How about this?

No man gets to heaven

going by the book

Ten days in this temple

have sent me up the wall

Anytime you meet me

you know where to look,

Fish shop, wine shop, brothel

would each be worth a call

These disturbingly Zen sentiments were sent to me by a friend. I do not know where he culled them from, but I recently came across their true origin.

Ikkyu (1394-1481) was known for his combination of irrepressible impertinence to authority, his wild demeanour, riotously brilliant calligraphy and his zen insight. Born the son of a lady in waiting and the Emperor Go-Komatsu (1377-1433) of Japan, he resented deeply the humiliation of his mother when she was ousted from court by a jealous empress. He never respected any authority again. Although given to altercation, his vigorous scenting out of hypocrisy startled many into a realisation of their error-bound ways. Despite being a monk, he increasingly freed himself from social conditioning, his was a free life style that included love for women and a rejection of monkish ways. Once, after marching out in disgust at the formality of a sham Buddhism at the Nyoi-an temple in the Daitokuji complex in Kyoto, where he had been appointed Abbot, he wrote these lines:

Ten days in this temple and my mind is reeling.

Between my legs the red thread1 stretches and stretches.

If you come some day asking for me

Better look in a fish stall, saki shop or brothel!

This would seem identical to the livelier translation above and probably its true source. Shortly before his death he wrote:

I won't die

I won’t go anywhere

but l won't be here.

So don't ask me anything

I won’t answer

Dimly, dimly thirty years;

faintly, faintly thirty years;

Dimly, faintly sixty years

I pass my turds

and offer them to Brahma.2

This brief anti-puritan reminder is dedicated to the Dharma in the hope of enlightenment for all contemporary reprobates.


1 Meaning passion

2 Translations adapted from p 56. Stevens, J.1993 'Three Zen Masters". Kodansha International Tokyo


Introducing Lin Chi

Before we try to understand Lin Chi, from whom our tradition derives, then are some things to be said. Lin Chi seems strange to us; we who are used to cause and consequence and well-drawn argument. We sit and giggle over the delicious way in which the master affronts his questioners. Yet we have no understanding of why he does it. We marvel over the cleverness of a Zen paradox, but we have no insight into what it means. Shame upon us; we who pretend to admire without any understanding. It is time to wake up and penetrate the meaning.

What use is it to sit and goggle at the absurdities of the old monk's statements? What good is it to seek in explanatory texts what the old man means? What point is there in listening to the vaporising of this your teacher when you should yourself be penetrating the root-essence of your own ignorance!

Yet if we attempt nothing and remain puzzled even while we smile, we cannot advance. When we cannot understand why attainment is not what is meant it is still wrong to give up. In truth, these matters are entirely dear. We only need the right eye for the seeing thereof, if you gain the right eye then you can laugh. There is not anything to it.

Ha - we missed even that one. Truly, there isn't anything to it. But if we leave it like that, we will go home just marvelling at the quirkiness of it all. The gateless gates will all remain firmly shut. What then to say? Anything said will be a great mistake yet to say nothing is not enough.

Two things may be helpful. When we read the word "Mind" in Lin Chi's sayings, we are apt to pass it over quickly as if we knew what was meant. In fact at this very point, you must pause and recognise in your own cognition what the subject of discussion really is. In English, "mind" often means all sorts of cognitions all the way from consciousness itself through to memory and the calculations of sums. Yet, in these texts, "mind" is not always so inclusive. At the root of this mind is the ever present evaluator himself or herself for whose benefit, however obscure, the activity is going on. The mood of this subjectivity is quite different from the state of a subject who is freed from this innate habit; who is just present in the world as immediately given by the six senses. In understanding Lin Chi, this difference is important.

It is imperative that we have a personal and direct experience of this contrast. Those of us who have never left the discriminatory mind cannot understand personally what is being said here because our comparative experience is defective. Yet, even so, if you are intelligent, you can see what the words mean and thereby seek to confirm them. Let us try to make it more clear.

You may be sitting in a garden. The clouds are gathering. You begin thinking of how it might rain. How inconvenient that might be. You must clear up the tea things and put them away. You are annoyed because you were expecting to laze an hour away in the sun. In such a state the subject is judging, discriminating, calculating, all in an edgy condition of self-reference. You may even become irritated if someone asks you what the time is!

Compare this with sitting in the garden, in exactly the same condition, but now you merely observe the clouds. They are simply there. Your senses are open to them, their massive height and grandeur, their slow march across the blue. In creative imagination you see them, mile after mile of them, massively blowing in from the ocean. In your mind's eye, you can see that the furthest clouds have not yet reached the coastline. The massive regiments advance yet, you suddenly sense that up there in the heavens they are moving in total silence, a huge, as it were, pensive silence. Even here among the hills there is only the light wafting of the breeze in the ash tree. You realise suddenly that the great stillness you are evoking is inside you. Your mind is still, no thinking, no calculating and no self-reference. The suchness of the moment hangs before you and you are free. A kind of clarity shines forth from everything being just as it is. Going further - that is how is has always been, always is and always will be. The universe is always quietly on the move in its own way. If you flow with it, all remains at peace. Such an insight is there for the taking at any moment, any time. Even in Trafalgar Square with the traffic.

The mind has switched off its perpetual self-referring judgement. Is it good for me? What am I gaining? What is my status? How long before enlightenment? Is all this worth the bother? Such thoughts, however unbidden and resisted, seem so easily to dominate. Whenever we assert anything, a contrary view can arise in opposition.

Again and again in Zen, we encounter the great NO. Bodhidharma's definition of Ch'an, Hui Neng "letting the mind arise but not putting it anywhere", Lin Chi swatting a monk with his fly whisk even before he has finished his question, Master Sheng Yen telling us that if we open our mouth to answer a koan, we are wrong! Always this mind blocking negation, this apophatic assertion. Why?

If you say anything your mind congeals around it. You set in concrete. If someone objects, both of you set in concrete, congealing around your opposed reifications. When nothing is said, there is no opposition, no judgement, no movement of discrimination. So in facing the Koan - What is it? - Pause, wait, resist the rising response. Say nothing but continue gazing into the space the question has cleared before you. Allow the great doubt to arise. Nothing there? Hey, wait a bit. What is it that is there but cannot be said? What is the essence of the NOT SAYING? This eternal moment.

What is it? The clouds go on moving. They reach down to us and take us up. We reach up to them and take them in. The huge immensity of their movement carries us along. We too could let go like the clouds. Put a £100 note in a bag and just take off in the car. Which way would you drive? No decision. Yet, here you are going along the road. Maybe it is raining. Maybe, the sun is there. When it is all the same there is a start to understanding.

Back at home, the phone rings. There is something important to be done. Going with the circumstance you do the necessary. That is all. When I awake, I get up. When I lie down at night, I go to sleep.

So said Lin Chi. Do we understand him?