Case 28 of the Mumonkan
Ryûtan Blows Out the Candle
Tokusan asked Ryûtan about Zen far into the night.
At last Ryûtan
said, "The night is late. Why don't you retire?"
Tokusan made his
bows and lifted the blinds to withdraw, but he was met by darkness.
Turning back to Ryûtan, he said, "It is dark outside."
a paper candle and handed it to him. Tokusan was about to take it
when Ryûtan blew it out. At this, all of a sudden, Tokusan went
through a deep experience and made bows.
Ryûtan said, "What sort
of realization do you have?"
"From now on," said Tokusan, "I will
not doubt the words of an old oshõ who is renowned everywhere under
The next day Ryûtan ascended the rostrum and said, "I
see a fellow among you. His fangs are like the sword tree. His mouth
is like a blood bowl. Strike him with a stick, and he won't turn his
head to look at you. Someday or other, he will climb the highest of
the peaks and establish our Way there."
Tokusan brought his notes
on the Diamond Sutra to the front of the hall, pointed to them with a
torch, and said, "Even though you have exhausted the abtruse
doctrines, it is like placing a hair in a vast space. Even though you
have learned all the secrets of the world, it is like a drop of water
dripped on the great ocean."
And he burned all his notes.
Then, making bows, he took his leave of his teacher.
Faith and doubt are dependent on each other. The one is useless without the other. I don't know if you've ever had this experience before, but how fresh and significant is the landscape when you are utterly lost? Everything appears as it is. You don't see that cedar tree where that raccoon was last spring. You don't see that hollow where your brother fell in the river. Instead, every rill in the landscape, every tree, every rock, stands out in bold relief revealing something like its true nature. It's fresh and undistorted by memory and preconception. This is beginners mind, but there's also this visceral, existential doubt, right? I mean, we're lost for godsakes. We have to find our way out! Our very lives are on the line! How are we going to do that when we have no idea where we are and no idea where we're going? This is the great doubt of Zen. Within it, we are lost, exposed, and utterly without direction.
Case 5 of the Mumokan
Kyõgen's "Man up in a Tree"
Kyõgen Oshõ said, "It is like a man up in a tree hanging from a branch
with his mouth; his hands grasp no bough, his feet rest on no limb.
Someone appears under the tree and asks him, 'What is the meaning of
Bodhidharma's coming from the West?' If he does not answer, he fails
to respond to the question. If he does answer, he will lose his life.
What would you do in such a situation?"
Even if your eloquence flows like a river, it is of no avail. Though
you can expound the whole of Buddhist literature, it is of no use. If
you solve this problem, you will give life to the way that has been
dead until this moment and destroy the way that has been alive up to
Otherwise you must wait for Maitreya Buddha and ask him.
Kyõgen is truly thoughtless;
His vice and poison are endless.
He stops up the mouths of the monks,
And devil's eyes sprout from
Getting lost is not fun. No one likes being in a state of uncertainty. We like having something to lean on whether it's our map, the sutras, etc. When we lose that safety blanket, we lose our desire to go on. When we're lost, great faith is picking a direction no matter how wrong it may seem. Great faith is trusting that we'll eventually figure things out. Great faith is letting go, even if doing so may destroy us. Great faith is the decision to trudge headlong into doubt.