, then you are saying that all the grasses, trees, weeds and shrubs (i.e. the whole universe) also deserve to be beaten; if you say no, then Master Yunmen was just speaking nonsense. If you clearly understand the meaning of these words, then you can almost relieve Dongshan’s pent-up frustration.
Wumen said it again with a verse:
When the lioness teaches her cubs, she has a trick for guiding a dim-witted cub;
If she flings him out ahead of her, he’ll flip over immediately and come right back.
Unexpectedly, Yunmen’s second answer hit Dongshan right on the head.
He was barely struck by the first arrow, but the second one pierced him deeply.
Woohak’s Comment
“Where have you been recently?”
“Where did you do your practice?”
“When did you leave that place?”
This is the careful attention of a teacher, encouraging a disciple to examine his sense of self. One must sever the path of life and death, the ways of ordinary men, by questioning “the self” with the treasured sword of the Vajra King. Once all thoughts of logical discrimination, right and wrong, gain and loss have vanished, you should then stand naked, just as you are. In order to avoid being pulled about by karmic consciousness and falling into filth, one must ceaselessly investigate the self. Seon practice is not about how well one understands theory, but about direct experience. Seon is struggling with the form-body in order to cast away the five aggregates (form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, consciousness) and transform it into the Dharmakaya (the source of enlightenment). Master Yunmen’s three questions may ostensibly seem to be on the level of relative distinctions, but the underlying meaning is this non-discriminating wisdom, the realm of emptiness. Therefore, one cannot answer using relative thought—this is the reason he gets hit repeatedly. If you cannot completely cross over the limitations of equality and discrimination, you will blame your great Seon teacher, due to your lingering attachments. His teacher thereby scolded him, calling him an idiot.

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