Koan Commentary
Shinji Shobogenzo Book 2, Case 62. PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 30 July 2013 16:57


Koan Commentaries

Master Unmon said to the assembly; Say a true word based on the hundreds of miscellaneous things in the world.


No-one in the assembly had an answer.


Then Master Unmon himelf spoke up for the assembly:  Both!


Commentary by Nishijima


Mater Unmon’s question can be divided into two parts:  one is to demonstrate a word that represents the truth.  The other is the matter of things and phenomena – literally,  “hundreds of grasses on the head.”  However, the monks he was preaching to could not answer.  Master Unmon answered for the assembly.


Both” here suggests a word that represents the truth and the multitudinous phenomena  often mentioned in Buddhism.  The word and miscellaneous things are combined into one reality.  Master Unmon simply said, “Both” to demonstrate this understanding.



Commentary by John Fraser

Some people say that everything is one, but if that is so, how do we explain the obvious differentiation that we see?  If we say that everything is one, the temptation is to think that there is a true world standing behind this world, which we need to get to. And so we recreate the Ego, this time as a battering ram.  Or, we take the familiar metaphor of clouds and sky, and imagine that the sky is somehow behind the clouds, that the clouds are an obstruction.  But where does the sky begin, or end?

Our practice is not the eradication of anything. It is not breaking down the door of an empty house. It is the actualisation of space.

In vast space, each thing can have its own place.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 July 2013 17:11
Shinji Shobogenzo Book 2, Case 51. PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 30 July 2013 16:44

Koan Commentaries

Master Keisho of Mount Sekiso preached to Master So-ho Ko: So-ho Ko, when we doubt, there is something different.  When we affirm, there is a gap.  Also our understanding should not be based on non-doubt or non-affirmation.  There is no way to know reality except by throwing away our knowledge of existence.

Commentary by Nishijima

Master Sekiso Keisho explained to Master So-ho Ko about doubt and affirmation. Master Keisho stated that neither doubting nor affirming are perfect. Then he insisted that our understanding cannot be relied upon even when we feel we have no doubts or no confidence.


Master Keisho denied the ultimate value of intellectual thinking. Of course, intellectual thought and scientific knowledge have their value and place, but they are only part of our picture of the world. Only by throwing away our attachment to thoughts and ideas can we really ‘know’ reality. In one sense, the most important function of the brain is to help us recognize the existence of reality.



Commentary by John Fraser

What does it mean to throw away, to cast off the self? It doesn’t mean to make it disappear, but rather, to decentre it, to no longer see the great matter through the prism of the self, but rather to see ‘self’ and ‘prism’ as part of the great matter, the full dynamic functioning, only one aspect of which is the universe.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 July 2013 16:57
Shinji Shobogenzo Book 2, Case 50. PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 30 July 2013 16:40

Koan Commentaries


Master Baso Do-itsu of the Kosei district preached to Master Yakusan Igen saying:  Sometimes I make him move his eyebrows and wink his eyes.  Sometimes I do not make him move his eyebrows and wink his eyes.  Sometimes it is good for me to make him move his eyebrows and wink his eyes. Sometimes it is not good for me to make him move his eyebrows and wink his eyes.


Suddenly Master Yakusan attained the great truth.


Commentary by Nishijima

Master Baso Do-itsu described real situations in his Buddhist life, referring to his physical self in the third person.  Sometimes he behaved actively.   Sometimes he behaved himself passively.  Sometimes it was good for him to behave actively.  Sometimes it was bad for him to behave actively.  Buddhist life is like this.  Buddhist life is always at the moment of the present.


Sometimes Buddhist behavior is active, sometimes Buddhist behavior is passive.  Sometimes active behavior is good. Sometimes active behavior is not good.  Master Baso’s teachings were very concrete.  Hearing those teachings Master Yakusan saw clearly what reality is.


Commentary by John Fraser

Master Baso was one of the greatest Masters, and in this story he gives a very realistic description of himself. The story occurs in Uji [BeingTime] where Dogen tells us that each moment is all moments, each thing is all things. And this being so, there is room for our stupidity as well as our brilliance, our falsenesses as well as our truth. We don’t need to sever everything, to watch it drop down to the depths, so we can rise upwards.


We don’t need to remain in light, because everything is illuminated


Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 July 2013 16:54
Shinji Shobogenzo Book 2, Case 48. PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 30 July 2013 16:21

Koan Commentaries


Master Tozan Ryokai became a disciple of Master Ungan Donjo, and asked; Who can hear the non-emotional preaching the Dharma?


Master Ungan said: The non-emotional can hear the non-emotional preaching the Dharma.

Master Tozan said: Do you hear this preaching?


Master Ungan said: If I listened to it, you could not hear my preaching of the Dharma.


Master Tozan said: If that is true, then I will not listen to the Master’s preaching.


Master Ungan said: You do not listen to even my preaching of the Dharma; how can you listen to the preaching by the non-emotional?


Then Master Tozan made a poem and presented it to Master Ungan.


The poem said:


How great and wonderful it is. How great and wonderful!

The Dharma preaching of the non-emotional is a mystery

If we listen to it with ears, we cannot hear it.

If we listen to it through the eyes, then we can understand.


Commentary by Nishijima

Master Tozan Ryokai asked about the preaching of the Dharma by non-emotional beings.  Non-emotional is originally “mujo,” which means inanimate or insentient, and often refers to nature.  So the preaching by non-emotional beings means the preaching of nature, which was discussed by many Buddhist monks.


However, in Shobogenzo Mujo-seppo (The Non-Emotional Preaches the Dharma).  Master Dogen’s understanding of this phrase was wider and included the whole of nature – human beings as well as mountains and rivers and so on.  His view was that inanimate things could preach the Dharma, and so could human beings, when they are not emotional.


Commentary by John Fraser

A marked feature of Chinese Buddhism is a positive view of the environment, of this world. Grasses, trees, snow falling; all are said to preach the dharma. The eruption of the suchness of things, their vivid being/doing interrupts our delusive patterns of thinking. You could say that the world in its feeling suchness is a miracle.

In the story, Tozan falsely imagines that there is a difference between – say – the cedar trees, just as they are, and Ungan, just as he is; in his preaching, in his silence, in his doing, in his being.

But at the same time, Ungan’s preaching is different from the preaching of the cedar trees. But if we chanced upon Ungan in zazen, among the cedar trees, his preaching and that of the cedar trees would be from the same voice


Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 July 2013 16:56
Shinji Shobogenzo Book 2, Case 47. PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 15 July 2013 18:47

Koan Commentaries

Master Rinzai Gigen preached to an assembly; There is a true person who has no rank. He is always going in and out through your face. A beginner who has not experienced this should look carefully. Look!


Commentary by Nishijima

Master Rinzai's expression, “There is a true person who has no rank,” is widely known in Buddhism. It points in the same direction as the concept of sunyata or emptiness. Reality exists, empty of, or beyond, the various concepts and discriminations which we impose on it. So this expression represents a person without any social attributes, and it also suggests a person who has grasped the truth. How can we see this true person? In Buddhism we are training ourselves to be true persons, to recognise “the true person,” and we should not confuse the person with their social attributes.

Master Dogen accepted the expression “true person who has no rank” as an expression of reality, but he said there is also the “true person with rank.” This means that discrimination and concepts are also an aspect of reality. They have a place in the Universe as well. Difficulties arise if we become confused about their real nature.


Commentary by John Fraser

Master Rinzai said that there was a true human being without rank who went in and out through our face.

When we hear ‘face’, we may think of Original Face, the face you had before your parents were born.

If we pay attention, we can be aware of the musculature of the face; the fixed patterns we hold, the tensions, the habitual moving contours. And if we have this awareness, we can experience our face as a kind of mask. Indeed, we might identify our sense of self with this social face. If we didn’t have a face to present to the world, could we have a self to present to ourself?

Rinzai’s person without rank is something in us which is true and alive, and which can never be entirely suppressed by our social face. And so, he emerges. And sometimes, we suppress him. And so, he goes back in. This person without rank is our original face. There is not a true face behind our social face. There is not another self behind the self. There is just life channelled by us, like light falling through windows.


Last Updated on Monday, 15 July 2013 18:50
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