ZEN IRODALOM ZEN LITERATURE
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金華俱胝 Jinhua Juzhi/Judi (9th c.), aka 俱胝一指 Juzhi "Yizhi" (="One Finger")
(Rōmaji:) Kinka Gutei; Gutei "Isshi"
(Magyar:) Csin-hua Csü-cse (Csü-ti); Csü-cse "Ji-cse" (="Egy-ujj")
杭州天龍 Hangzhou Tianlong (748-807)
(Rōmaji:) Kōshū Tenryū
(Magyar:) Hang-csou Tien-lung
Csin-hua Csü-cse (Csü-ti) mondásaiból
PDF: Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record), Case 19
Gutei (Chuh-chih), One Finger Zen
Mumonkan (No Barrier), Case 3
Ch'an Master Chu Ti of Chin Hua
Gutei's Lifting Up One Finger (Blue Cliff Record #19)
Jinhua Juzhi's One-Fingered Zen
Encounter Dialogues of Xuefeng Yicun
Gutei's One Finger
Painting of Gutei holding up a finger
by 一絲文守 Isshi Bunshu (1608-1646）
Painting on silk
Paper: 32.5 x 25.0 cm
According to The Collected Artwork of Rev. Isshi, published in 1926, this painting was in the collection of Watanabe Katsuzō of Tokyo. It was subsequently acquired by Zen master Yokoyama Bunkō, after whose death it was donated to the Institute for Zen Studies, where it is now one of the finest works in the Chōshōdō Archive.
The story of Zen master Gutei holding up a finger whenever he was asked about Zen is a popular one found in many Zen koan collections, including the Blue Cliff Record (case 19) and the Mumonkan (case 3), and it has for centuries been a common subject for Zen paintings. Isshi Bunshu's painting is of a type commonly known as a “fan painting.” These paintings were not actually used for fans but were usually displayed on folding screens (byōbu) or as hanging scrolls, as in the present case. Isshi's unusual life—proudly independent yet marked by the vicissitudes of fortune—has long attracted the interest of intellectuals such as Tokutomi Sohō (1863-1957), Tsuji Zennosuke (1877-1955), and Karaki Junzō (1904-1980), whose writings on the master have created a legion of Isshi fans and collectors of his artwork. (From Zen Bunka 66)
Isshi Bunshu was born in Kyoto; his family name was Koga. In 1626 he received ordination from the vinaya master Kengo. After training under Takuan he received instruction from Gudō Tōshoku and Ungo Kiyō, receiving Dharma transmission from Gudō (according to another account he received transmission from Kūshi Genpu of Eigen-ji). He was held in high esteem by Emperor Go-Mizuno'o, who named him founding abbot of Reigen-in in Kamo and Hōjō-ji in Tango (both in present-day Kyoto Prefecture) in 1638. In 1643 he assumed the abbacy of Eigen-ji, where in 1646 he died at the age of 38. His imperially bestowed title is National Teacher Jōe Myōkō Butchō.
Sketches by 黃澤 Huangze
One Finger Zen
Translated by D. T. Suzuki
In: Essays in Zen Buddhism: First Series (1927), New York: Grove Press. pp. 35-36.
Gutei was a disciple of Tenryu (T'ien-lung), probably towards the
end of the T'ang dynasty. While he was first residing in a small temple,
he had a visit from a travelling nun, who came right into the temple
without removing her headgear. Carrying her staff with her, she went
three times around the meditation chair in which Gutei was sitting. Then
he said to him, 'Say a word of Zen, and I shall take off my hat.' She
repeated this three times, but Gutei did not know what to say. When the
nun was about to depart, Gutei suggested, 'It is growing late, and why
not stay here overnight?' Jissai (Shih-chi), which was the name of the
nun, said, 'If you say a word of Zen, I shall stay.' As he was still unable
to say a word, she left.
This was a terrible blow to poor Gutei, who pitifully sighed: 'While
I have the form of a man, I seem not to have any manly stamina!' He
then resolved to study and master Zen. When he was about to start on
his Zen 'wanderings', he had a vision of the mountain god who told
him not to go away from his temple, for a Bodhisattva in flesh would be
coming here before long and enlighten him in the truth of Zen. Surely
enough a Zen master called Tenryu (T'ien-lung) appeared the following
day. Gutei told the master all about the humiliating experience of the
previous day and his firm resolution to attain the secrets of Zen. Tenryu
just lifted one of his fingers and said nothing. This, however, was enough
to open Gutei's mind at once to the ultimate meaning of Zen, and it is
said that ever since Gutei did or said nothing but just hold up a finger
to all the questions that might be asked of him concerning Zen.
There was a boy in his temple, who seeing the master's trick imitated
him when the boy himself was asked about what kind of preaching his
master generally practised. When the boy told the master about it showing
his lifted little finger, the master cut it right off with a knife. The boy
ran away screaming in pain, when Gutei called him back. The boy
turned back, the master lifted his own finger, and the boy instantly
realized the meaning of the 'one-finger Zen' of Tenryu as well as Gutei.
The Gateless Gate by Mumon (1228)
Transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki (1876–1958) & Paul Reps (1895–1990) in 1934
in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: Gutei's Finger
This is Nyogen Senzaki's original version with his own commentaries,
published in Eloquent Silence, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2008, pp. 51-53.
Whenever he was asked a question about Zen, Gutei raised his finger.
A young attendant began to imitate him. When anyone asked the boy
about his master's teaching, the boy would raise his finger.
Gutei heard about the boy's mischief He seized him and cut off his
finger. The boy cried and began to run away. Gutei called out to him.
When the boy turned his head, Gutei raised his finger. At that, the boy
When Gutei was about to pass from this world, he gathered his
monks around him and said, "I attained my one-finger Zen from my
teacher, Tenryu, and throughout my whole life, I have not exhausted
it." Then he passed away.
BODHISATTVAS: In the time of Gutei, the Chinese government perse-
cuted Buddhism, destroying 40,000 Buddhist temples and cancelling the
ordination status of 260,000 monks and nuns. This took place in 845
C.E.; the tyrannical rule lasted for twenty months. As a monk, Gutei lost his
temple home. He hid himself in a remote mountain, begging for his food
secretly among the villagers. One evening a nun came to his shelter and
walked around him three times with her traveling staff without taking her
hat off. It was very impolite to act that way at a monk's shelter. She made
it clear that she considered him a stone image, not a living monk. Gutei
commanded her to take of her hat. The nun said, "If you are not a stone
image, say a word of Zen, and then I will properly pay you my respects."
Gutei had never attained Zen; therefore, he could not say a word. The
nun called him a stupid monk, and went away. Gutei was ashamed of himself
to no small degree. He made up his mind that he would undertake a
journey through which he might attain understanding. Before he could
start out, however, he was visited by an old monk. Gutei expressed his
shame and resolve, frankly, in a man-to-man talk. The old monk then
raised his finger. Seeing this, Gutei was enlightened. The old monk was
Tenryu, a great teacher of that time.
Although the Chinese government's persecution resulted in the worst
circumstances for the Buddhist establishment in its history in China, it
created the opportunity for good monks and nuns to set out on pilgrimages.
Gutei, too, caught his chance at this time of oppression. He sensed
keenly that the opportunity for realization is rare and noble. This was the
reason why, in our present story, he cut off the boy's finger.
An imitation of the teaching seems at first rather innocent, but if it is
not nipped in the bud, it will grow into the ugly weed of religious complacency,
or into the troublesome weed of hypocrisy. To open the gate of
realization, one must block off one's road of conceptualization. Gutei
seized the boy and cut off his finger. The boy cried and began to run away.
It was too sudden for the boy to think of anything; there was only the
pain. At that moment, Gutei called for the boy to stop. The boy turned
his head toward Gutei, and the master raised his finger. There! With his
road of thinking blocked, the boy could be enlightened.
This koan not only teaches you to realize Zen for yourself, but also
shows you how to open the minds of others and let them see the truth as
clearly as daylight. The power of Zen that Gutei received from Tenryu
was not merely the act of raising a finger; it was the means to enlighten
others. Therefore he said on his deathbed, "I attained my one-finger Zen
from my teacher, Tenryu, and throughout my whole life, I have not
The enlightenment that Gutei and the boy attained has nothing to do with
the finger. If you cling to the finger, Tenryu will be so disappointed that he
will annihilate -another Chinese expression; we should probably use the
word "disown;' or "expel" - Gutei, the boy, and you.
Gutei cheapens Tenryu's teaching
Emancipating the boy with a knife.
Compared to the Chinese god who divided a mountain with one hand,
Old Gutei is a poor imitator.
A Chinese myth tells us that the Yellow River at first could not run toward
the east, as there was a great mountain in the way. A god came to help, and
divided the mountain into two parts, so that the water could run through.
If you look carefully at those two mountains, you will find the fingerprints
of this god. Such a story! Zen never asks us to believe in miracles, but we
Zen students perform miracles without knowing it ourselves. Didn't I
give you a koan in this seclusion: "After you have entered into the house,
then let the house enter into you." Now, show me how you accomplish
this trick! Those who are still working on this koan: have a cup of tea and
go home. You will sleep soundly tonight.
Mumonkan (No Barrier), Case 3
Translated by Thomas Cleary
Whenever Master Judi was questiored he would just
raise a finger. Later a servant boy would also raise a
finger when outsiders asked him what the master taught.
When Judi heard of this, he cut off the boy's finger
with a knife.
The boy ran out screaming in pain, but Judi called
him back. When the boy turned his head, Judi raised a
finger. Suddenly the boy attained enlightenment.
When Judi was about to die, he said to a group, "I
attained my teacher Tianlong's one-finger Zen, and have
used it all my life without exhausting it." So saying, he
The enlightenment of Judi and the boy is not in a finger.
If you can see here, then Tianlong, ]udi, the boy, and
you yourself will be skewered on the same stick.
Judi makes a dunce of old Tianlong;
The sharp blade held up alone tests the little boy.
The great spirit lifted its hands, without much ado,
And split apart the millions of layers of Flower Mountain.
How could it be easy to reply
To the causal conditions of question and answer?
It's hard to be really stylish if you have no money.
There's something in his heart, but he cannot say it;
In his hurry he just holds up a finger.
Ch'an Master Chu Ti of Chin Hua
In: Ch'an and Zen Teaching, Series One
by Lu K'uan Yü (Charles Luk)
Rider & Co., London, 1960, pp. 134-135.
Translated from The Imperial Selection of Ch'an Sayings (Yu Hsuan Yu Lu)
[Yuxuan yulu 御選語錄 (Imperial Selections of Recorded Sayings / Emperor's Selection of Quotations)]
A NUN named Shih Chi came (one day) to (Chu Ti's) temple, carrying
a basket on her head and holding a staff in her hand. She circumambulated
the master thrice, saying also thrice: 'If you can say (something), I will
take down the basket. As the master could not say (anything), the nun
left. The master said to her: 'It is already late; why do you not stay (for
a night)? The nun replied: If you can say (something), I will stay.'
Again the master could not say (anything).
After the nun had left, the master sighed and said to himself: 'Although
I am a man, I am lacking in manliness. It is better to leave this temple and
go elsewhere in search of enlightened masters.' That night, the god of
the mountain said to him: You should not leave this place; a real flesh-and-
blood Bodhisattva is coming.'
Later, when T'ien Lung arrived at the temple, the master received
him with reverence. To teach him, T'ien Lung raised a finger and the
master was instantly awakened. Since then, when students came for
instruction, the master only raised a fmger and did not give any other
There was a boy who had previously come to the master, and
when people asked him questions, the lad also raised a finger in reply.
Someone said to the master: 'Your boy also understands the Buddha
Dharma and in reply to visitors' questions, like you he also raises a
One day, concealing a (sharp) knife in his long sleeve, the master asked
the boy: I hear that you understand the Buddha Dharma; is it true?' The
boy replied: 'Yes, Sir.' The master asked him: 'What is Buddha?' The
boy raised a finger which the master immediately cut off with the knife.
As the lad cried and ran out, the master called him and the boy turned
back his head. (Again), the master asked him: 'What is Buddha?' The
boy raised his hand but did not see the finger; thereupon, he was greatly
When the master was ahout to pass away, he said to the assembly:
The Ch'an of T'ien Lung's finger
E'er was used throughout my life.
* * *
'To say something' is in Ch'an terminology to say something to reveal
the mind. The nun came to probe the master's ability to understand the
truth and since he was still deluded, he could not say anything to satisfy
the caller. The nun was not an ordinary person for her idea was to
encourage the master in his self-cultivation. In those days there were
in China many enlightened nuns.
The master felt ashamed of his ignorance and intended to journey to
other places to call on enlightened masters. T'ien Lung was a learned
master and his raising of a finger revealed that which raised it. The master's
potentiality was already aroused to the full but required only someone
to provoke its union with the absolute. A concurrent cause in a former life
was responsible for the two men meeting and for the master's attainment
of the truth. The master only used his teacher's method of revealing the
mind for it was a direct pointing, very simple and easy to understand by
It was now the master's turn to enlighten the boy who boasted of his
understanding of the Buddha Dharma. Before, the lad clung to the finger
which he took for the real, but when he did not see it again, he perceived
that which raised the hand, hence his great awakening. For this reason,
most Ch'an masters forbade their students to read sutras during the time
of their Ch'an training, for the latter would cling to names and terms
which really obstructed their perception of the reality. For the same
reason, in the special meetings, specific names were never used and those
unaccustomed to reading Ch'an texts, are always puzzled as to why the
ancients like to use terms such as 'that one', 'this one', 'it', 'the fundamental',
etc. which seem very strange to them. The Buddha also urged His disciples
never to look at the finger which pointed at the moon, but at the
moon which was actually pointed at.
Gutei's Lifting Up One Finger (Blue Cliff Record #19)
Verbatim transcript of lecture given on Friday, March 1, 1963
by Shogaku Shunryu Suzuki, Roshi, 1962-1971
Gutei lived in a small hermitage to be free from the fierce persecution of the first part of the ninth century, A.D. in China.
One day a nun named Jissai came to visit him, entering with her hat on her head and her pilgrim staff in her hand. She looked around the seat where Gutei was sitting and said, "I will take off my pilgrimage hat, if you give me a satisfactory statement." When he could say nothing, she started to leave. He tried to stop her, because it was late and dark out. Then she said, "If you can offer one word good enough to stop me, I will be happy to stay."
When he could not, he became quite ashamed of himself and decided to leave his hermitage on a pilgrimage in order to study Buddhism some more. That night he dreamed a Bodhisattva visited him and said that an incarnate Bodhisattva was coming to teach him.
The next day the famous Zen Master Tenryu came. Gutei told him Jissai's visit and about the dream. Tenryu, in answer, lifted up one finger. Gutei was enlightened at that moment, and he said, "I have acquired Tenryu's 'one finger zen' as an inexhaustible treasure for the rest of my life."
From that time on, he answered innumerable questions by lifting up one finger.
Later to his surprise, he found one of his disciples using the same gesture as an answer to questions. So Gutei asked him a question and when his disciple answered by lifting one finger, Gutei reached out and cut his finger off. As the poor man rushed away, Gutei called him back and held up one finger. The disciple was enlightened.
Commentary by Engo Zenji:
Introducing the subject, Engo Zenji said, "If one grain of dust is lifted up, the great universe is involved. If one blossom opens, the world vibrates."
Commentary by Master Suzuki:
One gains a good understanding by approaching this statement from a scientific viewpoint. Everything in the universe is closely related to every other things and to the whole, and the whole is involved in each separate part.
Yet Engo from another standpoint raises a new problem: What happens before the speck of dust is picked up, or before the flower opens?
Here he is talking about the necessity of practice, if one is to realize the oneness of the subjective and the objective. If one does not practice, he is driven by various impetuses to repeatedly wrong activity. Ignorance causes illusive ideas which encourage wrong intellectualization and discourage right observation. It is impossible to attain Reality without being One with the objective world. When perfect acceptance takes place, there is no subjective or objective world.
In the realm of Reality there is nothing that disturbs perfect acceptance: there are no illusive ideas (which are usually) mistaken for the true nature of things. We cut off the complications caused by self-centered desires in order to allow one' own "home treasure" (oneness) to reveal itself.
Engo refers to an ancient saying: If one snips off one place, the whole reel of thread will be cut through.
Yet here is a great problem: We are always too much concerned with the superiority of enlightenment. This concern is caused by a kind of self-conceit. We should cut off the complications moment after moment, one after another, big or small-including such egotistical ideas.
Gutei's one finger always tells us when and where the thread of complications should be cut off.
Now the chance is right here-in this moment! There is no time for anyone to use his mouth or tongue. Tremendous numbers of blind tortoises in the dark sea are landing on Gutei's one small finger, one after another. There is not time for anybody to lift up another finger.
 There was once a tortoise living in the deep sea. It had no eyes in its head, but only one in the middle of its belly underneath. So the poor creature could not look up to see and worship the sun, and it was greatly distressed. But one day, by great good luck, a single board with a hole in it came floating by. The tortoise managed with considerable difficulty to cling onto it from underneath in an upside-down position. Thus he was able to put his eye to the hole in the board and look upwards to see the light. (This old legend of the blind tortoise is found in the Parinirvana Sutra, the Aganas, and other scriptures.)
Jinhua Juzhi's One-Fingered Zen
Zen's Chinese Heritage: The Masters and their Teachings, Wisdom Publications, 2000, pp. 195-197.
by Andy Ferguson
JINHUA JUZHI (n.d.) was a disciple of 杭州天龍 Hangzhou Tianlong. He lived and
taught in ancient Wuzhou (in modern Zhejiang Province, south of the city of Hangzhou).
Details of his life are sketchy. A few facts are provided in the lamp records.
When Jinhua first became the priest of a small temple, a Buddhist nun
named Shiji visited him. Wearing her hat and grasping her staff, she
walked around him three times and said, "If you can speak, I'll take off
Three times she did this, but Hangzhou did not reply. She then began to
Hangzhou said, "It's getting late. Why don't you stay here."
"Say the right word and I'll stay."
Again Hangzhou did not reply.
After the nun left, he sighed and said, "Though I inhabit the form of a man,
I don't have a man's spirit. It would be better if I left the temple and went
traveling, seeking knowledge."
That night a mountain spirit appeared and advised him that he must not
leave, for a great bodhisattva would appear in the flesh to teach him the
Dharma. Ten days later Master Tianlong came to the temple. Jinhua received
him and bowed. Then he told him what had happened previously.
Tianlong simply held up one finger. Jinhua thereupon attained great
enlightenment. From that time forward students came from everywhere, but
Jinhua merely raised one finger and offered no other teaching.
There was a boy living at Jinhua's temple who, each time he was asked by
someone about some matter, held up one finger.
Someone told Jinhua, "Master, the boy also understands the Buddha-
dharma. Anytime someone asks him something he holds up his finger just
like the master."
One day Jinhua concealed a knife in his sleeve and asked the boy, "I heard
you understand the essential doctrine. Is that so?"
The boy said, "Yes."
Jinhua then asked him, "What is Buddha?"
The boy then held up one finger. Jinhua grabbed the boy's finger and cut it
off with a knife. The boy screamed and ran for the door.
As the boy ran away Jinhua yelled at him. When the boy turned his head
Jinhua said, "What is Buddha?"
The boy held up his hand but his finger was gone and there was nothing
there. The boy instantly was awakened.
When Jinhua was about to die, he said to the monks, "I attained Tianlong's
one-fingered Zen. In my entire life I have not exhausted it." When
he finished saying this he passed away. (Changqing said on behalf of the
congregation, "Sweets don't satisfy people's hunger." Xuansha said, "If at
that time I'd seen it, I would have twisted off the finger." Xuanjue said,
"What do you think Xuansha's meaning was when he spoke in this manner?"
Yunju Ci said, "If Xuansha speaks like this, do you agree or not agree?
If you agree, why would you say 'twist off his finger'? If you don't agree,
where was Juzhi's mistake?" The first Caoshan (Benji) said, "Th position
Juzhi carried was crude. What is recognized is one function - one condilion.
It's all clapping the hands." Xuansha also said, "Do you say Juzhi
was enlightened or not? If he was enlightened, how can it be said that the
position he carried was crude? If he was not enlightened, then he also said
his use of one-fingered Zen was never exhausted. What do you say about
Caoshan's meaning ?")
Encounter Dialogues of Jinhua Juzhi
compiled by Satyavayu of Touching Earth Sangha
DOC: Treasury of the Forest of Ancestors
Master Jinhua Juzhi lived and taught in Wuzho, south of Hangzhou in the eastern province of Zhejiang. At first he was a scholar monk spending his time studying scriptures in a small temple-hermitage. One afternoon a traveling nun named Shiji (“Reality”) suddenly arrived at his door. She walked around Juzhi in respectful greeting but didn’t take off her traveling hat. After circling, she pounded her staff and said, “If you can speak, I’ll remove my hat.”
Juzhi didn’t know what to say. Shiji repeated the circling two more times, each time pounding her staff and asking for a response, but Juzhi didn’t reply.
Then, as Shiji began to leave, Juzhi said, “It’s getting late; why don’t you stay here for the night?”
Shiji said, “Say the right word and I’ll stay.”
Juzhi had no response. So Shiji left.
Juzhi became distraught and said to himself, “Although I inhabit the form of a man, I don’t have the spirit of a man. I had better leave this place and go traveling in search of a good teacher.”
A few days later, before Juzhi had finished preparations for traveling, a wandering master named Hangzhou Tianlong happened to come by the temple. Master Tianlong was the most prominent disciple of the great hermit master Damei Fachang, himself a student of Master Ma.
A monk once asked Master Tianlong, “How can one escape the three realms of conventional reality?”
The master said, “Where are you right this moment?”
Juzhi politely received Master Tainlong into his temple. He then proceeded to tell the master about his failed encounter with the nun Shiji, and asked for teaching. Master Tainlong simply held up one finger. Suddenly Juzhi had a deep awakening.
After that time students began to gather at Juzhi’s temple. He became famous for frequently replying to any kind of question by simply raising a finger.
When he was about to pass away, he said to his community, “I inherited Tainlong’s one-finger Zen, and in my entire lifetime I have still not exhausted it. Do you want to understand it?” He then held up a finger and passed away.
After meeting Hangzhou Tianlong, Juzhi expounded the teaching extensively
for human and heavenly beings, explaining horizontally and vertically without
hesitation or obstruction throughout his life simply by holding up one finger.
Thus if someone asked about the Awakened One, he spoke of the Awakened One;
if someone asked about the Way, he spoke of the Way... The seven primordial
buddhas expounded teaching and saved beings through Juzhi’s gesture, and the
twenty-eight ancestral sages in India expounded teaching and saved beings through
Would you all like to meet old Juzhi? (Dogen raised his whisk and said) Look!
Do you want to hear old man Juzhi expounding the teaching? (Dogen hit his sitting
platform with his whisk and said) Listen!
Now you have met with Juzhi, and heard him expounding the teaching. However,
do not open your mouth and talk with a lengthy tongue about his finger.
Gutei's One Finger
by Susan Ji-on Postal (1940-2014)
Empty Hand Zendo, New Rochelle, New York. June 12, 2004
Since the early days of Zen, the teacher traditionally offers a teisho to the students who have
gathered for an intensive period of practice. A teisho isnʼt exactly a lecture or a talk, but a
more direct and immediate expression. It has been my intent over these years to embed
teisho within what we call a Dharma Talk. Some of what happens in such a talk might be
explanatory, or may involve some study of Buddhist principles and teachings, but
somewhere embedded in that is, I hope, something with the liveliness of teisho. Teisho was
described to me, I think by Maezumi Roshi, as "the sending out of sparks." Itʼs not coming
from the head, from intellectual understanding; itʼs coming from this heart—not meaning
emotional heart, but essence—and itʼs sending out sparks which hopefully will cause an
ignition - a setting on fire of your aspiration, or the triggering your deepening insight and
clarity. Itʼs about the sending forth and the receiving of something that isnʼt in the realm of
conceptual explanation and understanding at all.
So if it happens that you are listening here, and you have no idea whatʼs being talked about,
thatʼs fine. Just absorb, let it penetrate without trying to figure out and get caught in your
internal commentary. Further, this is not a one-way process. This is a shower of mutual
sparks. Believe me, having sat in this seat now for many years, where you are in your
body/mind, your receptivity right now, makes a huge difference in terms of what comes
forth. Itʼs a response, even though you may be silent and I may be talking.
Also, since some of you are new to retreats, I want to say that in using traditional texts, such
as koans, as teaching stories, which is customary for teisho, we should always see these as
parables, as poetic representations of our situation, not just as some historical thing that
happened once to so-and-so. Maybe they happened and maybe they didnʼt, and a lot of this
may just be legendary. But they all are about our practice, even the most dramatic stories.
As Aitken Roshi reminds us in his commentary on this case, legends and fairy tales can be
graphic. Remember "Jack and the Beanstalk? "Iʼll grind his bones to make my bread!" And
we read that to our children! And itʼs gruesome, and yet somehow we get this vivid picture
of the hugeness and strength of this giant. So in that spirit of parable, weʼre going to sit this
morning with Case Three from the Mumonkan, the Gateless Gate: Guteiʼs One Finger.
The Case: Whatever he was asked about Zen, Master Gutei simply stuck up one finger. He
had a boy attendant whom a visitor asked, "What kind of teaching does your master give?"
The boy held up one finger too. Hearing of this, Gutei cut off the boyʼs finger with a knife.
As the boy ran away screaming with pain, Gutei called to him. When the boy turned his
head, Gutei stuck up one finger. The boy was suddenly enlightened. When Gutei was about
to die, he said to the assembled monks, "I received this one-finger Zen from Tenryu; Iʼve
used it all my life, but I have not exhausted it." Having said this, he entered nirvana.
Mumonʼs Commentary: The enlightenment of Gutei and the boy have nothing to do with the
tip of a finger. If you realize this, Tenryu, Gutei, the boy, and you yourself are all run through
with one skewer. (Yamada pp. 25-26)
There are three parts here: Guteiʼ's teaching, this one-finger teaching, is one; second, the
boyʼs imitation of his teacher, and the consequences of that; and third, although not much is
said about it, his comment when he was about to die. So those are the three areas weʼll
look at. But mostly at the first two, because there are two wonderful enlightenment stories
here. Two stories which vividly illuminate principles in the relationship between Master and
disciple, between teacher and student, principles which apply as much to us in 21st Century
America as they did in 9th Century China.
So what was Guteiʼs teaching, this raising of a finger? Pointing directly to what is real,
beyond conceptions, beyond judgments, pointing to suchness, to one body, with one finger.
Shibayama, in his commentary, says, "Is there anybody who doesnʼt have a finger? Is there
anybody who doesnʼt have Buddha Nature, or Truth?" (p,44) So, Guteiʼs teaching was the
teaching of "just this," and he happened to use the expression of one finger, but itʼs
everything; itʼs whole universe, in this one finger.
Guteiʼ's story is very interesting, how he came to be awakened by his teacherʼs one-finger
Zen, and how he was able to let it serve as his own fresh expression. He lived in China, in
the Ninth Century, about the same time as Rinzai. I think he was a second cousin in the
Dharma to Lin-chi, or Rinzai. When he was a monk in training, he went and lived alone in
the mountains, concentrating on zazen as his main practice. Apparently he also had a strong
mantra or dharani practice. He was known as "Gutei," in fact, because this word was part of
his mantra which others heard constantly on his lips. We can guess that this combination of
silent sitting and devotional chanting served as a strong foundation. He was, to use a
frequently-used phrase, a monk who practiced in all earnestness. He tried very hard; his
efforts were strong, steady, and deeply committed.
One day a visitor came to visit him in his hermitage, a nun. It was customary in those days,
if you came visiting, to take off your big straw traveling hat and exchange greetings. There
was also a custom of circumambulating a monk or a master. So this nun comes in—her
name translates as "True World"—she doesnʼt take her hat off, doesnʼt say a word to
introduce herself, she just starts walking around Gutei, who is sitting in zazen. She walks
around three times, and then she says, "If you can say a word of Zen, Iʼll take off my hat."
Well, we can see there is someone with confidence here. This nun is testing, probing. Gutei
couldnʼt speak; he was mute, dumbfounded. She did it a second time, and a second time he
didnʼt speak, and finally she started to leave. As it was getting late, he said, "Well, itʼs getting
dark; why donʼt you stay the night, I can find a place for you here." And she said, "If you say
a word of Zen, Iʼll stay." And for the third time, he couldnʼt say anything, so she left. Gutei
was deeply ashamed, his confidence crumbled; he was so embarrassed and so
disappointed in himself. He began to see that he really didnʼt have a word of Zen to say,
because his eye was not opened, his heart was not open, he didnʼt get it, he hadnʼt realized
what is true. He had sincerely been sitting zazen and repeating this mantra, probably for
years, all for nothing. We can guess that there grew in him, as Shibayama suggests, a state
of extremity. Tortured by his failure, he was determined to give up his solitary practice and
leave his hermitage. He packed up his things and decided to stay the night and in the
morning search for a teacher who could help. That night, he fell asleep in great despair and
was blessed with a dream. A local deity came in the dream and said, "Donʼt leave; your
teacher will arrive shortly."
Some versions say the next day, some say ten days later, an old master, Tenryu, came
knocking at door of his hermitage. Gutei told him all about the nunʼs visit and how
profoundly embarrassed and discouraged he was. Then Gutei pleaded, "What is the
fundamental word of Zen? Tell me!" and Tenryu, what did he do? Held up one finger. And
the dark despair was split open, Gutei completely got it, whole Universe was expressed in
this raising-finger-gesture of his teacher.
It seems important to emphasize here that there must have been a readiness in Gutei to see
the one finger, to hear the one-finger teaching of Tenryu. There was a ripeness. He was
struggling and suffering, and also had seen the depths of his own inadequacy, and was
ready for the cracking. Otherwise some teacher holding up a finger would do nothing. So it
had very much to do with his situation, his struggle, intensified as it was by the provocative
visit of this traveling hat-wearing nun.
Zen teachings sometimes describe this kind of interchange between Master and disciple as
like that of a mother hen and a chick. Apparently the mother hen can hear the chick pecking
from the inside of the egg, and then sheʼll peck back. But she doesnʼt peck until she hears,
because if she pecks prematurely, sheʼll kill the chick. Tenryu heard Guteiʼs readiness, his
ripeness, in the expression of his question, "What is the fundamental word of Zen?" and he
was able to respond wholeheartedly. The teacher-student relationship is like this.
Something, a request, has to be from the inside first; I hope you can understand that. We do
a disservice to students if we try prodding prematurely and trying to help them open up when
there isnʼt the readiness, because then itʼs nothing, or itʼs halfway. And if itʼs a halfway and
half-cooked insight, then people get really attached to it, so it ends up causing more trouble.
So it has to be a call and response, at the right moment, this "pecking and chicking," as itʼs
called in Zen. This is a perfect example of that, with Tenryu and Gutei, complete readiness,
complete response. So thatʼs Guteiʼs story, and itʼs not so different from our story. We need
to be embarrassed by the equivalent of nuns with "chutzpah" who ask us to say a word. We
need to rub up against our lack of clarity before we are motivated and ripened.
Continuing with the story of this Koan, we come to part two. Gutei has become a teacher.
Apparently he never gave talks at all, he only stuck up one finger, with great power. His
attendant, this boy in the story, was a young lay disciple, he wasnʼt yet ordained, was
studying the sutras and serving his teacher. When people came and asked, "Oh, what does
your teacher have to say about the Dharma?" he held up his finger, but he held it up kind of
casually because he himself didnʼt have the whole-body experience of awakening. The
boyʼs finger didnʼt represent true reality, it was a copy of his teacherʼs gesture, not his own. .
Commentaries say that the boyʼs imitation was dead, it was like a corpse, this finger of the
boy, it didnʼt have life. So clearly the first obvious lesson here is about the dangers of
imitation. This is our lesson too. I canʼt tell you how many people come in and say something
theyʼve read in a sutra or some phrase of Zen, and it immediately strikes me as not coming
completely from their experience. It is not fully alive, but something "adopted" or borrowed.
We often do that, particularly at the beginning, because weʼre trying to understand the
Dharma, so weʼve got these Dharma phrases in our minds, and we quite naturally pull them
out as if they are our own answer. To imitate and borrow is just creating more obstacles for
ourselves. Itʼs carrying around something thatʼs dead and it isnʼt giving room for our own live
expression. Zen study is not like graduate school, where you learn the vocabulary of your
chosen field and then wield the terms with expertise. Response to a teacherʼs question
about your practice must be fresh, alive, honest, and completely yours. Dead phrases must
be cut off, sometimes sharply. The pain of that kind of rejection of your answer is a powerful
gift, a wake-up call, for seeing your sticking places.
But thatʼs not the whole lesson, about imitation. Letʼs look further. The boy was screaming,
he was probably bleeding, he was terrified, he was running, and something happened: the
Master called to him, "Attendant!" And he turned, the boy turned back, and then Gutei once
again held up that wonderful finger, that full of life, complete, gesture. The boy, although very
young, got the whole thing: he got what had been wrong with his imitation, and he also saw
the finger probably for the first time as representing one body, whole universe, whatever
words we want to use. So itʼs my view that this calling of Gutei to the boy while he was in
agony is pivotal in our being nourished by this case. Iʼm not satisfied by the commentaries
that say itʼs only about imitation, learning not to copy or mimic. It seems to me that this
support from the teacher of the boy when he was in extreme suffering is what made possible
the boyʼs enlightenment. It could have happened that he just ran screaming away, never to
be seen again. All could have been lost, had Gutei not called him, and had the boy not been
such a fine attendant that he turned to his teacher. And that call and response, in an
extreme situation, perhaps is not so common, but it does happen, and itʼs life-giving. And
again, like the hen and chick, there was a call and a response, and in this story, before the
call and the response there was a cutting, so there was some kind of probe or demand by
the teacher. Often itʼs a shout, like the famous "You country bumpkin!" Do you remember
Bodhidharmaʼs words as he shouted at Eka standing there in the snow:
"The highest subtle way of Buddha cannot be attained without an immeasurably
long training and almost unbearable effort. It can never be achieved by puny
virtue, shallow wisdom, faint inspiration, or self conceit!" (Yamada, p. 210)
Thatʼs a kind of cutting. Itʼs more common to have records of teachers cutting verbally. But
here it talks about a knife. So the teacher did something, and the boy was suffering, deeply
suffering. And then the teacher did something else: he called right in the middle of suffering.
The Buddha tells us a lot about suffering: that itʼs from our place of suffering that we can
begin to awaken. So it seems to me most appropriate that itʼs in the middle of profound pain
that something most precious happens.
Itʼs so tricky, this student/teacher thing, and yet so vital for all of us. I know for myself,
having been in both roles, that true connection is easily missed. Maybe, figuratively
speaking, the egg rolls away and the student doesnʼt hear the teacher "pecking" due to
distraction or lack of attention. Maybe, as could have happened in this story, the wounded
disciple just keeps on running, never looking back. Maybe a teacher, for his own reasons,
chooses to play "hardball," demanding a great sacrifice of the student. If there is no
response or support of the student as he/she makes the effort to obey, it is as if the ball goes
over the fence and they no longer have a game, much less a relationship. Please
understand, there may well be good will on both sides; no wish to cause harm. I know there
have been times when Iʼve failed to support a student who was suffering. Itʼs really tricky; I
donʼt always know when to reach out. If someone doesnʼt come, are they really in trouble?
Itʼs their choice not to come for practice. Iʼm not going to call people up and say, "Why
werenʼt you at zazen?" Iʼll never do that; thatʼs harmful to people. People have to come to
sit with us because they want to come. But sometimes people have really been in darkness
and I didnʼt pick it up, and I didnʼt reach out. Deep regret there. So it happens like this,
because weʼre human, the teacher doesnʼt always respond and support in the middle of
suffering. Please understand that this kind of dramatic confrontation, or this missing of each
other, didnʼt happen only in ancient China. Not so; it happens right now, and we can learn
tremendously by looking at this old, ancient, teaching of one-finger Zen.
Teachers and students: what is happening in that interaction, what is this "pecking and
chicking?" What do teachers listen for, before they dare respond? Fundamentally, a teacher
is there to help students see themselves: where they are stuck and blocked by clinging and
aversion, and, most importantly, to help them see their own aspiration, their own maturing
ripeness, their readiness to open up. Our teachers, in some sense, can give us nothing.
And yet, there is this call and response, so thatʼs not nothing, itʼs life-giving.
This kind of exchange isnʼt about a teacher advising you what to do, what to study; thatʼs a
little separate. This is about some inner exchange from the heart, itʼs about those sparks.
And our Zen tradition is run through with wonderful stories about just this: about cutting,
about calling, and most beautifully, as in Guteiʼs case, about never exhausting one-finger
Zen. He never exhausted it, because it wasnʼt his, it wasnʼt Guteiʼs idiosyncratic personality
being made visible. It was the whole universe being expressed, how could it be exhausted?
This vital living connection demonstrated in this koan isnʼt about sharing philosophical
discussion of Buddhist thought, isnʼt about delving into psychological analysis of behavior,
but is truly about being skewered through together with the sharp inexhaustible blade of "just
this," whole body presence, whole universe fully manifest and set free.
Aitken, Robert The Gateless Barrier, Northpoint Press, 1990 p. 31
Shibayama, Zenkei Zen Comments on the Mumonkan, New American Library, 1974 pp. 45-46
Yamada, Koun Gateless Gate, Zen Center of Los Angeles, 1979, pp. 25-26, 210
Cutting Off A Finger: Zen, Pulp Fiction, and the Logic of Storytelling
by Jess Row
Originally published in Kyoto Journal 66, Winter 2007
The case of Juzhi's “One finger Zen”
Zen Master Juzhi was known for answering all questions by holding up his index finger. One day, Juzhi was gone from the temple, and someone asked his young attendant about the nature of his master's teachings. The boy held up one finger. When Juzhi heard about this after returning to the temple, he promptly called the boy to his side and cut off his finger. The boy fled the room screaming, but Juzhi called out to him. When the boy turned out around, Juzhi held up one finger. The boy became enlightened.
Anyone who has taken a course in fiction writing or the novel has likely encountered the teaching device known as Freytag's Pyramid. This formula — a diagram which really looks more like an upside-down checkmark — is often used to explain certain basic assumptions about all narratives, from Grimm's fairy tales to Ulysses. It describes a story as a period of time that begins with a conflict, imbalance, or unfulfilled desire, proceeds as a series of attempts to address that initiating conflict, results in a climactic incident in which there is some successful overturning or reversal, and then depicts a world which is both changed and restored.
According to Freytag's formula, the Juzhi koan is a “good” story: it involves risk, obstacles, sacrifice, tension, and, finally, return and reassurance. This is undoubtedly one reason why koans with a narrative component (often included in traditional biographies which follow their own rather strict narrative formula) are so popular in the teaching and transmission of Zen. Story-koans present a schema, a plan, a process, in which the student can locate him or herself. They become part of the language of the practice, part of the conversation between student and teacher. They are, in a sense, the promise that the Zen tradition makes to its followers.
Of course, the use of such story structures in Zen presents a logical problem: how can the inconceivable be represented through a repeated formula? If Zen practice involves abandoning all mental constructions, how can it be represented by means of a story? Which part is “Zen”, and which is “the story of Zen”? The standard answer for this has to do with upaya , or “skillful means”: the idea, omnipresent in Mahayana Buddhism, that the dharma has to be transmitted through whatever means are available. The ideal here is one of a kind of linguistic transparency: through the words (or through the story) to the meaning.
The problem with this assumption — which contemporary scholars of Buddhism have taken great pains to point out — is that stories are not simply conscious artifacts we can analyze and control, or choose to use or not; they are structures we accept and assimilate automatically and unconsciously [i]. The stories that have the most profound consequences in “real” life are often the ones we ourselves don't always recognize. This applies not just to psychological consequences, but actual, physical harm. The story of Juzhi is one among many examples in Zen literature where a violent action, particularly an action with a sacrificial aspect, plays a key part in the completion of an enlightenment story.
It's possible, of course, to say that the act of cutting off the finger is a metaphor, a symbol, a hypothetical. Given the nature of the historical record, there's no way for us to say for certain whether Juzhi ever “really” cut off his attendant's finger. And it has become routine for contemporary Zen students and teachers to “mime” violent acts (for example, saying “I give you thirty blows!”) instead of carrying them out. But metaphors and formulas — even dead metaphors — have a way of returning to life if we don't consider them carefully. Our world abounds with cases of religious rhetoric distorted, or taken out of context, to justify acts of violence. The Zen tradition itself has been subject to this kind of manipulation, most notably, in recent memory, in Japan before and during the Second World War. [ii] The question of the relationship between religious narratives of violence — even ancient and seemingly benign ones — and human suffering is never an idle one, and certainly not in our historical moment.
In his translation of the Mumonkan anthology, the American Zen Master Robert Aitken offers the following commentary on the Juzhi koan:
The story of Juzhi cutting off the boy's finger gives Zen a bad name in some quarters. Literalists turn to something milder. Yet look closely. Read religion as parable, as folklore, as poetic presentation of your own history and nature. Put yourself back on Grandmother's ample lap, listening to her read “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and you'll shiver again with those awesome words, “I'll grind his bones to make my bread!” [iii]
If we are supposed to “read religion as parable, as folklore, as a poetic presentation of your own nature,” can we — that is to say practitioners of Zen — accept a narrative like the Juzhi koan, while still remaining conscious of its fictiveness, its constructed-ness, which is also to say its potential for harm? And if the answer to the first question is yes , how can we incorporate this doubt, this holding-at-arm's-length, into our practice itself?
The English literary critic Frank Kermode had very similar questions in mind in 1965 when he wrote The Sense of an Ending, a study of how Christian narratives of the Apocalypse have transformed Western culture. And his answer, broadly speaking, was that once we have accepted that a story is “fiction” — something man-made and fallible — and not “myth” — the unimpeachable truth — we have essentially rejected religion itself:
Myth operates within the diagrams of ritual, which presupposes total and adequate explanations of things as they are and were; it is a sequence of radically unchangeable gestures. Fictions are for finding things out, and they change as the needs of sense-making change. Myths are the agents of stability, fictions the agents of change. Myths call for absolute, fictions for conditional assent. [iv]
Many aspects of the Zen tradition would support this argument: the emphasis on lineages of transmission stretching far into the past; the importance of fixed practice forms, likewise supposedly passed down from the “original” Zen masters of the Tang dynasty; indeed the very assumption that there exists “a special teaching outside the sutras, transmitted from mind to mind.” The essence of Zen practice, some would say— and have said — depends on absolute, unquestioning acceptance of, and submission to, these principles. Any attempt to regard the tradition as a series of fictions is merely conceptual thinking, a betrayal of the core teaching of more than a thousand years.
Kermode's position — or some variant of it — has been dominant among scholars of religion for the last forty years. In the United States, for example, many in the current generation of professors of Buddhist studies openly reject the idea that one can study and practice Buddhism simultaneously. [v] In Japan, proponents of “critical Buddhism” have used new scholarship on early Buddhist texts to argue that virtually all forms of Buddhist practice are inauthentic and naïve. The result, at least in this country, has been that scholars and practitioners often regard one other with suspicion. (This is less true in Tibetan Buddhism, where the tradition of the practitioner/scholar is more ingrained, but even in that branch there has been notable friction between academics and religious teachers).
There is, however, a counter-argument, also arising out of Western scholarship of religion, from the French philosopher — and lifelong practicing Christian — Paul Ricoeur. At the conclusion of his book The Symbolism of Evil, Ricoeur argues that it is a grave mistake to assume that because we have lost “the immediacy of belief” we have lost the capacity to believe at all:
If we can no longer live the great symbolisms of the sacred in accordance with the original belief in them, we can, we modern men [sic] aim at a second naïvete in and through criticism. In short, it is through interpreting that we can hear again. (351) [vi]
Indeed, Ricoeur argues, it's impossible to say that we can understand “the great symbolisms of the sacred” if we don't, in a sense, believe in them. Unless we have some access to belief, or some sense of what “sacredness” is, we will have no way of appreciating what sets mythological or sacred texts apart from other texts. “Never does the interpreter get near to what his text says,” he argues, “unless he lives in the aura of the meaning he is inquiring after.”
Ricoeur's genius here lies in his ability to see the “modern predicament,” or its auto-immune response, the “postmodern condition,” not as an advantage or disadvantage in comparison to what we imagine of previous eras but as a gift and an opportunity not to be discarded. Rather than tearing his hair out about the loss of sacredness in an era of hermeneutic suspicion, he demands that we recognize a new kind of sacredness in suspicion if we want to truly understand religious texts. Otherwise we have no access to the “aura” these texts depend on. Ricoeur calls this state of sacredness-in-suspicion “postcritical.”
“Postcritical,” it needs to be said, is not the same as “uncritical.” The postcritical state is marked by an absence of longing or nostalgia for the imagined innocence of the past. It does not dwell on the poverty of the modern or postmodern. It does not idealize pure emotion or intuitive mental powers or Romantic notions of artistic or spiritual genius. Most of all, however, the postcritical state is distinguished by its alterity: its lack of wholeness or absoluteness. Once we reach the postcritical state, we have absorbed a certain capability for self-doubt into our experience of the sacred or the beautiful. We have also reached a state in which we accept that doubt is, in its own way, sacred.
Let's say that we look at the story of Juzhi and his attendant with a postcritical perspective — accepting that it is a fiction, rather than treating it as a myth. We might begin by acknowledging that many aspects of the story point to a legendary or apocryphal origin, including the distance between the supposed time of the event and its recording (several centuries) and the way the story corresponds to the structure of a fairy tale, including the repetition of the gesture and the quick denouement of the boy's enlightenment. Steven Heine, who has written several critical studies of the Zen koan tradition, suggests that the story can only be appreciated in light of the popular Buddhist practice (which continues to this day) of burning off the tip of a finger as a signal of one's commitment to the Buddha Way. This practice, he implies, makes the cutting off of the finger less shocking to the story's intended audience of monks who were used to extreme acts of self-mortification, and, occasionally, similar acts performed by a teacher or superior. [vii]
On the other hand, acknowledging our own cultural biases, we might still insist on rejecting at least some of the implications of the story. Whether or not we see Juzhi's action as a form of abuse or an act of compassion, it is worth noting that the potential for abuse always exists. Keeping in mind the recent history of abusive relationships between Zen teachers and students, especially in lay contexts, we might even say that the Juzhi story should be a warning to teachers to question their own limits as to the application of “skillful means.”
It's tempting to say that this tradition of self-criticism is indeed already present in the practice of Zen; that is, that the supposedly anti-authoritarian nature of Zen provides a self-correcting mechanism in which destructive, abusive, or egocentric behavior is recognized and atoned for. Unfortunately, there is ample evidence both from contemporary and historical sources that this self-correcting mechanism did not and does not always work. [viii] And, in any event, critiquing the story is only the first step in the process. Ultimately we have to find a way to live with it, to understand its hypothetical value, even as we hold it at arms' length. As Aitken Roshi tells us, we have to accept it as a story , as a piece of fiction, a parable. We have to read it the way we would a piece of secular literature — a book, or even, I would argue, a movie.
Quentin Tarantino's 1994 film Pulp Fiction is rarely, if ever, described as a film about a religious quest or as a narrative of enlightenment, and it's not difficult to see why. A comedy containing so many images of gratuitous violence and gore — a teenager's brains splattered across the back window of a car, a young woman's lips turning blue in the middle of a heroin overdose, a mobster raped in a basement dungeon — repels description in redemptive terms. The broadest cultural interpretation of Tarantino's two early films — Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs — is that they made film violence into a comic postmodern spectacle, a purely aesthetic act that had no room for the pain of the victims or the sensibilities of a literal-minded audience.
Pulp Fiction , however, whether we like it or not, is structured as a narrative of enlightenment, through the experiences of Jules, the hit man played by Samuel L. Jackson. Early in the movie, in the middle of one such execution, he and his partner Vincent (John Travolta) are nearly killed when a hidden assailant bursts from behind a door and fires several shots at them at point-blank range, all of which miss and strike the wall behind them. Vincent sees this as a lucky accident; Jules insists it is divine intervention. As they flee the scene of the killing, with the young survivor who was their informer in the back seat of the car, Jules announces his intention to go into retirement as soon as the job is done, and it is in the course of this conversation that Vincent, in his incredulity, accidentally shoots the informer. Later, at the very end of the movie, while holding a petty thief at gunpoint, Jules announces his realization:
Well there's this passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17.
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.”
I been sayin' that shit for years. And if you ever heard it, it meant your ass. I never gave much thought what it meant. I just thought it was some cold-blooded shit to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass. I saw some shit this mornin' made me think twice. See now I'm thinkin', maybe it means you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr. 9 Millimeter here, he's the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. Now I'd like that. But that shit ain't the truth. The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd.
This expression of epiphany, if we want to call it that, is intimately intertwined with the senselessness of the killing that has preceded it. There is something pornographic about Jules' use of the words righteous and shepherd not two hours after he has participated in a St. Valentine's Day-style massacre of his boss's enemies. At the same time, the senselessness of the killing is what makes Jules' redemption possible. This final speech is one of the few moments in Pulp Fiction where one character speaks seriously and directly to another. That seriousness — that sense of purpose — is paid for, so to speak, with the deaths of all of Jules' previous victims.
Quentin Tarantino is certainly not the first storyteller to propose that, in a secular universe, the only way for a person — almost always a man — to achieve real nobility and self-sufficiency is through acts of violence. What sets Pulp Fiction apart is its stubborn refusal to follow the linear logic that frames earlier films in the same mode, such as Miller's Crossing or Unforgiven or The Searchers. Whatever one can say about the shootings and stabbings and acts of torture and mayhem in Pulp Fiction , no one can say that they are truly necessary or important — or if they are, their importance itself is purely accidental. In a different kind of movie Jules would have always meant what he said when he quoted Ezekiel before dispatching one of his victims.
Pulp Fiction , as I've already noted, makes a mockery of the causal relationship between violence and transcendence. There is no way of asking the question “Was all that killing worth it?” with a straight face. This is a lesson that we can, and should, apply to the case of Juzhi. The implict assumption in this koan is that Juzhi's servant boy has usurped his authority by presenting his master's teaching without authorization; he holds up his finger automatically, without understanding what the gesture means . Juzhi's two gestures — cutting off the boy's finger, then raising his own — are both a punishment and a reward. Pain, in this case, equals attainment. Pain equals the truth.
But why should this necessarily be the case?
One way we can distinguish between the precritical and postcritical states is to contrast two different ideas of causality. This may not be so much an intellectual shift as an acknowledgment of what we already know in practice. Anyone who has embarked on a religious program knows that the “path” metaphor implies a kind of linear logic of a course of study that is only ever approximately true. One's religious vocation wavers like any other kind of commitment; there are moments of great intensity and clarity interspersed with periods of doubt and slackness and simple disinterest. This is a human truth that virtually all religious rhetoric, formal and informal, Eastern and Western, nomian and antinomian, reactionary or reformist, tries to suppress. In fact, we might say that the more antinomian and anti-clerical a tradition is, the more likely it will become obsessed with linearity.
Contrast this with a different notion of causality: the logic of accumulation, the logic of patience. In this model of narrative one relinquishes (at least temporarily) the burden of interpreting events according to a predetermined causal pattern. As in Pulp Fiction , things just happen. Several chronological or causal sequences may be operating simultaneously. Time may move forwards as well as backwards. A profound realization may be accompanied by a loud fart. Time is allotted for boredom or for intrusions that fit no pattern at all.
This shouldn't mean that one of these logic(s) supersedes the other. Chronological causal sequences, constructed though they may be, are extremely useful, and the same is obviously true of linear narratives. Stories, like lives, begin and end. We are conditioned to seek out radical and transforming and absolute changes and define ourselves, to some extent, by them. We need to pay attention to this desire for radical transformation and be wary of it, lest it become self-fulfilling.
The haeindo, written by the great ninth-century monk Uisang, is a poem written in the form of a series of four looping squares that form one large diagram or mandala. Haein means “Ocean Seal.” The haeindo poem, sometimes translated as “The Song of Dharma Nature,” is essentially a brief summary of one of Mahayana Buddhism's longest and most complex texts, the Flower Ornament Sutra, which describes the interpenetrated and interdependent nature of the universe. In a characteristically Korean way, Uisang boils the intricate philosophy of this sutra down to a relatively simple formula:
In one particle of dust
is contained the ten directions.
And so it is
with all particles of dust.
Incalculably long eons
are equivalent to a single moment of thought. [ix]
Uisang's text is, of course, arranged in a linear pattern, and is meant to be read from beginning to end (though each line essentially functions as a complete syllogism, making use of the syntactic flexibility of literary Chinese). On the other hand, this same flexibility makes the poem remarkably tricky to read. One can easily veer off the track and see a possible unintended meaning in two adjoining characters. This, too, is part of Uisang's point. Each line depends on the whole of the poem, and the whole poem depends on each line.
This may seem to take us a very long way from Pulp Fiction, but if we are to follow Aitken Roshi's advice — “ Read religion as parable, as folklore, as poetic presentation of your own history and nature”— then perhaps we need to become comfortable with this kind of analogy and the meanings that flow from it in both directions. The point is not to exhaust ourselves in striking a balance between skepticism and “pure” belief, and not to insulate ourselves from violence and its consequences, but to reserve a space, so to speak, in which all questions, and all forms of doubt, are allowed, and to designate that intermediary realm as something sacred.
[i] See Lopez, Donald S., The Story of Buddhism. U of Chicago Press, 2000.
[ii] See Victoria, Brian Daizen, Zen at War, Boston: Rowan and Littlefield, 1998; Sharf, Robert, “The Zen of Japanese Nationalism,” in Lopez, Donald S., Curators of the Buddha, Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1995.
[iii] Aitken, Robert. The Gateless Barrier. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1991.
[iv] Kermode, Frank. The Sense of An Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction. Oxford, 1965.
[v] See Sharf, Robert, Coming To Terms With Chinese Buddhism: A Reading of the Treasure Store Treatise. U of Hawaii Press, 2002.
[vi] Ricoeur, Paul. The Symbolism of Evil. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968.
[vii] Heine, Steven. Opening a Mountain: Koans of the Zen Masters. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.
[viii] See Fields, Rick, How the Swans Came to the Lake, Boston: Shambhala, 1988.
[ix] Odin, Steve, Process Metaphysics and Hua-yen Buddhism, SUNY Press, 1982.
Csin-hua Csü-cse (Csü-ti) mondásaiból
Fordította: Terebess Gábor
Vö.: Folyik a híd, Officina Nova, Budapest, 1990, 26. és 29. oldal
Csü-ti remetelakában szolgált egy siheder.
– Milyen módszerrel tanít a mestered? – kérdezgették tőle.
A szolgalegény felemelte a mutatóujját.
Ám a dolog egyszer Csü-ti fülébe jutott, nosza kést ragadott, és levágta legénye ujját. Üvöltve rohant el kínjában szegény, de amikor Csü-ti utánaszólt, megállt és visszanézett.
Csü-ti felemelte a mutatóujját.
A legény magához tért.
Halála közeledtén, Csü-ti azt mondta szerzeteseinek:
– Mesterem, Tien-lung* egy-ujj csanját** használtam egész életemben, de elhasználni mégsem tudtam. Értitek végre? – és mielőtt meghalt, még egyszer felemelte a mutatóujját.
*Hang-csou Tien-lung, 748-807 [杭州天龍 Hangzhou Tianlong [Kōshū Tenryū]
**[一指禪 yizhi chan]
Az „egy-ujj csan” modern kínai képregény feldolgozásából
Fordította: Bakonyi Berta
In: Miriam Levering: ZEN - Inspiráló tanítások, Alexandra, 2008, 76. oldal
Gutei mestert akármiról kérdezték, csak felemelte egy ujját.
Egyszer egy vendég megkérdezte a mester ifjú kísérőjét:
- Mit tanít a te mestered?
Válaszul a fiú is felemelte egy ujját. Ezt hallván Gutei egy késsel
levágta a fiú ujját. Ahogy a fiú a fájdalomtól ordítva el akart rohanni,
Gutei utánaszólt. A fiú megfordult, mire Gutei felmutatta az ujját.
A fiú egyszeriben megvilágosodott.
Gutei a halálos ágyán így szólt a köré gyűlt szerzetesekhez:
- Tenrjú Egyujjas zen tanát tanultam. Egész életemben használtam,
de még mindig van benne erő. - Alighogy kimondta, meghalt.
Gutei és a fiú szatorija nem az ujjban van. Ha ezt valóban megértitek,
Tenrjú, Gutei és a fiú egy nyársra van tűzve veletek.
Gutei csúfot űzött vén Tenrjúból,
Éles késétől lett a fiú szabad.
Korei csak kezét emelte fel,
És a Ka hegye meghasadt!