Baizhang Huaihai
Caoshan Benji
Dahui Zonggao
Daman Hongren
Danxia Tianran
Dayi Daoxin
Dazhao Puji
Dazhu Huihai
Dazu Huike
Deshan Xuanjian
Dongshan Liangjie
Guifeng Zongmi
Guishan Lingyou
Guizong Zhichang
Heze Shenhui
Hongzhi Zhengjue
Huangbo Xiyun
Huanglong Huinan
Jinshan tanying
Linji Yixuan
Longtan Chongxin
Luohan Guichen
Mazu Daoyi
Nanquan Puyuan
Nanta Guangyong
Nanyang Huizhong
Nanyue Huairang
Niutou Farong
Qingliang Wenyi
Qingyuan Xingsi
Shishuang Chuyuan
Shitou Xiqian
Tianhuang Daowu
Xiangyan Zhixian
Xitang Zhizang
Xuansha Shibei
Xuedou Chongxian
Xuefeng Yicun
Yangqi Fanghui
Yangshan Huiji
Yantou Quanhuo
Yaoshan Weiyan
Yongjia Xuanjue
Yongming Yanshou
Yunmen Wenyan
Yunyan Tansheng
Yuquan Shenxiu
Zhaozhou Congshen
Zhaozhou Congshen
Middle and late Tang Dynasty
POSTH name
Master Zhenji
Nanquan Puyuan, Huangbo Xiyun, Yanguan Qi'an
The Recorded Sayings of Zhaozhou
Encounter Dialogues
Chan master Zhaozhou Congshen
Zhaozhou became ordained as a monk at an early age. At the age of 18, he met Nánquán Pǔyuàn (南泉普願 748–835; J: Nansen Fugan), a successor of Mǎzǔ Dàoyī (709–788; J. Baso Do-itsu), and eventually received the Dharma from him. When Nanquan asked Zhaozhou the koan "What is the Way?", the two had a dialogue, at the height of which Zhaozhou attained enlightenment. Zhaozhou continued to practice under Nanquan until the latter's death.
Subsequently, Zhaozhou began to travel throughout China, visiting the prominent Chan masters of the time before finally, at the age of eighty, settling in Guānyīnyuàn (觀音院), a ruined temple in northern China. There, for the next 40 years, he taught a small group of monks.
Zhaozhou is sometimes touted as the greatest Chan master of Tang dynasty China during a time when its hegemony was disintegrating as more and more regional military governors (jiédùshǐ) began to assert their power. Zhaozhou's lineage died out quickly due to the many wars and frequent purges of Buddhism in China at the time, and cannot be documented beyond the year 1000.
Many koans in both the Blue Cliff Record and The Gateless Gate concern Zhaozhou, with twelve cases in the former and five in the latter being attributed to him. He is, however, probably best known for the first koan in The Gateless Gate:
A monk asked Chao-chou, "Has the dog Buddha-nature or not?" Chao-chou said, "Wu."
Bailin Temple in China, famous for his abbacy, was rebuilt after the Cultural Revolution and is nowadays again a prominent center of Chinese Buddhism.
Encounter Dialogues
Japan, Sengai Gibon, "Does a dog have awakened nature?"
Great Master Zhaozhou Congshen was from Caozhou in the northern province of Shandong. He became a novice as a young boy at a local temple, and while still in his teens he became determined to practice under a Zen master. At seventeen he left his home region and traveled south, ending up in Anhui Province. When he heard about Master Nanquan Puyuan living in the mountains of the Chizhou region, Congshen went to seek him out. He found the master still living in his hermitage high on South Spring Mountain.
As he entered the master's room, Nanquan was lying down resting. The master asked, “Where have you come from?”
Congshen replied, “I've just been staying at Sacred Icon Temple.”
Nanquan asked, “Did you see the famous icon?”
Congshen said, “No, but I see a reclining buddha.”
Nanquan sat up and asked, “Are you a novice with a teacher, or none?”
Congshen replied, “I have a teacher.”
Nanquan asked, “Who is your teacher?”
Congshen said, “In the cold of this mid-winter, I am happy to see you enjoying good health, teacher.”
Master Nanquan then accepted Congshen as his student.
One day Congshen asked Master Nanquan, “What is the way?”
Nanquan said, “Ordinary mind is the way.”
Congshen asked, “Can I direct myself toward it?”
Nanquan said, “If you try to direct yourself towards it, you will be missing it.”
Congshen asked, “If I don't try, how can I know it?”
Nanquan said, “The way has nothing to do with knowing or not knowing. Knowing is just illusion, not knowing is blankness. When you enter the way beyond trying, it is like the great sky, vast and clear. How can we speak of affirming or negating?”
At these words, Congshen had a deep realization.
When Master Nanquan accepted an invitation to lead a new monastery at the base of the mountain, Congshen took on the role of head monk. He remained a devoted disciple of Nanquan for the rest of the master's life – some thirty more years. When the master passed away, Congshen was already fifty-seven.
At this point Congshen decided to embark on a life of homeless wandering. Declaring that he would be open to learning from a seven year old girl, or teaching an eighty year old master, he began to travel throughout central and northern China visiting numerous famous teachers, as well as secluded hermits, continually sharpening his insight and clarifying his expression. He remained a wandering pilgrim for the next twenty years.
One day Congshen went to visit a hermit. When he approached the hermit's cave he called out, “Are you there? Are you there?”
The hermit stepped out and held up his fist without saying a word.
Congshen said, “The water's too shallow here; not a place to drop anchor.” Then he left.
Later he went to visit another hermit, and again called out, “Are you there? Are you there?'
This hermit came out and also just held up a fist. Congshen said, “You have the power to give and take away, to kill and to give life.” Then he bowed and went away.
Once Congshen went to visit the young teacher Daoying at his hermitage. Daoying said to him, “Great Elder, why don't you look for a place to settle down?”
Congshen replied, “What is the place where this person could dwell?”
Daoying said, “In front of this mountain there is the foundation of an ancient temple.”
Congshen said, “Honored priest, it would be good for you to live there yourself.”
Eventually, at the age of eighty, Congshen decided to rest his feet at a small, rundown temple in the city of Zhaozhou, in the northern province of Hebei. In this humble residence named after the bodhisattva of compassion Guanyin (Observing Sound), the master spent the rest of his life teaching a small community, and receiving a steady stream of guests. Turning down offers of expansion or improvement to his temple, the residents often numbered less than twenty. Unimpressed with wealth and social standing, when government officials came to visit, the master often remained in his seat, and when common folk came he was known to go out and meet them at the gate. As his reputation spread throughout the rest of his long life, countless pilgrims made their way to his northern outpost to receive his teaching.
Once Master Zhaozhou Congshen entered the hall and said to the assembly:
“Practitioners, if someone comes from the south, I unburden them; if someone comes from the north, I load them up. If you go to the one unburdened and ask about the way, you will lose the way. If you go to the one loaded up and ask about the way, you will gain the way.
“Practitioners, if a true person speaks a mistaken teaching, even the mistaken teaching becomes correct. If a false person speaks the correct teaching, even the correct teaching becomes false.
“At other places it's difficult to understand, but easy to embody. At this place it's easy to understand but difficult to embody.”
The master also said, “The essential matter is like a bright jewel in the palm of your hand. When a foreigner comes, a foreigner appears; when a local comes, a local appears.
“This old monk takes a blade of grass and makes it into the sixteen foot golden body of the Buddha. I also take the sixteen foot golden body and make it into a blade of grass. The Awakened One
is delusion, delusions are the awakened one.”
Then a monk came forward and asked, “For whom is the Awakened One a delusion?”
Master Zhaozhou said, “It's the delusion of everybody.”
The monk asked, “How can we get rid of it?”
The master said, “Why should we get rid of it?”
Once Master Zhaozhou addressed the assembly saying, “I don't like to hear the word 'buddha.'”
A monk came forward and asked, “Then how does the master teach others?”
The master said, “buddha, buddha.”
Once a monk asked Master Zhaozhou, “What is Buddha?'
The master said, “The one on the altar.”
The monk said, “But isn't the one on the altar just a clay figure, made from mud?”
The master said, “Yes, that's right.”
The monk asked, “Then what is Buddha?”
The master said, “The one on the altar.”
Another time a monk asked Master Zhaozhou, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from India?”
The master said, “The cypress tree here in the garden.”
The monk said, “Master, please don't teach me just using an object.”
The master said, “I'm not teaching using an object.”
The monk then asked again, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from India?”
The master said, “The cypress tree here in the garden.”
One day a monk asked Master Zhaozhou, “Before there was this world, already there was original nature. When this world is destroyed, this nature will not be destroyed. What is this indestructible nature?”
The master said, “The four great elements and the five skandhas.”
The monk replied, “These will also be destroyed. What is the indestructible nature?”
The master said, “The four great elements and the five skandhas.”
Once a monk asked Master Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have awakened nature?”
The master said, “Yes.”
The monk said, “If so, why does it enter into this difficult embodied life?”
The master said, “Although it knows, it intentionally transgresses.”
Another time a monk asked, “Does a dog have awakened nature?”
The master said, “No.”
The monk said, “But we've been taught that all living beings have Awakened Nature – why do you say that a dog doesn't have it?”
The master said, “Because of habitual conditioning.”
One day Master Zhaozhou asked a newly arrived monk, “Have you been here before?”
The monk said, “Yes, I've been here.”
The master said, “Have a cup of tea.”
Later he asked another monk, “Have you been here before?”
The monk said, “No, I've never been here.”
The master said, “Have a cup of tea.”
Then the temple director asked the master, “Why did you say 'Have a cup of tea' to the one who had not been here, as well as to the one who had?'
The master said, “Director!”
The director said, “Yes?”
The master said, “Have a cup of tea.”
Once a monk said to Master Zhaozhou, “I've just entered the community here – please, master, give me some instruction.”
The master asked, “Have you eaten breakfast?”
The monk said, “Yes, I've eaten.”
The master said, “Then wash your bowls.”
The monk had a deep realization.
In the city of Zhaozhou is a famous stone bridge of great antiquity. Once a monk came to see Master Zhaozhou and said, “For a long time I've heard of the stone bridge of Zhaozhou, but so far I've only seen a simple wooden bridge.”
The master said, “You've only seen the wooden bridge. You haven't seen the stone bridge.”
The monk asked, “What's the stone bridge like?”
The master said, “Donkeys cross, horses cross.”
One day when Master Zhaozhou was wandering around town, he came across an old woman he knew carrying a basket. He immediately asked, “Where are you going?”
The old woman said, “I'm on my way to steal Master Zhaozhou's bamboo shoots.”
Zhaozhou asked, “What will you do if you run into Master Zhaozhou?”
The old woman came up to the master and gave him a slap.
Once a messenger came to see Master Zhaozhou with a donation from an old woman who requested that the master perform the ritual of “rotating” the scriptures. The master got down from his seat, walked in a circle around the sitting platform, and then said to the messenger, “I have finished rotating the great scriptures.”
The messenger returned to the old woman and told her what happened. She said, “I asked him to rotate the entire canon of scriptures. How come the master rotated only half the cannon?”
A nun once asked Master Zhaozhou, “What is the deeply secret heart?”
Zhaozhou took her hand and squeezed it.
The nun said, “Do you still have that in you?”
Zhaozhou said, “You have it, too.”
One day when Master Zhaozhou was sweeping, a visiting layman said, “You are a great Zen Master – why are you sweeping?”
The master said, “Dust comes in from outside.”
The man said, “This is a pure temple. Why is there dust?”
The master said, “Here comes some more!”
Once Master Zhaozhou's disciple Shanxin asked the master, “What do you do when nothing comes up?”
The master said, “Put it down.”
Shanxin said, “When there's nothing that is coming up, how can you put it down?”
The master said, “Then carry it away.”
Shanxin had a deep insight.
One day a monk asked, “How should we employ our minds throughout the twenty-four hours?”
Master Zhaozhou said, “You are used by the twenty-four hours; this old monk can use the twenty-four hours. Which twenty-four hours are you asking about?”
Once Master Zhaozhou addressed the community saying, “'The great way is not difficult, just avoid picking and choosing.' As soon as words are present, there is choosing, and there is thinking. It's not to be found in thinking. Is thinking what you're upholding and sustaining?”
A monk came forward and asked, “Since it's not found in thinking, what should we uphold and sustain?”
The master said, “Don't know.”
The monk continued, “Since the master doesn't know, how can you be sure it isn't within thinking?”
The master said, “Ask and you have an answer. Then bow and withdraw.”
One day a monk came to bid farewell to Master Zhaozhou. The master asked, “Where are you going?”
The monk said, “I'm going to visit various places to study the way of awakening.”
Zhaozhou said, “Be careful not to get stuck in a place where there is an awakened one. And quickly pass by a place where there is no awakened one. Whomever you meet, be sure not to misguide them.”
After a pause the monk said, “Hearing that, I think I'll just stay here.”
The master said, “Then go pick up the willow blossoms.”
The city of Zhaozhou was close to the famous Buddhist pilgrimage site of Wutai Mountain. Along the pilgrimage route, many monks encountered an old woman who, whenever she was asked the way to the mountain, would always say, “Just go straight ahead.” Then when the monk would walk on, she would always remark, “Another good monk goes off like that.”
Eventually one of the monks told Master Zhaozhou about it. The master said, “Wait for a while, and I'll go and check her out.”
The next day the master found the old woman on the road and asked, “Which way is the road to Wutai Mountain?”
The woman said, “Just go straight ahead.” Then, as the master walked on, she said, “Another good monk goes off like that.”
The master returned to the temple and said to the community, “I've checked out that old woman for you.”
Once a monk asked Master Zhaozhou, “What is the road without mistakes?”
The master said, “Clarifying mind, seeing nature; that's the road without mistakes.”
Shexian Guisheng said:
If someone asked me “what is the road without mistakes?”, I would tell them,
The inner gate of every house extends to Eternal Peace (Chang'an, the capital).
Once a monk who had stayed at Xuefeng Monastery in the south came to see Master Zhaozhou. Master Xeufeng Yicun, the teacher at this monastery, had risen to great prominence in his region. Master Zhaozhou asked the monk, “What is Master Xeufeng teaching these days?”
The monk reported that Xeufeng had said, “The whole world is the eye of a practitioner. Where will you take a shit?”
Master Zhaozhou replied, “If you return to Xeufeng, you should take a trowel.”
Once a visiting official asked Master Zhaozhou, “Is the master able to enter into the hell realms?”
The master said, “I entered the hell realms long ago.”
The official asked, “Why did you, a great Zen master, enter into hell?”
The master said, “If I didn't enter into hell, who would teach you?”
One day a monk asked Master Zhaozhou, “The ten thousand things all return to the one. To where does the one return?”
The master replied, “Back when I lived in Qingzhou I made a hemp robe that weighed seven pounds.”
Eventually, at the age of 120, Master Zhaozhou lay down on his right side and passed away. A layman had once asked the master how old he was, and the master had replied, “There are numberless beads on the string of a rosary.”
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