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Zen Metaphors –Elements of Zen Culture

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1 Zen Metaphors –Elements of Zen Culture
Copyright 2011 Andrew Ferguson

2 吾有正法眼藏,涅槃妙心,實相無相,微妙法門,不立文字,教外別傳,付囑摩訶迦葉
Zen Metaphors The legendary origin of Zen Buddhism is ascribed to a talk given by Shakyamuni Buddha at Vulture’s Peak in Ancient India. The Buddha reportedly said… “I have the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, the sublime mind of nirvana, whose true sign is signlessness, the sublime dharma gate, which without words or phrases, is transmitted outside of the [standard] teachings, and which I bestow upon Mahakasyapa.” 吾有正法眼藏,涅槃妙心,實相無相,微妙法門,不立文字,教外別傳,付囑摩訶迦葉

3 Zen Metaphors The key phrase used by the Buddha is “signlessness.” This phrase is translated as follows into Chinese: 無相 This term is often incorrectly translated as “formless.” However, this leads to a serous misunderstanding of the Zen tradition. “Formlessness” denotes a lack of physicality and thus has metaphysical overtones. Signlessness is presented by the Buddha with a flower, something certainly not “formless.”

4 Zen Metaphors The idea of “signlessness” is an important foundational concept of Zen. It can be seen most graphically in Zen art. In the following slides I first show a traditional, non-Zen depiction of Buddha displaying a mudra. They I show paintings by ancient Zen artists, where the Buddha is shown descending the mountain to teach after his enlightenment. In the Zen art the Buddha’s robe covers his hands. This is a traditional way of expressing the fact that in Zen the Buddha is not shown displaying a mudra (sign with the hands).

5 Buddha with a traditional “mudra,” a sign. (Not Zen)
Zen Metaphors Buddha with a traditional “mudra,” a sign. (Not Zen)

6 “Signless” representations of the Buddha by Zen artists
“Signless” representations of the Buddha by Zen artists. Note the covered hands. By Old Man Ke By Gukei (Jap.) By Liang Kai

7 Zen literature broadly represents three different periods.

8 In the early period ( ), Zen was influenced by the texts of Yogacara Sutras. The Samdhinirmocana and Lankavatara Sutra s had great influence.

9 These texts emphasized the nature of the mind
These texts emphasized the nature of the mind. They included various ideas that had great impact on the rise of Zen in China.

10 Early Zen literature tended to emphasize directly observing the nature of the mind, and had less metaphorical content than later Zen literature did.

11 Around the years 750-800 metaphorical allusions became more commonly used.
Lamp Records Recorded Words (Yulu)

12 In the “Literary Period” (about the years ) literary metaphor and allegory became dominant. “Songgu” texts included the BCR, Mumonkan, etc. Blue Cliff Record, Mumonkan, Book of Serenity, Empty Valley Collection.records and

13 In this presentation, I will bring up and give examples of dominant Zen metaphorical descriptions for the nature of the mind. These metaphors came to dominate the Yulu and Lamp record era, often called the “Golden Age” of Zen. All these metaphors were used to denote Shakyamuni’s “signless” mind.

14 Some Tang Dynasty Zen Metaphors for the Signless Nature of Mind 唐/宋朝禅宗心性的比喻
“Water,” especially a spring A “yuanxiang” (enso) A “treasure” or a “jewel” The “Eye” The Moon A “mirror” light

15 In addition to the above, the Buddha’s body has always been a primary metaphor for the nature of the mind . The Buddha sitting in meditation is the fundamental representation of still, timeless, mind. This is most obvious in Tibetan tangkas, where Buddha is often depicted sitting at the center of everything, unmoving, while the karmic world rotates and dances around him.

16 I will give examples of all of the previous metaphors as found in the Zen lamp records. First, see how the Zen master Shitou (Sekito), a student of Qingyuan (Seigen), taught using some of these metaphors. Shitou

17 Zen Metaphors In the following example Shitou uses both direct teaching about mind and metaphorical teaching in the same presentation. His talk shows the actual transition between these two types of teaching around the time he lived. (See location of Shitou on the Zen ancestor map. Note that he taught around 780, a time when writings and teachings began to take on much more metaphorical content.)

18 Mind and Metaphor – Shitou (Sekito)
“You should each recognize your miraculous mind. Its essence is apart from temporary or everlasting. Its nature is without pollution or purity. It is clear and perfect. Common people and sages are the same. [This mind] reaches everywhere without limit. The three worlds and six realms are manifested from this mind and it is not constrained by the limits of consciousness. It is like the moon reflected on water, so where can there be creation and destruction? If you can comprehend this, then there is nothing that you lack.” - Wudenghuiyuan 汝等当知,自己心灵,体离断常,性非 垢净。湛然圆满,凡圣齐同。应用无方,离心意识。三界六道,唯自心现。水月镜像,岂有生灭?汝能知之,无所不备.

19 Dharma Hall anciently located behind
Other Metaphors: Water was a favorite metaphor for “mind.” Zen masters, when establishing their temples, were said to strike the ground with their staffs and sweet watered springs would gush forth. Also, Dharma halls were often located behind such springs. Dharma Hall anciently located behind Well or Spring of Water in many temples. 古来的法堂位置于水井/泉之后.

20 Dharma Hall behind spring at Dong Shan (Zen Master Tozan’s Dharma seat)
洞山良价禅师之法堂

21 Zen Master Qingyuan (Seigen) Dharma Seat with spring in front
Zen Master Qingyuan (Seigen) Dharma Seat with spring in front. At this temple seven springs come from the ground all around the Dharma hall. 青原禅师之法堂

22 “Five Eyes” well by Hualin Temple, Bodhidharma’s first Dharma seat in Guangzhou. According to legend Bodhidharma pointed at the ground at this site and said, “There’s treasure there.” When locals dug they found a sweet watered spring that was used until 1953 when running water was installed in local houses. This spring was considered a miracle as the entire area around it is brackish water.

23 Bodhidharma Temple Site near Nanjing.
w/ “Bodhidharma Well” 定山之达摩井(南京)

24 According to tradition, the Sixth Zen Patriarch Huineng struck the ground with his staff and “Nine Dragons Spring” came from the ground. This spring flows behind his ancient Dharma seat temple called Nanhua, near Shaoguan, China.

25 The metaphor “Eye” is particular important
The metaphor “Eye” is particular important. It is used in the first speech by Shakyamuni at Vulture Peak. He says, “I possess the treasure of the true Dharma eye, the sublime mind of Nirvana…” In the following example, the great Zen master Changsha Jingcen, a Dharma sibling of Zhaozhou, uses the “eye,” “body” and “light” metaphors in one teaching.

26 禅心性比喻/Zen Metaphors for Mind- Eye, Body, Light
-Zen Master Changsha Jingcen-Dharma Brother of Zhaozhou (Joshu) Congshen. So I say to you that all worlds pervading the ten directions are the true monk’s eye. All worlds pervading the ten directions are the true monk’s complete body. Pervading all worlds in the ten directions is your own brilliant light. All worlds in the ten directions are within your own light. And throughout all worlds in the ten directions there is not a being that is not you. This is what I’ve taught you when I’ve said that all the buddhas, dharmas, and sentient beings of the three worlds are the great light of wisdom. - 湖南长沙景岑招贤禅师-- “向汝诸人道:尽十方世界是沙门眼,尽十方世界是沙门全身,尽十方世界是自己光明,尽十方世界在自己光明里,尽十方世界无一人不是自己。我常  向汝诸人道:三世诸佛,法界众生,是摩诃般若光。”

27 Examples of the “eye” metaphor:
A monk came to see Deshan. Walking up to him, he posed as if to strike him. Deshan said, “Why didn’t you bow? You should get a blow from this mountain monk’s staff!” The monk shook his sleeves and started to walk out. Deshan said, “Even if I grant you that. It’s still just one-half.” The monk turned around and shouted. Deshan struck him and said, “I have to hit you for it to happen.” The monk said, “In every direction there are clear-eyed people.” Deshan said, “In all nature there is the eye.” The monk opened his eyes wide and said, “Cat!” Then the monk went out. Deshan said, “In three thousand years the Yellow River runs clear but once.” Deshan (Tokusan)

28 Once Xuansha said, “All of you practitioners of Zen, you’ve traveled here from every quarter on foot, asking me to help you practice Zen and study Tao. You’ve taken this place to be special, and when you get here you ask every sort of question. Since this is what you’ve done, then you should check this place out thoroughly! Haven’t I been completely forthcoming with you? I extinguish what you know. Then what is there left? If nothing is left, then of what use is your knowledge? Since you’ve come here I now ask you, do any of you have the eye of wisdom or not? If so, then let us see it now. Can we see it? If not, then I call you all blind and deaf. Is that it? Are you willing to speak up in this manner? Virtuous Zennists do not willingly submit. Are you authentic monks? The top of your head is exposed to all buddhas in the ten directions. You don’t dare show the slightest error!” Xuansha

29 Famous example of the “Eye” metaphor by Fayan [Note that “Fayan” means “Dharma Eye,” a name given him posthumously because of this and similar stories where he used the term “eye.” Once, when sand filled in and obstructed a new spring that was being dug at the temple, Zen master Fayan said, “The mouth of the spring is obstructed by sand. When the dharma-eye is obstructed, what is that obscures it?” The monks were unable to answer. Fayan said, “It’s obstructed by the eye.” -Wudenghuiyuan Fayan Fayan’s spring at Qingliang Temple in Nanjing

30 The metaphor “jewel” , which also may mean “treasury” is a commonly used metaphor for mind in the lamp records… …as in “The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye.

31 The Metaphors “Moon” and “Jewel” 月亮与宝的比喻
Zen Master Bao’en addressed the monks, saying, saying, “All of you monks fully possess an eternal perfect moon. Each of you possesses a priceless jewel. Because the moon is obscured by fog its luster does not shine forth. Your wisdom is concealed within delusion, and although it is the truth, you haven’t realized it.”  [报恩玄则禅师 上堂] 诸上座,尽有常圆之月,各怀无价之珍。所以月在云中,虽明而不照。智隐惑 内,虽真而不通.

32 Zen Master Changqing Da’an/长庆大安禅师 心性比喻
“Each one of you has a priceless jewel. There is light emanating from your eyes which illuminates mountains, rivers, and the great earth.” 长庆大安禅师上堂: 汝诸人各自有无价大宝,从眼门放光,照见山河大地,

33 Koan Symbolism/公案心性象征
Case 97 – Book of Serenity – the “jewel” and “eye” metaphor appear together The emperor Tongguang (“Unity Light”) said to Zen Master Xinghua, “I have received the jewel of the central source. No one can calculate its value” Xinghua said, “Show it to me.” The emperor raised the veil on his hat with both hands. “Xinghua said, “The jewel of the sovereign, who can calculate its value?’” 万松老人评唱天童觉和尚颂古从容庵录: 第九十七则光帝朴头: 同光帝谓兴化曰。寡人收得中原一宝。(少卖弄)只是无人酬价(倾国莫换)化云。借陛下宝看(因便接势)帝以两手引幞头脚(幸遇其人)化云。君王之宝谁敢酬价

34 The “perfect” or “complete” circle, called a “yuanxiang” (Japanese “enso”) is a common metaphor. It was particular used in the Guiyang School of Zen, but teachers of other schools often made use of it. They typically did so not by brushing a circle with a writing brush, but buy moving their staff, or a single finger, in a circle in the air in front of their students.

35 The young teacher Danyuan returned from a pilgrimage
The young teacher Danyuan returned from a pilgrimage. He drew a circle in front of master Mazu, stepped inside it, bowed, and stood there. Master Mazu said, “So, you don’t want to become a Buddha?” Danyuan said, “I can’t deceive you.” Master Mazu said, “I’m not like you.” Danyuan was silent. Mazu Dayi

36 A young adept returned from a pilgrimage
A young adept returned from a pilgrimage. Zhangjing asked him, “How long ago did you leave here?” The monk said, “I left you about eight years ago.” Zhangjing said, “What have you been doing?” The monk drew a circle on the ground. Zhangjing said, “Just this? Nothing else?” The monk then erased the circle and bowed. Zhangjing said, “No! No!”

37 A monk drew a circle in the air and then made the motion of throwing it behind him. He then bowed. Zen Master Dasui called for his attendant to serve tea to the monk.

38 The moon as Zen metaphor
Jiufeng said, “Immortality with the breath ceasing. Have you all gained an understanding of life? You should want to know about it. A flowing spring is life. Profound solitude is the body. The thousand surging waves are Manjushri’s condition. The revolving empty firmament is Samantabhadra’s bed. Or next time I explain it, I may borrow a phrase and say it’s pointing at the moon. When you meet daily affairs it’s talking about the moon.

39 The moon as Zen metaphor
Caoshan asked Venerable Qiang, “The true body of Buddha is like vast emptiness. When a thing appears there, it is like the moon reflected in water. How would you express this teaching?” Qiang said, “It’s like a donkey looking into a well.” Caoshan said, “You’ve said a lot, but you’ve only gotten eighty percent of it.” Qiang said, “What would you say, Master?” Caoshan said, “It’s like the well looking at the donkey.”

40 The moon as Zen metaphor
One day, Yantou was talking with Xuefeng and Qinshan. Xuefeng suddenly pointed at a basin of water. Qinshan said, “When the water is clear the moon comes out.” Xuefeng said, “When the water is clear the moon does not come out.” Yantou kicked over the basin and walked away.

41 The “mirror” as Zen metaphor.
Remember that Huineng’s posthumous name “Dajian” means “Great Mirror.” The third Zen ancestor’s posthumous name was “Jian Zhi”, meaning “mirror wisdom.” Also remember the “Diamond Mirror Samadhi,” the famous tract attributed to Dongshan (Tozan). There are numerous examples of “mirror” used as a metaphor for “mind’ in Zen.

42 The body is the Tree of Wisdom,
The mind but a bright mirror, At all times diligently polish it, To remain untainted by dust. Poem by Shenxiu The Tree of Wisdom fundamentally does not exist, Nor is there a stand for the mirror, Originally, there is not a single thing, So where would dust alight? Poem by Huineng

43 The final metaphor of this presentation is perhaps the most common, that of “light.” There are many examples of how “light” is used as Zen and Buddhist metaphor. The most obvious is the word, “enlightenment.” I already cited the examples above such as by Changsha Jingcen and others, who have used the “light” metaphor. Here are a few of my other favorites:

44 Yangshan asked Guishan, “What is the true abode of Buddha?”
Guishan said, “Think of the unfathomable mystery and return your thoughts to the inexhaustible numinous light. When thoughts are exhausted you’ve arrived at the source, where true nature is revealed as eternally abiding. In that place there is no difference between affairs and principle, and the true Buddha is manifested.” Upon hearing these words Yangshan experienced great enlightenment. Yangshan

45 Zen Master Zhangjing Huaiyun said to his congregation: “The mirror of awakening is neither tainted nor pure, but is like a brilliant light, unceasing and undiminished. Through bygone eons down to the present time it is unchanged. It is like the sun, shining near or far, and though appearing in countless shades and forms, it remains apart from conditioned existence. The spiritual light is ethereal and luminous, without need of refinement, existing without explanation, and beyond objects or form. “

46 Another example by Yangshan
Zen master Yangshan entered the hall and addressed the monks, saying: “Each and every one of you, turn the light inward! Don’t try to remember what I’m saying! For a beginingless eon you have faced away from the light and been shrouded in darkness. The roots of delusion are deep. They’re difficult to cut off and uproot. Yangshan

47 赵州从谂禅师 Zen Master Zhaozhou
僧问, “孤月当空, 光从何生? 师曰, “光从何生?” A monk asked Zen Master Zhaozhou, “When the solitary moon is in the void, from where does the light come forth?” Zhaozhou replied, “From where does the light come forth?”

48 These are not the only metaphors for “mind” found in the lamp records
These are not the only metaphors for “mind” found in the lamp records. There are many more that are important. Together, these and other metaphors helped form the basis for Zen’s influence over poetry, art, gardening, and other Zen culture. By the “literary period”, Zen literature was replete with metaphor and allegories. One special metaphor for mind is “tea.” See my presentation, “The Secret History of Zen and Tea”

49 The End “Water,” especially a spring A “yuanxiang” (enso)
A “treasure” or a “jewel” The “Eye” The Moon A “mirror” light


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