Wumenguan, Case 5, Man up a Tree
This, This, A Thousand Times This: The Very
Essence of Zen, ch. 10
Zen: The Diamond Thunderbolt, ch. 3
Kyozan: A True Man of Zen, ch. 4
Zen: The Path of Paradox Vol 1, ch. 4
oshobob The Living Workshop
|Kyogen was a scholar of great
learning, and for
some time, this stood in the way of his
One day, Isan asked Kyogen, "When you were
with our teacher, Hyakujo, you were clever
enough to give ten answers to a single question,
and hundreds of answers to ten questions.
Tell me this: What is your real self – the self that
existed before you came out of your mother's
womb, before you knew East from West?"
At this question, Kyogen was stupefied and did
not know what to say. He racked his brains and
offered all sorts of answers, but Isan brushed
At last Kyogen said, "I beg you, please explain it
Isan replied, "What I say belongs to my own
understanding. How can that benefit your mind's
Kyogen went through all his books and the notes
he had made on authorities of every school, but
could find no words to use as an answer to Isan's
question. Sighing to himself, he said, "You cannot
fill an empty stomach with paintings of rice cakes."
He then burned all his books and papers, saying,
"I will give up the study of Buddhism. I will remain
a rice-gruel monk for the rest of my life and avoid
torturing my mind."
Sadly he left Isan, and took on the self-appointed
job of grave-keeper.
One day, when he was sweeping the ground, a
stone struck a bamboo.
Kyogen stood speechless, forgetting himself for a
Then, suddenly, bursting into loud laughter, he
Returning to his hut, Kyogen performed the
ceremony of purification, offered incense, paid
homage to his teacher, Isan, and with the
deepest sense of gratitude said, "Great master,
thank you! Your kindness to me is greater even
then that of my parents. If you had explained the
profound cause to me when I begged you to give
me an answer, I should never have reached
where I stand today."
Kyogen's verse on this occasion runs:
No need of stratagem or cure;
Each and every action
Manifests the ancient way.
My spirit is never downcast,
I leave no tracks behind me,
Enlightenment is beyond speech,
Those who are emancipated
Call it the unsurpassed.
This anecdote is simply stating the fact that even
a stone striking the bamboos can be the cause of
enlightenment. Nothing in the whole history of
religion has been so daring as Zen, so rebellious
and so existential.
Just listen to the anecdote – not as if you are
listening to a story or a fiction. These are facts,
people have lived them and if you can
understand, the same door is open to you as it
was open to Kyogen...
This. This. A Thousand Times This: The Very
Essence of Zen, ch. 10