Monday, March 19, 2007

It will be gone with the other

I think it's a mistake to regard Rinzai and Soto Zen as opposing schools or even as teaching something different. Sometimes it seems to be a mistake to think that other religions are teaching something different from Zen. I've been listening to audio downloads from an American Rinzai Zen temple called Cho Bo Ji. You can hear these on the RSS feed on the right hand column of this blog, but the best place to get them is as podcasts on iTunes. I've really been enjoying these. Genjo Marinello is as entertaining as he is profound. I can't recommend them enough. This morning he was talking about one of the Koans in the Blue Cliff Record - Daizu's "It will be gone with the other".

A monk asks Daizu if, when this incarnation of the universe comes to an end, 'It' (meaning Buddha, the Tao, the absolute) will be destroyed. Daizu says, much to the monk's dismay, 'It will be gone with the other'. Daizu is sabotaging the monk's attempt to clutch onto the essence of reality as something fixed and permanent.

Genjo Marinello then talks about getting to know the eccentric Zen Master and poet Soen Roshi when he was in Japan and recites some of his beautiful haiku:

Sky and water reflecting
My heart

He juxtaposes the monks question from the koan with the haiku:

'Will it be gone with the other?'
'It will be gone with the other'.
Yet 'Clearness. Sky and water reflecting my heart'. No talk of 'It'.

Hearing that on the podcast as I drove to work, after a weekend of Zen and visiting old friends in the south west, I had a sense of something profoundly sublime, which was quite overwhelming. It even brought me to tears for a few moments - I had to compose myself so that I didn't crash the car. I can only feebly try to describe it as a sense of a hand reaching out to grasp something and encountering empty space, only to be caressed by a gentle breeze blowing on the skin. Perhaps it shows how much further poetry can go than philosophy.

'Will It perish at the end of the universe?' really means 'is impermanence permanent or impermanent?' or 'does emptiness have a self-nature or not'? Daizu did not want the monk to cling to 'It' as a fixed thing. There are a significant number of Buddhists who interpret the meaning of their religion just like this: all phenomena are empty and impermanent apart from Buddha Nature which is permanent. I think the real meaning of Daizu's response was not 'emptiness has no self'. Nor, I think, did he just want to deny the unborn, undying nature of Buddha just as a teaching device to bring the student away from clinging merely to the idea of it. Reality is not to be regarded as a thing, which either passes out of existence or remains in a state of stasis. Reality is where concepts of birth and death and stasis have no meaning - these are conventions of thought and language - ultimately reality is beyond all of these terms. This is what Nagarjuna meant when he taught the 'emptiness of emptiness'.

Whatever is dependently co-arisen
That is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation,
Is itself the middle way.

Something that is not dependently arisen,
Such a thing does not exist.
Therefore a nonempty thing
Does not exist.

A monk once asked Joshu “If I have nothing in my mind, what should I do?”
“Throw it out.” Replied Joshu.
“But if there is nothing in my mind how can I throw it out?”
said Joshu, “you will have to carry it out.”


  1. That little dialogue at the end made me laugh~
    I spent absolutely ages clinging to the idea that there was something pure and unchanging in my mind somewhere that was the Buddha Mind - but it never felt right somehow...
    Thanks for teaching me the word "stasis" too :-)

  2. Hi Pa!

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. I always felt there was something fishy about the idea of a permanent Buddha Nature myself. There are many reputable teachers (maybe even a majority of them) who teach it this way. I think it originates with the Mahayana Tathagatagarbha sutras

    But in one of those sutras, the Lankavatara Sutra it is explained that this doctrine is a teaching method, a simplified, positive account intended perhaps as a cure for the tendency for negative Madhyamaka philosophy (Nagarjuna's for example) to be misinterpreted as nihilism.

  3. Hello,

    I hope it is okay if I pass this on. If you know someone appropriate, you might tell them about it.

    Gassho, Jundo

    P.S. - Thank you for the interesting posts.



    We would like announce that the doors are 'officially' open on our ONLINE ZENDO & SANGHA, and our VIDEO-BLOG. We also soon will begin LIVE online-video broadcasts of weekly Zazen sittings, talks and multi-day Sesshin :

    The website, blog and broadcast sittings are meant for people who cannot travel to sit and be with others, perhaps due to health concerns, or not driving at night, having to take care of kids, or their living in a place without a Sangha close by. Our Zazen sittings and Sangha will always be close by.

    For now, we have recorded Zazen sittings and talks, such as this "Sit-a-long Zazen":

    We also have online and Ipod-ready Zazen timers . Although our online Sangha is meant mainly for people who cannot travel far from home, we hope anyone and everyone will feel free to use and download our timers and broadcast sittings. They are our gift to everyone who finds them helpful (for example, who might wish to use the Ipod/Mp3 version for some Zazen at work).

    We are a Soto Zen Sangha in the lineage of Gudo Wafu Nishijima, with teacher Jundo Cohen (who resides in Ibaraki, Japan and, sometimes, Florida with wife and son). Our focus is on a very down-to-earth, 'Just Sitting' Zazen practice (not much for ceremonies, statues, beads, costumes or other bells and whistles).

    We hope to establish a true community, and questions or comments can be sent to Jundo at any time, or posted on the blog or community forum (

    If you know anyone who, due to health concerns or the like, cannot commute to sit with others, please introduce them to our site.

    Like life and the universe, it is all Free! Everyone is always welcome, and there is no being "far away."

    Gassho, Treeleaf Zendo

  4. Justin, it is very gratifying to see that you so clearly understood and were moved by my Dharma Talk. Thank you for sharing your experience with others.

  5. Genjo!

    What an honour!


  6. By the way Genjo, I also posted it on flapping mouths where it attracted quite a bit of interest.

    Best wishes