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香嚴智閑 Xiangyan Zhixian (?-898)

also written 香巖
Rōmaji:) Kyōgen Chikan
(Magyar:) Hsziang-jen Cse-hszien



Hsziang-jen mondta
Fordította: Hamvas Béla

PDF: Kapujanincs átjáró 5.
fordította: Miklós Pál

Hsziang-jen Cse-hszien mondásaiból
Fordította: Terebess Gábor

Az éles kavics
Fordította: Szigeti György

Kyōgen Chikan [Hsziang-jen Cse-hszien] megvilágosulása
Fordította: Mák Andrea és Fábián Gábor




Ornement-parfumé et le moine dans l'arbre
traduit du chinois et annoté par Catherine Despeux

Xiangyan Zhixian's Person Up a Tree
Talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold

One Strike and I Forgot All I Knew
Translated by John Balcom

by Andy Ferguson

Ch'an Master Chi Hsien of Hsiang Yen
In: Ch'an and Zen Teaching, Series One
by Lu K'uan Yü (Charles Luk)

Enlightened by One Stroke
Translated by Chang Chung-yuan

Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma, Book 62

Translated by Carl Bielefeldt

Encounter Dialogues of Xuefeng Yicun
compiled by Satyavayu of Touching Earth Sangha

The Wisdom of the Zen Masters
Translated by Irmgard Schloegl

Xiangyan's Sound of a Bamboo
by Thomas Yūhō Kirchner

Kyogen Sweeping the Ground
painting by
仙厓義梵 Sengai Gibon (1750-1837)

by 高山泰巌 Takayama Taigan (1933-1998)

PDF: Xiangyan Zhixian: Awakening Through Sound, pp. 149 -158.
In: Narrative agency in thirteenth-fourteenth century Chan figure painting:
a study of hagiography-iconography text-image relationships

by McNeill, Malcolm L. S.
Thesis (Ph.D.), SOAS University of London, 2017.

Xiangyan Zhixian's Person Up a Tree
Dharma Talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei

Master Wumen's Gateless Gate, Case 5
Summer 1999

The Main Case

Master Xianyan Zhixian said, “It is like a person up a tree who hangs from a branch by their mouth; their hands can't grasp a bough, their feet can't touch the tree. Someone else comes underneath the tree and asks the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West. If the person does not answer, they do not meet the questioner's need. If they answer, they lose their life. At such a time how should they answer?”


Even though your eloquence flows like a river, it is all to no avail. Even if you can expound the Great Tripitaka, it is also of no use. If you can really answer it, you will revive the dead and kill the living. If, however, you are unable to answer, wait for Maitreya to come and ask him.


Xianyan Zhixian is just gibbering;
How vicious his poison is!
Stopping up the monks' mouths
He makes their devil's eyes glare!

We should be able to identify with this person up the tree. There we are, hanging by our mouth, unable to take hold of the branch or trunk, with nothing to secure ourselves. Just at that moment, someone comes and asks for help, “What is the truth of Zen?” They have a need that is great, and only we can respond. If we do, we sacrifice ourselves and fall to our death. If we don't answer, we put our own interests before another. What are we to do? This is a classic koan that presents us with an impenetrable barrier: either way we choose, something is lost.
Although Xianyan Zhixian's challenge points to all the dualities of life, we can use it to clarify our understanding of right action, the practice and fulfillment of our bodhisattva vows. One of the dominant currents in Western Buddhism is engaged Buddhism. This has come to be understood as a Buddhism that is involved in social action—environmental issues, helping the homeless, working with people dying of AIDS, or any kind of serious human social problem. Engaged Buddhism should address these problems in a way that is distinctly Buddhist. But what does that mean? Do practitioners of the Dharma, in fact, have something unique to contribute as we respond to the cries of the world? If we're to understand what it is to be engaged, then we must understand commitment. This is an important part of Zen training; indeed it is implicit in any spiritual practice. The dictionary defines commitment as “an engagement that restricts one's choices.” Isn't this precisely why so many of us do not want to make commitments? Our notion of freedom is to have as many choices as possible. Following this logic, people with the greatest number of choices would be most free.
Yet so often we see that this is not true. In the same vein, people with the fewest opportunities would be least free; that too is often not the case. This idea of freedom as equated with choice has driven our country's development and attitudes for hundreds of years. Thus, the more choices we have, the harder it is to make a commitment. We don't want to acknowledge that we can't have everything.
Look at what happens in Zen training. When we enter the zendo, we're asked to make a commitment to utterly engage our zazen, and if we can't make this commitment, we're not yet ready to enter. Without that commitment there is no zazen. So what is the commitment? It is that once we take our seat, we will not move away from ourselves. We commit to stillness, to silence, to practice whatever arises in our mind while we are sitting.
When we sit at home, most of us, particularly in the beginning of practice, move away when the pain hurts too much. When there is an itch, we scratch it, and when our mind is troubled we may not sit at all. But when we are in the zendo, we are moved to honor a deeper, larger commitment. We find that in restricting our choices, there is freedom. There is a liberation that far exceeds the “freedom” of moving away from ourselves. It seems paradoxical, but we can appreciate the fact that to make a commitment to one thing frees us to engage it completely, whether it be a relationship, our children, a career, or studying our lives. If we do not make that commitment, we are not yet free within that area of our life.
So what is our practice when—like this person up the tree—our choices have been restricted? What is demanded at this point is real, not abstract or theoretical. This person in the tree is asked to make a commitment: to be immersed in life, and yet not to be attached to it. That is the koan. It seems there are two mutually exclusive things being asked of this person, so how can they possibly respond to both? We vow to save all sentient beings, to alleviate their suffering and help bring them to awakening, and to do this for ourselves as well. The koan of the person up the tree is if they save their own life, they forsake the other; if they tend to the needs of the questioner, they lose their life.
There are many situations where we are the person up the tree. An inmate in our prison sangha comes to me about a situation he's involved in where he's being threatened and feels he must respond with violence. I say, “No, not with violence. That rakusu around your neck means something. It's a vow, a commitment to finding another way to respond.” We explore that. He walks away, and I think, "What if he ends up dead because of what I have encouraged him to do?" I am the person up the tree. Do I get involved or not? Do I not get involved or not?
You go in in the evening to sit, hungry to do some zazen, and your child needs some help with their homework. Our best friend, we find out, is unfaithful to their partner who is also our friend. Somebody at work is lying, cheating, or stealing. What do we do? How do we respond? If we respond to our own self-protective needs, we risk neglecting the needs of the other or the situation. If we respond to the other, then what happens to us? Xianyan asks, “What do we do at just such a time?”
It is one thing to look at this question in terms of the interpersonal relationships between ourselves and others, but when we look at the larger global, environmental, community, and national issues, it is very easy to become paralyzed. Do you reach for the branch or do you respond to the person? While you are sitting there frantically trying to figure it out in your mind, the person walks away disappointed, without being helped. We have to respond without neglecting a single being. This is the incredible beauty of the bodhisattva vow. Yet how can we possibly do this?
Look at the three pure precepts. They begin with not creating evil. But it's not enough just to stop creating evil. It's not enough to enter into the stillness and solitude of the mountain. Thus the next pure precept drives us further and says we also must do good. You have to do something, and it needs to be nourishing. Yet even that is not enough. You have to make sure that the good you are doing is for others. Someone else must be the beneficiary of your action.
Most often we have to make choices which seem to leave someone or something out. It seems to be an either/or situation. Realizing oneself and alleviating the suffering of others are not two different things. Realizing wisdom and manifesting compassion are not two different things. How are they the same? How can this person up a tree realize that? How can the response completely fulfill both demands? That is what we've got to see. We need to see that in healing others, we heal ourselves, in realizing ourselves we realize others. That is why when the Buddha experienced enlightenment he said, “All sentient beings in this moment have attained the way.”
When we realize our true nature, the inherent emptiness and interdependence of all things, we realize the cessation of suffering: that all beings are buddhas and that they depend on us. Because there is no longer any obstruction called the self, we are free to respond as Avalokiteshvara, the one who hears the cries of the world. When we offer ourselves to others without any self-consciousness, we manifest the life of a bodhisattva.
To the extent we are not able to give freely, we can see how the idea of a separate self constricts us. As long as we are attached to the self, how do we know what we are hearing? Am I hearing your cry? Or am I only hearing what I think you're saying, what I think you should be saying given your situation? In other words, if I am seeing through my own conditioning, I am not seeing you at all. I am not hearing you at all. I may respond, but will it be true compassion? It is a very different response when we hear the cry through the ears of the one who is crying, when we see suffering through the eyes of the one who is suffering. Then the response is entirely natural. It is healing yourself through healing others. That's why when we talk about engaged Buddhism, it's essential that our activity comes forth from this experience of “I and all beings thus attain the Way.” In a sense, the whole notion of engaged Buddhism is redundant. If we are not engaged, then what kind of Buddhism is it? Not Zen. Not Mahayana. Not the raising of the bodhi mind and practice of the bodhisattva path.
So, the word “engaged” is really extra. We could just say “Buddhism.” Implicit in this is the compassionate activity of utter engagement. Or we could just say "engaged." Totally engaged in the sense Master Dogen was talking about: “In life, totally immersed in life without attachment. In death, totally immersed in death without attachment.” Of course, this easily breaks down when you are the one in the tree. Wumen in his commentary to this koan says, Even though your eloquence flows like a river it is all to no avail. Even if you can expound the Great Tripitaka it is of no use . In other words, even if you respond with the most eloquent Dharma or a beautiful analysis of the situation, it doesn't matter. It hasn't solved the problem. Why? Because in that moment intellectual understanding doesn't help the person in the tree.
However, If you can really answer it, you will revive the dead and kill the living . Those stuck in the tree are liberated, and those lost in the mountains can suddenly hear their neighbor's cry. Wumen says: But if, however, you are unable to answer, wait for Maitreya to come . Maitreya is the Buddha of the future who will come to your aid aeons into the future. Wumen sticks our faces in our inability to respond. Are we willing to wait for help, or will we clarify this right now? In Wumen's poem he says, Xianyan Zhixian is just gibbering, how vicious his poison is. Stopping up the monks' mouths, he makes their devils eyes glare . Xianyan Zhixian shows how much he cares through his willingness to create great discomfort in the minds and hearts of those he is teaching. He knows how painful our situation is because he has been there. He has been the one up the tree. He also knows that there is only one way through. That is the koan.
When we go into dokusan and are tested on the koan, what we are being tested on is our ability to respond to reality. It is not a game. It is not a performance. Wumen offers us this poison and asks us to take it in, to be affected by it, to allow ourselves to feel the extreme discomfort of our delusion. Perhaps our disease will move us to stop talking and thinking for just a moment, and see through into the place that is free of you and I. There we see the one who hears the cries and responds without knowing. We realize that being Buddhist and being engaged are the same thing, that wisdom and responding to our lives freely are one and the same. In each moment you meet one dharma. In each moment you practice one dharma. Isn't this the nature of our living and dying? So please take care of your practice, because what you do affects us all. Practice as though your life depends on it, because it does.



Painting by 梁楷 Liang Kai (c. 1140 - c. 1210)

IN: Zen's Chinese heritage: the masters and their teachings
by Andy Ferguson
Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000. pp. 191-194.

XIANGYAN ZHIXIAN (d. 898) was a disciple of Guishan. He came from ancient Qingzhou (the modern city of Yidu in Shandong Province). Extremely intelligent and quick witted, Xiangyan first studied under Baizhang, but was unable to penetrate the heart of Zen. After Baizhang died, Xiangyan studied under Guishan. Despite his cleverness, he was unsuccessful at realizing his teacher’s meaning. Years later, his mind far removed from his earlier confused attempts to attain what he thought to be enlightenment, Xiangyan realized the great way. The following passage is from the Transmission of the Lamp.


One day, Guishan said to Xiangyan, “I’m not asking you about what’s recorded in or what can be learned from the scriptures! You must say something from the time before you were born and before you could distinguish objects. I want to record what you say.”

Xiangyan was confused and unable to answer. He sat in deep thought for a some time and then mumbled a few words to explain his understanding. But Guishan wouldn’t accept this.

Xiangyan said, “Then would the master please explain it?”

Guishan said, “What I might say would merely be my own understanding. How could it benefit your own view?”

Xiangyan returned to the monks’ hall and searched through the books he had collected, but he couldn’t find a single phrase that could be used to answer Guishan’s question.

Xiangyan then sighed and said, “A picture of a cake can’t satisfy hunger.”

He then burned all his books and said, “During this lifetime I won’t study the essential doctrine. I’ll just become a common mendicant monk, and I won’t apply my mind to this any more.”

Xiangyan tearfully left Guishan. He then went traveling and eventually resided at Nanyang, the site of the grave of National Teacher Nanyang Huizhong. One day as Xiangyan was scything grass, a small piece of tile was knocked through the air and struck a stalk of bamboo. Upon hearing the sound of the tile hitting the bamboo, Xiangyan instantly experienced vast enlightenment.

Xiangyan then bathed and lit incense. Bowing in the direction of Guishan, he said, “The master’s great compassion exceeds that of one’s parents! Back then if you had explained it, then how could this have come to pass?”

Xiangyan then wrote a verse:

One strike and all knowledge is forgotten.
No more the mere pretense of practice.
Transformed to uphold the ancient path,
Not sunk in idle devices.

Far and wide, not a trace is left.
The great purpose lies beyond sound and form.
In every direction the realized Way,
Beyond all speech, the ultimate principle

Xiangyan then dispatched a monk to take the verse to Guishan and recite it.

Upon hearing it, Guishan said to Yangshan, “This disciple has penetrated!”

Yangshan said, “This is a good representation of mind function. But wait and I’ll personally go and check out Xiangyan’s realization.”

Later Yangshan met with Xiangyan and said, “Master Guishan has praised the great matter of your awakening. What do you say as evidence for it?”

Xiangyan then recited his previous verse.

Yangshan said, “This verse could be composed from the things you’ve studied earlier. If you’ve had a genuine enlightenment, then say something else to prove it.”

Xiangyan then composed a verse that said:

Last year’s poverty was not real poverty.
This year’s poverty is finally genuine poverty.
In last year’s poverty there was still ground where I could plant my hoe,
In this year’s poverty, not even the hoe remains.

Yangshan said, “I grant that you have realized the Zen of the Tathagatas. But as for the Zen of the Ancestors, you haven’t seen it even in your dreams.”

Xiangyan then composed another verse that said:

I have a function.
It’s seen in the twinkling of an eye.
If others don’t see it,
They still can’t call me a novice.

When Yangshan heard this verse, he reported to Guishan, “It’s wonderful! Xiangyan has realized the Zen of the Ancestors!”


When Xiangyan assumed a position as abbot, Guishan sent him a message along with a staff.

When Xiangyan received them he exclaimed, “Blue heavens! Blue heavens!”

A monk asked, “Why is the master acting this way?”

Xiangyan said, “Because of an evil moon and flourishing weeds.”


Zen master Xiangyan entered the hall and addressed the monks, saying, “The Way is attained by means of enlightenment and is not found in words. It is mysterious and majestic, and without the slightest breach. Don’t belabor your mind! Just turn the light inward. Those disciples using total effort every day to realize enlightenment are just backward and confused.”


A monk asked, “What is Xiangyan’s great situation?”

Xiangyan said, “Don’t fertilize the flowers and trees.”


A monk asked, “What is a ‘sindhava’?”110

Xiangyan struck the meditation platform and said, “Come here!”


Xiangyan entered the hall and addressed the monks, saying, “Talking about this, you could compare it to a person who has climbed a tree and is grasping a branch, supported only by his teeth. His feet are hanging freely, as are his hands. Suddenly someone down on the ground yells out to him, ‘What is the meaning of the First Ancestor coming from the west?’ To not answer isn’t acceptable, but if he does so he’ll fall, and so lose his life. At this very moment what can he do?”

At that time a monk named Tiger Head Zhao came forth from the congregation and addressed Xiangyan, saying, “Leaving aside the question of the tree top, I ask the master to comment about before climbing the tree.”

Xiangyan then laughed, “Ha, ha.”


Zen master Xiangyan had a verse that said:

The chick pecks from within, the hen from without.
The chick breaks free through the shell.
When hen and chick are both gone,
The function has not gone astray.
Singing the same song,
The mystical voice goes on alone.

To all of his disciples, Xiangyan provided his teachings in a clear and direct manner. He left more than two hundred verses such as this one that were composed to meet the situations he encountered. These unmetered verses were popular throughout the country.

Xiangyan received the posthumous name “Zen Master Harmonious Light.”



Master Xiangyan Zhixian

was a monk from Shandong Province. He lived and taught on Xiangyan, “Fragrant Mountain,” and had over one thousand monastic disciples.

His poem “One Strike and I Forgot All I Knew” references the story of his enlightenment. Though Xiangyan Zhixian had become a learned scholar, he did not attain enlightenment early in his life as a monastic. One day his teacher gave him the gongan “What was your original face before you were born?” Xiangyan Zhixian scoured his library for answers, but could not find any. Disappointed, he burned his books and dedicated his practice to answering that question. One day, while working in the fields, he heard the sound of a clay tile breaking as it struck the earth. At that moment, Xiangyan Zhixian was enlightened.

One strike and I forgot all I knew—
No more will I rely on cultivation.
I have touched the Buddha's teaching
And will not fall into skillful explanations.1
Nowhere is there found a trace,
Outside one's speech and comportment.
Those who have attained the Way from every direction
Each say they have the highest explanation.

Translated by John Balcom



Awakening to the Way on Striking Bamboo 撃竹 悟道 図
Kanō Motonobu 狩野元信 (1476 - 1559) 16th century, Muromachi Period (1336 – 1573)
Encomium by Denan Sōki 伝庵宗器 (16 th century) (d. 1533)
Hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk, 89.2 x 44.4 cm
Kosetsu Museum of Art, Kobe


香巌撃竹 Kyōgen kyakuchiku [Zen Patriarch Xiangyan Zhixian experiences enlightenment while sweeping]
painted by 狩野元信 Kanō Motonobu (1476–1559)

Kyogen by 高山泰巌 Takayama Taigan (1933-1998)
In: The Crane's Bill
Translated by Lucien Stryk and Ikemoto Takashi [池本喬, 1906-1980] with the assitance of Takayama Taigan [高山泰巌, 1933-1998], Zen Master
Anchor Books, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973.

Here is a typical story of self-discipline in Zen. Kyogen (Chinese, ninth century) first studied Zen under Hyakujo, but, handicapped by his “sagacity,” he could not comprehend Zen till his master died. Then he went for guidance to Isan, an enlightened senior monk. Isan said to Kyogen, “I'm told that studying under our late teacher Hyakujo, you used to give ten pat answers to one question. But, you see, that was your sagacity, discrimination based on discursive thinking; it's the very cause of the delusion of life and death. Now, tell me in a word who you were before you were born.” Nonplused by Isan's challenge, Kyogen, back in his room, examined all he had ever learned, and yet he was incapable of finding even a single word to present to Isan. He said to himself that a picture of rice cake could keep off no hunger. More than once he begged Isan to expound for him, only to be rebuffed by the latter with: “If I tell you, you'll be sure to censure me one of these days. What I expound is my own satori; it's nothing to do with your satori.” At last, despairing of success, Kyogen burned up all his notes on Zen and left Isan to spend the rest of his days as a common bonze. He went and stayed at the site where National Teacher Echu of Nanyo had resided when alive, looking after Echu's grave. (One should note that the greater was Kyogen's resignation, the deeper was his unconscious absorption in his problem.) One day, cleaning the garden with his broom, he chanced to send a stone flying against a bamboo close by. At the clinking sound, he had a thorough awakening. He hurried back to his hermitage, where, after purifying himself, he burned incense toward where Isan lived and thanked him, saying, “You're more kindhearted than my parents. If you'd taught me at that time, how could I have gained the blissful satori I've had today?” Then he composed the following poem of satori:

One strike—all knowledge gone.
No more dabbling.
The old path discovered, I stride,
Traceless, anywhere.
Who knows me now?
Dare any not approve?

Isan, when informed of the poem, approved of it with this remark, “Kyogen has penetrated.” Kyogen's brother-monk, Gyozan, however, refused to admit that it was penetrating enough, and both of them subjected themselves to harder discipline till they became great masters. When satori came to him, Kyogen composed a poem; but how one expresses oneself at the moment of this Zen experience depends on the situation, the enlightened person's previous career, etc. One student may make a bow, another may thrust out his fist; while one master may approve with “You have penetrated,” another with “Who knows whether my true Zen will be trampled to death by a blind donkey?” All this goes to confirm that, in spite of different attitudes held by the disciple and the master, the former has gained an insight into the Formless Self, while the latter testifies to it.


Ch'an Master Chi Hsien of Hsiang Yen
In: Ch'an and Zen Teaching, Series One
by Lu K'uan Yü (Charles Luk)
Rider & Co., London, 1960, pp. 129-131.
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)]

WHEN master Chi Hsien called on Kuei Shan, the latter asked him:

'I heard that when you were with my late master Pai Chang, you were able
to give ten replies to each question and a hundred replies to every ten
questions. This was possible because of your high intelligence and of the
power of your (discriminating) mind's understanding and thinking, but
all this is the cause of birth and death. (Now try to) tell me (in) a sentence
about (your real face) before you were born.'

Master Chi Hsien was dumbfounded by the question and returned to
his hut where he took out all the books he had read before but failed to
find an appropriate sentence for his reply. He sighed and said to himself:
'A cake drawn on paper can never satisfy hunger.' He repeatedly asked
Kuei Shan (to disclose the truth to him but) the latter said: 'If I tell you
about it now, you will curse me afterwards. Whatever I tell you will
always be mine and will never concern you.'

Master Chi Hsien (was disappointed and) burned all his books.
He said to himself: 'I will not study the Buddha Dharma any more in my
present life. I will be a wandering gruel-and-rice monk, in order not to
weary my mind.' Then he wept and left Kuei Shan. He passed through
Nan Yang where he saw the ruins (of the ancient monastery of) the late
state master Hui Chung. He stopped and stayed at the site.

One day, as he was collecting grass, he picked up a broken tile which
he threw away and which hit a bamboo with a ping. Upon hearing it,
he was instantly awakened. Returning to his hut, he took a bath, burned
incense sticks and from the distance, paid reverance to Kuei Shan, praising

O Venerable Master! You (indeed) have great compassion.
Your grace exceeds that of my parents.
Had you then disclosed to me (the truth),
How could this today have happened to me?

Then he composed the following gatha:

The sound of a blow causes all knowledge to cease,
Gone is my need of further practice and observance.
Casting away old habits, I tread the Ancient Path
To avoid falling back into (a state of) dull potentiality.
That path leaves no traces anywhere
Being beyond both sound and form.
Those who on it achieve success
Say that this is the highest (state of) potentiality.

Kuei Shan heard of the poem and said to Yang Shan: 'The lad is
awakened.' Yang Shan replied: 'This may be the product of his mental
potentiality and knowledge or the result of his habit of reading and
writing. Please wait until I have myself probed into all this.' Later, Yang
Shan visited Master Chi Hsien and said to him: 'The (venerable) monk
praised you for your discovery of the "great affair". Please say something
about it so that I too can see.' Master Chi Hsien sang the (above) hymn,
and Yang Shan said: 'This comes from your former habit of memorizing
and if it is correct awakening, please say something else.'

Master Chi Hsien sang a gatha:

Last year my poverty was not poor enough,
But this year it is real.
Last year, though poor, I still had ground in which to stick an awl,
This year, my poverty is real for I do not even own an awl.

Yang Shan said: 'I concede that you understand the Tathagata's
Ch' an but you have not even dreamt of the Patriarch's Ch'an.' Master
Chi Hsien sang another gatha:

I possess potentiality;
It is seen in a blink.
He who does not understand
Cannot be called a monk.

Yang Shan then returned and said to Kuei Shan: 'I am glad younger
brother (Chi) Hsien understands the Patriarch's Ch'an (as well).

In the hall, master Chi Hsien said (to the assembly): 'If I have to discuss
this matter, it is like a man who climbs a tree; with his mouth, he bites
a branch while his feet do not tread on and his hands do not hold the
(other) branches. Suddenly someone under the tree asks him this question:
"What was the Patriarch's meaning when he came from the West?"
If no reply is given, the question will remain unanswered. If a reply is
given, the man on the tree will (fall down and) lose his life. Under the
circumstances, what should one do?'

The leading monk Chao of Hu T'ou monastery who was in the
assembly, came forward and said to Master Chi Hsien: 'I do not ask this
question when the man is on the tree but I ask it before he climbs up. Will
the Venerable Master say (something about it)?'

Thereupon, master Chi Hsien gave a loud roar of laughter.



Enlightened by One Stroke

(From The Transmission of the Lamp, Chüan 11)
Original Teachings of Ch'an Buddhism. Translated by Chang Chung-yuan. New York: Random House, 1969. pp. 219-226.

CH'AN Master Hsiang-yen Chih-hsien30 of Têng-chou31 was
a native of Tsing-chou.32 When he tired of conventional living
with his family, he left his parents' home and went to
visit Buddhist centers to study Ch'an. He stayed at the Ch'an
monastery on Mount Kuei. Master Kuei-shan Ling-yu recognized
in him the capacity to become a great Buddhist and undertook to
awaken him.
One day Kuei-shan said to Hsiang-yen, "I do not want to ask
what you have understood from your studies and what you have remembered
from the sutras and sastras. Just tell me in a word what
your original being was before your parents gave you birth and prior
to your capacity to discriminate things. I want to register you as my
disciple." Hsiang-yen did not know how to reply. After he had deliberated
for some time, he said a few words in which he attempted
to express his ideas, but all that he said was rejected by Kuei-shan.
Hsiang-yen then implored Kuei-shan to tell him the correct answer.
Master Kuei-shan replied, "Whatever I say is according to what I
see. It will not benefit your insight."
Hsiang-yen was disappointed and returned to the monks' hall,
where he reviewed all his notes but found nothing that would serve
as a suitable answer. Finally he exclaimed, "There is no hunger
which can be satisfied by pictures of food painted on paper!" Thereupon
he burned all his notes and memoranda and declared to himself,
"In this life I shall never again study Buddhism. I shall be a
plain homeless monk wandering the roads. I shall torment my mind
no longer with such studies." Then he wept and bid good-bye to
Master Kuei-shan.
When he arrived at the tomb of National Teacher Nan-yang
Hui-chung,33 he built a hut nearby and stayed there. One day when
he was weeding, a piece of rock which he had dislodged struck a
bamboo tree. The sound it produced made him suddenly burst out
laughing and quite unexpectedly opened his mind to a state of enlightenment.
He returned to his hut, washed himself, put his things
in order, and then burned incense and bowed in the direction of
Kuei-shan's abode. He exclaimed, "Master! Your kindness is beyond
even that which my parents showed to me. If on that day you
had spoken openly to me, how could this have happened?" Then
he made a gatha:

With one stroke, all previous knowledge is forgotten.
No cultivation is needed for this.
This occurrence reveals the ancient way
And is free from the track of quiescence.
No trace is left anywhere.
Whatever I hear and see does not conform to rules.
All those who are enlightened
Proclaim this to be the greatest action.

The Master [Hsiang-yen] came to the assembly and said, "The
Tao is attained by one's inner awakening; it does not depend upon
words. Look at the invisible and boundless. Where can you find any
intermittence? How can you reach it by the labor of the intellect? It
is simply the reflection of illumination, and that is your whole
daily task. Only those who are ignorant will go in the opposite
A monk asked, "What is the realm of Hsiang-yen's mind?"
The Master replied, "Plants and trees are not abundant."
The monk then asked, "What is saindhava?"34
The Master knocked on his seat and said, "Come here to this
The monk asked, "What is learning at this moment?"
The Master turned his fan around and showed it to him, saying,
"Do you see this?" The monk made no reply.
A monk asked, "What is 'the meal of the right livelihood'?"35
The Master made as if he were picking up food with his fingers.
He was asked, "What is the invisible inward power received
with commandments during ordination?"36
The Master replied, "I will tell you when you return to being a
A monk asked, "What is the one word that can bring us together
beyond the world of sense?"
The Master replied, "It is just like myself before I became the
abbot of Hsiang-yen. Can you say where I was then?''
The monk said, "I do not dare say where you were then."
The Master replied, "Your mind is just like that of an illusionist,
full of passion."
A monk asked, "What occurs when the sages are not admired
and one's own spirit is not regarded as important?"
The Master replied, "All functions cease and none of the thousand
enlightened men are held in esteem." Just then Shu-shan,37
who was in the assembly, complained, "What kind of words are
these?" The Master asked who had spoken and the answer came
from the audience, "Shu-shan." The Master said to him, "You do
not agree with what I said a moment ago?"
"That is correct, sir!"
"Can you say something more relevant to the truth?"
"Yes, I can."
"Please try it now."
"If you want me to tell you, you have to make a bow to me as to
a teacher." Immediately the Master came down from his seat and
bowed to Shu-shan. He repeated his question and Shu-shan replied,
"Why don't you say that you cannot esteem the ancients, and also
respect your own spirit?"
The Master replied, "Even though you have a certain under-
standing, you will suffer from illness for thirty years. When you live
in the mountain forest you will lack wood for fuel; when you stay
by the side of a river you will lack water to drink. Remember this!"
Later when Shu-shan was living the monastic life, everything
came about exactly as the Master had predicted. He recovered from
his illness, in fact, after he had suffered for twenty-seven years. He
said to himself, "What Hsiang-yen predicted about my suffering
for thirty years came true, and I was only able to avoid three years
of it." Whenever he ate he must have had to put aside a few grains
of rice from his bowl to remind himself of what Hsiang-yen had
A monk asked, "What is a word before it is said?"
The Master replied, "I answered you the moment before you
asked the question."
The monk went on, "What is this moment?"
The Master replied, "It is the same as the moment you asked
the question."
A monk asked, "What is that direct approach to the Source to
which Buddha would give his seal of approval?"
At this, the Master threw away his staff and walked out with his
hands empty.
A monk asked, "What is the general idea of Buddhism?"
The Master replied, "The frost came early this year, so we did
not have a good harvest of buckwheat."
A monk asked, "What is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming
from the West?"
The Master put his hand into his cloak, withdrew it in the form
of a fist, which he opened as if he were disclosing something to the
questioner. The monk knelt down and put out both hands as if to
receive something. The Master asked him, "What is this?" The
monk made no answer.
A monk asked, "What is Tao?"
The Master answered, "A dragon is singing in the decaying
The monk went on, "I do not understand this."
The Master said, "The eyes in the skull."
A monk requested, "Please say something beyond the four
alternatives and the hundredfold negation."
The Master answered, "One should not talk to the skilled
hunter about what is forbidden by Buddha."
One day the Master spoke to the assembly thus: "Imagine a
man hanging over a precipice a thousand feet high. There he is
holding on to a branch of a tree with his teeth. Neither his hands
nor his feet give him any support. Now let us imagine someone
coming to him and asking, 'What is the meaning of the First Patriarch
coming from the West?' If this man should try to answer
he is sure to fall and kill himself, but if he makes no answer it will
be said that he has ignored his questioner. What ought he to do?"
The monk Chao stepped forward from the assembly and said,
"Let us not discuss the man who is hanging from a tree, but the moment
just before he got hung up there." The Master smiled but
made no answer.
The Master asked a monk where he came from. He replied that
he came from Kuei-shan. The Master asked what statement Kueishan
had made recently. The monk replied that another monk had
asked him about the meaning of the Patriarch coming from the
West and Master Kuei-shan had held up his fu-tzu in response.
When Master Hsiang-yen heard this, he asked what Kuei-shan's
disciples understood by this gesture. His brother monks agreed,
said the monk, that it meant that mind is illumined through matter
and reality is revealed through things. The Master said, "Their
understanding is all right as far as it goes. But what is the good of
being so eager to theorize?" The monk asked him how he would
have explained the gesture. The Master held up his fu-tzu.
Whenever the Master taught his disciples, his words were direct
and simple. He left more than two hundred gathas and hymns, compositions
that are spontaneous reflections of situations as they
arose, with neither rhythm nor rhyme. They were widely admired
throughout the country. After he passed away, the posthumous
title of Great Master of the Succession of Light was bestowed
upon him.


30. The dates of Hsiang-yen's birth and death are not known. His
approximate period, however, can be derived from the fact that he was a
student of Kuei-shan (771-853) and a younger brother monk of Yang-shan
(814-890) and hence must have lived in the ninth century. Before 847
the Royal Prince Kuang studied under him.
31. Now Tenghsien, near the southern border of Honan Province.
32. Now Lin-tzu, in central Shantung Province.
33· Nan-yang Hui-chung (677-744) was one of the leading disciples
of the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng. He stayed in the Tang-tzu Valley of
P'o-yai Mountain in Nan-yang for more than forty years and was buried there
on his death.
34· Saindhava signifies the four necessities of a traveling monk: salt,
cup, water, horse.
35. Earning money to maintain oneself is not considered a state free
from cravings; begging for food indicates purity of mind. Such is the "meal
of the right livelihood" according to Buddhism.
36. Avjnapti aila in Sanskrit.
37· Shu-shan K'uang-jen. See The Lamp, Chüan 17.



Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma
Book 62


The Intention of the Ancestral Master's Coming from the West
Shōbōgenzō soshi seirai i


Translated by Carl Bielefeldt


The Great Master Xideng of Xiangyan zi (succeeded Dagui; known as Zhixian)
addressed the assembly, saying, “A person is up a tree above a thousand foot precipice. His
mouth bites the tree branch; his feet don't stand on the tree; his hands don't hang on a branch.
All of a sudden, a person beneath the tree asks him, ‘What is the intention of the ancestral
master's coming from the west?' At that time, if he opens his mouth to answer him, he
forfeits his body and loses his life; if he doesn't answer him, he flunks his question. Tell me,
what should he do?”
At that time, the senior monk Hutou Zhao came forth from the assembly and said, “I'm
not asking about when he's up the tree; please tell us, Reverend, how about when he's not yet
up the tree?”
The master gave a great laugh, “Ha ha.”1


“Great Master Xideng of Xiangyan zi” (kyōgenji shōtō daishi 香嚴寺襲燈大師 ): I.e., Xiangyan Zhixian 香嚴智閑 (d. 898); also written 香巖; disciple of Guishan Lingyou 潙山靈祐, known as Dagui 大潙 (771-853). This famous episode appears in several sources (see, e.g., Jingde chuandeng lu 景徳傳燈録, T.51:284b21-25), including Dōgen's shinji 真字 Shōbōgenzō (DZZ.5:254, case 243).


Although there have been many discussions and comments on the present episode, those that
can say something are rare. Generally speaking, they all seem to be at a loss. Nevertheless,
when we take up “not thinking,” when we take up “non-thinking,” and think about it, we will
naturally have concentrated effort on the same cushion as old Xiangyan. Since we are sitting
fixedly on the same cushion as old Xiangyan, we should go on to a detailed investigation of this
episode before Xiangyan has opened his mouth. Not only should we steal old Xiangyan's eye
and look at it; we should take out “the treasury of the eye of the true dharma” of the Buddha
Śākyamuni and look through it.2


“A person is up a tree above a thousand foot precipiece”: we should quietly investigate these
words. What is the “person”? If it is not a column, we should not call it a post. Though it be the
face of a buddha and the face of an ancestor breaking into a smile, we should not be mistaken
about the meeting of self and other. This place where “a person is up a tree” is not the entire
earth, not “a hundred foot pole”; it is “a thousand foot precipice.” Even if he drops off, he is
within “a thousand foot precipice.” There is a time of dropping, a time of climbing. Where he
says, “A person is up a tree above a thousand foot precipice,” we should realize that this is
saying there is a time of climbing. Consequently, ascent is a thousand feet, descent is a thousand
feet; left is a thousand feet, right is a thousand feet; here is a thousand feet, there is a thousand
feet. “A person” is a thousand feet; “up a tree” is a thousand feet. So far, a thousand feet should
be like this. Now, what I ask is, “what size is a thousand feet?' It is the size of “the old mirror”;
it is the size of “the brazier”; it is the size of “the seamless pagoda.”3


“His mouth bites the tree branch.” What is the “mouth”? Even though we do not know the
whole mouth, the whole vastness of the mouth, we will know the location of the mouth by
starting from “the tree branch” and “searching the branches and plucking at the leaves” for a
while. By grasping the branch for a while, the mouth was made. Therefore, the whole mouth is
the branch; the whole branch is the mouth. It is the mouth throughout the body; throughout the
mouth is the body. The tree stands on the tree; therefore, it says, “his feet don't stand on the
tree,” as if his feet themselves stand on his feet. The branch hangs on the branch; therefore, it
says, “his hands don't hang on a branch,” as if his hands themselves hang on his hands.
Nevertheless, his feet still “step forward and step back”; his hands still make a fist and open a fist.
We and others sometimes think he is “hanging in space.” However, can “hanging in space”
compare with “biting the tree branch”?4


“All of a sudden, a person beneath the tree asks him, ‘What is the intention of the ancestral
master's coming from the west?'” This “person beneath the tree” is like saying “a person within
the tree,” as if it were a person tree. “All of a sudden a person beneath a person asks him”—this
is what this is. Therefore, the tree asks the tree; the person asks the person. They raise the tree
and raise the question; they raise “the intention of coming from the west” and question “the
intention of coming from the west.” The questioner also asks the question with “his mouth
biting the tree branch.” If his mouth were not biting the branch, he could not be questioning: he
would have no sound filling his mouth; he would have no mouth filled with words. When he
asks about “the intention of coming from the west,” he asks while biting “the intention of coming
from the west.”5

しるべし、未答佗時、護身保命なり。忽答佗時、 翻身活命なり。はかりしりぬ、人人滿口是道

“If he opens his mouth to answer him, he forfeits his body and loses his life.” We should
become familiar with these words “if he opens his mouth to answer him.” It sounds as if there
must also be “not opening his mouth to answer him.” If such is the case, he should not “forfeit
his body and lose his life.” Even if there be opening the mouth and closing the mouth, they
should not prevent “his mouth bites the tree branch.” Opening and closing are not necessarily
the whole mouth, though the mouth does have opening and closing. Therefore, biting the branch
is the everyday routine of the whole mouth; it should not prevent opening and closing the mouth.
Does saying “he opens his mouth to answer him” mean he opens “the tree branch” to answer
him? He opens “the intention in coming from the west” to answer him? If it is not opening “the
intention of coming from the west” to answer him, it is not answering [the question of] “the
intention of coming from the west.” And, since it is not answering him, this is “his whole body
protecting his life”; we cannot say that “he forfeits his body and loses his life.” If he had already
“forfeited his body and lost his life,” he would not answer him. Nevertheless, in Xiangyan's
mind, he does not avoid answering him; it seems he has simply “forfeited his body and lost his
life.” We should realize that before he has answered him, he is guarding his body and protecting
his life; once he suddenly answers him, he is flipping his body and restoring his life. Thus, we
know that each person with a mouth full is saying it: he should answer the other; he should
answer himself; he should ask the other; he should ask himself. This is the mouth biting the
saying; his mouth biting the saying is called “his mouth bites the branch.” If he answers him, he
opens a mouth on top of his mouth; if he does not answer him, though “he flunks the other's
question,” he does not flunk his own question.6

答來するなり。問西來意する一切の佛祖は、みな上樹口㘅樹枝の時節にあひあたりて、 答來せ

Therefore, we should realize that all the buddhas and ancestors who answer [the question of]
“the intention of coming from the west” have been answering it as they encounter the moment of
“up a tree, his mouth biting the tree branch”; all the buddhas and ancestors who ask about “the
intention of coming from the west” have answered it as they encounter the moment of “up a tree,
his mouth biting the tree branch.”7


The Chan Master Mingjue of Xuedou, the Venerable Chongxian, said, “To say something up
a tree is easy; to say something down a tree is hard. This old monk is up a tree. Bring me a


About this “bring me a question,” though we bring it with all our might, the question will
arrive too late; I regret that we will have brought the question after the answer [has been given].
I ask the “venerable old awls” everywhere in past and present: Xiangyan's great laugh, “ha ha”
— is this “saying something up a tree,” or is it “saying something down a tree”? Is it answering
“the intention of coming from the west,” or is it not answering “the intention of coming from the
west”? Try saying something.9

Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma
The Intention of the Ancestral Master's Coming from the West
Number 62

Presented to the assembly on the fourth day of the second month of the second year of Kangen
in the deep mountains of the region of Etsu10

Copied on the twenty-second day of the sixth month of the second year of Kōan (tsuchinoto-u),
at Eihei Monastery, Mt. Kichijō11



正法眼藏第六十三 Shōbōgenzō, Book 63

發菩提心 Bringing Forth the Mind of Bodhi (Hotsu bodai shin)
by [永平] 道元希玄 [Eihei] Dōgen Kigen (1200–1253)
Translated by Carl Bielefeldt

“Jade bamboo” (suichiku 翠竹): The story of Xiangyan's realization at the sound of a tile striking a bamboo, and especially the poem he wrote in response, is found in a number of Chan collections (see, e.g., Zhengfayanzang, ZZ.118:72a4-b1). Dōgen includes the story in his shinji Shōbōgenzō (DZZ.5:142, no. 28) and retells it in Japanese in his Shōbōgenzō keisei sanshoku (DZZ.1:276):


Having spent the years and months in this way, following the tracks of the national
master Dacheng, he entered Mt. Wudang, where he bound the grasses to fashion a hut at the
site of the national master’s hut. He planted bamboo to keep him company. One time, when
he was clearing a path, a piece of tile flew up and hit against a bamboo; upon hearing the
sound, he suddenly had a great understanding. Bathing and purifying himself, he faced Mt.
Dawei, offered incense, made prostrations, and said to Dawei, “Great venerable Dawei, if
long ago you had explained it to me, how could this have happened? The depth of your
kindness is greater than that of a parent.” Then, he composed a verse that said,

One hit, and I lost what I know;
I won’t be training myself again.
Action and repose given over to the old path;
I won’t be sinking into worry.
No traces wherever I go;
Deportment beyond sound and sight.
Masters of the way in all directions
Will call this the highest faculty.

He presented this verse to Dawei. Dawei said, “This child has penetrated it.”

*Dawei Lingyou 大潙靈祐, aka 溈山靈祐 Guishan Lingyou (771-853)



Encounter Dialogues of Xiangyan Zhixian
compiled by Satyavayu of Touching Earth Sangha
DOC: Treasury of the Forest of Ancestors

Master Xiangyan Zhixian came from Qingzhou in the northern province of Shandong. With a brilliant intellect, he became a keen scholar as a monk, with a vast amount of scriptural knowledge. Raising an aspiration to study Zen, he first practiced with Master Baizhang Huaihai toward the end of that master’s life, but was unable to clarify the essential matter. When Master Baizhang passed, Zhixian travelled to Mt, Gui to study under Master Guishan Lingyou.
One day, after Zhixian had lived at Mt. Gui for a number of years, Master Guishan said to him, “Everything you say is what you have memorized from scriptures or commentaries. Other than what you remember from texts, or even from the talks of this old monk, I want to hear a single statement. When you were a baby you didn’t discriminate east from west, or north from south. Right now, from this mind before discrimination, say something, and I will check it.”
Zhixian was unable to answer. After hesitating for awhile, he mumbled a few words to explain his understanding, but the master wouldn’t accept it. He returned to the monk’s hall and looked through the books he had collected, but he couldn’t find a phrase that would satisfy the master.
Finally Zhixian said to Master Guishan, “I am unable to respond. Would the master please speak and reveal it to me?”
The master said, “What I would say is my own - how could it benefit you? If I answered I’m afraid I’d destroy your own path and later you would scold me.”
Zhixian continued to be unable to clarify the matter, and he grew greatly upset. In tears he said, “In this lifetime I’m not going to understand Zen. I should just give up and become a common monk serving food to other monks.” Then he gathered his books and burned them, saying, “A painting of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger!”
Then Zhixian left Mt. Gui and wandered. Eventually he ended up in Nanyang (Hunan) where he built a hut on the site where Master Nanyang Huizhong used to have a hermitage. There he lived a quiet, solitary life.
One day while he was sweeping the path in front of his hut, Zhixian swept up a pebble which flew through the air and hit a stalk of bamboo. At the sound of its striking, Zhixlan dropped everything and the great matter was suddenly perfectly clear.

Soon after Zhixian wrote a poem:

One strike and subject and object vanish; all knowledge dissolves.
No more practice based on self-centered pretense--
Now all my actions simply celebrate the ancient path
without falling into passivity or doubt.

Later Zhixian settled down to teach at Scented Cliff (Xiangyan) Monastery in Dengzhou, toward the north in Henan Province. In his earlt years as abbot, a monk once came to visit from Mt. Gui. Master Xiangyan Zhixian asked him, “What does the teacher have to say these days?”
The monk said, “Someone asked about the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from India, and the master just raised his whisk.”
Xiangyan asked, “How did the brothers there understand this?”
The monk said, “The brothers discussed this and thought it was a case of ‘within forms, clarifying the mind; adhering to things, demonstrating the principle.”
Xiangyan said, “If you know, you just know. Why do those who don’t know stress themselves to death with rushing about?”
Then the monk asked, “What was Master Guishan’s meaning?”
Xiangyan raised his whisk.

Dogen said:
Old man Xiangyan was exactly right. And yet I don'tt practice with Xiangyan, and I don’t walk together with Guishan. Suppose someone asked me, “What was Guishan’s meaning?”
After a pause Dogen raised his whisk, then descended from his seat.

One day a monk asked the master, “What is Xiangyan’s exalted state?”
The master said, “Wildflowers and forest trees don’t need fertilizer.”

Master Xiangyan once said in a talk, “It’s like someone hanging by their teeth to the branch of a tree that leans over a thousand- foot- high cliff. His hands have nothing they can reach, and his feet have no foothold. Just at that time someone comes up and asks the significance of Bodhidharma’s coming from India. If you open your mouth you will lose your life; if you don’t answer you abandon the questioner and your bodhisattva duty to free all beings. At this very time, what can you do?”
Senior monk Zhao came forward and said, “Leaving aside the matter of of hanging from the tree, tell me, what about before climbing into the tree?
Xiangyan broke into laughter.

One day a monk asked Xiangyan, “What is the Way?”
Xiangyan said, “A dragon howling in a withered tree.”


Kyogen Sweeping the Ground
painting by
仙厓義梵 Sengai Gibon (1750-1837)

One strike made him forget his learning.
What kind of sound was it?
A piece of brick immediately
Turned itself into gold.

Zen monk Kyogen (Hsiang-yen) of China was a disciple of Isan (Wei-shan, 771-853). He was fond of keeping notes of his masters, and thought a grcat deal of them. One day, he found out that all the notes and knowledge he had accumulated were after all of no use in really understanding Zen. He then burned them, and being so disappointed at his inability to gain satori, he decided not to go on with this pursuit. He retired to a country temple where he devoted himself to looking after an old master's graveyard. One day, while sweeping the ground, it happened that a piece of stone swept away by his broom struck a bamboo nearby. The sound thus produced awakened his mind to a state of enlightenment. He composed a poem in which this "one strike" is referred to.

Sengai now asks: "What kind of sound was it that made Kyogen come to a realization?" He answers in the last two lines.



Case 26
Xiangyan's Sound of a Bamboo
in: Entangling Vines: Zen Koans of the Shūmon Kattōshū. Tr. by Thomas Yūhō Kirchner, published by the Tenryu-ji Institute for Philosophy and Religion, in cooperation with the Institute for Zen Studies, 2004.

One day Xiangyan Zhixian was cutting weeds when he knocked a piece of tile against a bamboo. Hearing the sound, Xiangyan was suddenly enlightened. He composed a verse:

A single “tock”—all prior knowledge forgotten
This is not the result of practice—
Daily activities proclaim the Ancient Way.
No more falling into passive stillness.2
Wherever I go I leave no trace;
In all situations my actions are free.3
Everywhere masters of the Way
Speak of this as the highest function.4

1 .For background material on this case, see Xiangyan Zhixian in the Biographical Notes.

2. The original Chinese, , generally refers to a state of sadness but in Zen is interpreted to mean a quietistic state.

3 .Literally, “In [the realm of] sound and form I forget all I do,” with “the realm of sound and form” signifying the phenomenal world. can also indicate the worldly passions, though in Buddhism this is a minor usage. “All I do” is literally “proper conduct,” the monk’s dignified deportment in the four “postures” of walking, standing, sitting, and lying.

4. “Highest function” translates, with referring to beings of the highest potential. In the Zen context the sentence can be seen to mean “to function perfectly in accordance with the Way.”



Ornement-parfumé et le moine dans l’arbre
traduit du chinois et annoté par Catherine Despeux

Le révérend Ornement-parfumé (Xiangyan, Kyōgen) dit un jour : « Il en est comme d’un moine dans un arbre, accroché à une branche uniquement par la bouche, sans que ses mains agrippent l’arbre ou que ses pieds s’y appuient. Si quelqu’un, au pied de l’arbre, lui demande quel est le sens de la venue de l’Ouest [de Bodhidharma], ne pas répondre est une offense à celui qui questionne ; répondre, c’est perdre la vie. À cet instant précis, que faire ? »


Une éloquence torrentielle ne servirait à rien. Exposer tous les écrits des trois corbeilles du Canon bouddhique1 serait vain. Si, à cet endroit, vous donnez une réponse juste, vous rendez la vie à celui qui était mort et tuez celui qui était en vie. Mais si vous n’en êtes pas encore là, il ne vous reste plus qu’à attendre pour interroger Maitreya2.


Ornement-parfumé dit des idioties3,
Son venin est inépuisable.
Il rabat le caquet du moine
Et exerce son œil de lynx4.


Xiangyan Zhixian, Libre-savoir-[du monastère]-Ornement-parfumé, actif au IXe siècle, étudia d’abord avec Cent-Toises (Baizhang), puis à la mort de ce dernier, devint disciple de Mont-Gui (Guishan Lingyou, 771-853).

Le koan présenté ici a une suite dans la littérature Chan. À la question posée par Ornement-parfumé, un moine du nom de Tête-de-tigre (Hutuo) réagit ; il sortit des rangs et dit : « Je n’interroge pas sur le cas où on est dans l’arbre, mais je vous prie de me répondre dans le cas où on n’est pas encore dans l’arbre5. » Ce qui provoqua l’hilarité d’Ornement-parfumé.

Ce koan est tout à fait dans la lignée de la formation d’Ornement-parfumé et de son éveil dont voici l’histoire. Un jour, Mont-Gui s’adressa à lui en ces termes : « Laisse de côté toutes tes études et ce qui est écrit dans les textes et dis-moi un mot sur ton visage originel, d’avant ta sortie de la matrice et de ta distinction entre l’Est et l’Ouest. » Ornement-parfumé ne sut que répondre. Il exposa à plusieurs reprises sa compréhension à son maître, mais Mont-Gui ne donna pas son assentiment. Il alla le voir et le supplia de lui enseigner la vérité profonde. Alors le maître lui dit : « Tout ce que je pourrais t’enseigner relève de ma compréhension et non de la tienne, quel avantage en tirerais-tu ? » Ornement-parfumé retourna dans la salle et feuilleta tous les livres sans trouver une seule phrase qui puisse convenir. Il soupira et dit : « Dessiner une galette ne nourrit pas son homme ! » Il brûla tous ses livres et toutes ses notes, décidant d’abandonner l’étude du bouddhisme, de se retirer et de passer le reste de sa vie comme simple moine. En pleurs, il alla prendre congé de son maître. Il se construisit une cabane près de la tombe du précepteur d’État Huizhong à Nanyang (Henan). Bien qu’il se fût retiré du monde, il ne pouvait se soustraire au problème. Un jour, tandis qu’il balayait, un morceau de tuile fut projeté contre un bambou. À ce son, il connut le grand éveil. Il rentra rapidement dans sa cabane, purifia son corps par un bain et s’inclina de loin devant son maître Mont-Gui en brûlant de l’encens. Il prononça cet éloge : « L’immense compassion bienfaitrice de mon maître surpasse celle de mes parents. S’il m’avait jadis expliqué la vérité, je n’aurais pu connaître aujourd’hui cet éveil complet6 ! »

Le koan présenté ici est typique de ceux qui ne peuvent être résolus par la raison. Il met en parallèle l’état d’esprit du disciple au pied de l’arbre et celui du maître sur la branche, tous deux acculés à leur dernière extrémité. Celui qui interroge est arrivé, dans sa démarche Chan, au point où tous ses doutes s’expriment dans cette phrase : « Quel est le sens de la venue de l’Ouest [de Bodhidharma] » ; celui qui doit répondre est tout autant acculé et se trouve spirituellement entre la vie et la mort, ce qui n’en donne que plus de force au dialogue et à la situation. Le commentaire de Sans-Porte insiste sur cet aspect, rappelant que toute l’éloquence du monde et tous les écrits, même sacrés, du bouddhisme ne servent à rien. Seul celui qui goûte connaît la saveur. Ornement-parfumé brûle tous ses écrits ; un autre moine célèbre, Mont-de-Vertu (Deshan, Tokusan), fera de même (voir cas 28). L’expérience de l’éveil donne vie à la nature essentielle, ou, selon la terminologie de Linji, elle donne vie à l’hôte et tue le visiteur, c’est-à-dire le moi ordinaire qui croit être le véritable gouverneur et usurpe la place de l’homme réel. Mais si l’on s’attache aux conceptions, on ne peut qu’attendre le bouddha du futur, Maitreya, censé apparaître au monde dans cinq billions d’années après la mort du Bouddha.

Dans la stance, la mention du venin d’Ornement-parfumé n’est pas une critique à son égard. Cela signifie au contraire qu’il exerce son enseignement avec puissance et vigueur, empoisonnant l’homme ordinaire, l’acculant dans l’état où il n’est plus possible de s’appuyer sur quoi que ce soit, sous le regard perçant du maître.

Le canon bouddhique est divisé en trois parties appelées « corbeilles » selon le type d’écriture : la corbeille du vinaya (règles et préceptes), celle de l’abhidharma (textes théoriques et traités) et celle des sûtras (textes exposés par le Bouddha).

Bouddha du futur.

Littéralement : « est comme les écrits de Du ». Cela fait référence à un personnage de l’Antiquité du nom de Du Mo, un piètre poète qui écrivait des vers au contenu vide et ne respectait ni les règles de prosodie ni la rime. Par la suite, « écrits de Du » en est venu à désigner un texte sans queue ni tête.

Littéralement : « tout son corps devient un œil de démon ». L’œil d’un démon est censé voir même les choses les plus secrètes et les plus cachées.

Jingde chuandeng lu, T. 2076, vol. 51, p. 284a.

Ibid., p. 284b.



Hsziang-jen mondta
Fordította: Hamvas Béla
Anthologia humana; Az ősök nagy csarnoka, II.

Hsziang-jen azt mondta:
- Valaki ezer láb mély szakadék fölött kinyúló faágra kötelet köt, és fogával ráakaszkodva lóg. Most valaki arra jön, és azt kérdezi: „Mi volt az értelme annak, hogy Bodhidharma Indiából Kínába jött?”
- Ha az ember válaszol, száját ki kell nyitnia, a kötelet elereszti, és a mélységbe zuhan. Ha nem válaszol, a legfontosabb kérdéssel szemben közömbös. Mit tennél a helyében?



Hsziang-jen Cse-hszien összegyűjtött mondásaiból
Fordította: Terebess Gábor
Folyik a híd, Officina Nova, Budapest, 1990, 62-64. oldal

Li Hsziao-kun illusztrációja

Hsziang-jen remetekunyhója előtt az ösvényt takarította. Félredobott egy követ, mely véletlenül száron vágott egy bambusznádat. Az éles csattanásra egyszeriben megvilágosult.

Hsziang-jen verse megvilágosulásáról:

Ínségem tavaly nem volt túl szegény,
idén jött meg a valódi nyomor.
Tavaly volt még föld a kapám hegyén,
de kapám is odalett az idén.

Kuj-san már nyugovóra tért, mikor Jang-san beszélgetni jött hozzá. Mihelyt a mester meglátta, a falnak fordult.
– Hogy tehetsz ilyet? – kérdezte Jang-san.
– Álmodtam valamit – mondta Kuj-san és felült. – Fejtsd meg!
Erre Jang-san hozott egy mosdótál vizet.
Kisvártatva Hsziang-jen jött beszélgetni a mesterrel.
– Álmodtam valamit – mondta neki is Kuj-san. – Jang-san már megfejtette. Most te következel.
Erre Hsziang-jen hozott egy csésze teát.

– Milyen valamitől létezik a semmi? – kérdezte egy szerzetes.
– Addig kell hámozni egyik réteget a másik után, amíg semmi sem marad – mondta Hsziang-jen.

– Mielőtt kimondják, mi a szó? – kérdezte egy szerzetes.
– Mielőtt kérdeztél volna, feleltem – mondta Hsziang-jen.

– Mi a buddhizmus egyetemes eszméje? – kérdezte egy szerzetes.
– Korán jött idén a fagy – mondta Hsziang-jen –, gyenge lett a hajdinatermés.


Lacza Márta illusztrációja

Réber László rajza

Hsziang-jen így szólt a gyülekezethez:
– Mintha fogadnál fogva lógnál egy fa tetejéről, kezed nem éri ágát, lábad nem éri törzsét. Arra jön valaki, és megkérdi, miért jött ide nyugatról Bódhidharma. Ha nem szólalsz meg, veszni hagysz egy embert, ha megszólalsz, magad veszejted el. Hát most válaszolsz, vagy nem válaszolsz?
Egy Csao* nevű szerzetes a mester elé járult, és azt mondta:
– Hagyjuk békén, ha már egyszer fenn lóg a fán. Inkább arról mesélj, mi van, mielőtt felmászott rá!
Ezzel aztán jól megnevettette a mestert.

*Hutou Zhao shangzuo 虎頭招 上座 [Rōmaji: Kotō Shō jōza]; shangzuo = sthavira = rangidős szerzetes



Az éles kavics
In: Zen történetek. Ford., szerk. és vál. Szigeti György, [Budapest] : Farkas Lőrinc Imre Kiadó, 1996, 82-8
3. oldal

Réges-rég, amikor Hsziang-jen Csih-kuan [helyes átírás: Hsziang-jen Cse-hszien]
zen mester Kuej-san Ling-ju [helyes átírás: Kuj-san Ling-ju] zen rnesternél
tanult, az így szólt hozzá:

- Úgy hallottam, hogy csodálatos elme vagy. Azt mondják,
hogy amikor korábbi mesterednél, Po-csangnál voltál, és ő kér-
dezett tőled valamit, te tíz különféle választ adtál. Amikor tíz
kérdést tett fel, te száz különféle választ adtál. De az éles-
eszűség és az éles szem az élet és a halál forrása. Most azt
kérném tőled, hogy mondj egy mondatot, ami a születésedet
megelőző időből való.

Csih-kuan teljesen összezavarodott és betámolygott a szer-
zetesek szállására. Elővette az írásokat, amiket éppen tanul-
mányozott, és elkezdte átvizsgálni azokat, hátha talál bennük
egy mondatot, amit odavihet Ling-junak. De képtelen volt elő-
hozakodni egy egyszerű mondattal. Így epekedett magában:
"Nem tudod kielégíteni az éhségedet papírra festett rizs-sü-

Visszament a mesterhez tanácsért. Ő így fogadta:
- Ha most mondanék neked valamit, akkor halálod napján
engem szidnál. Akármit mondok, az az enyém, te semmi hasz-
nát nem veszed.

Csih-kuan visszatért a szerzetesek szállására, fogta az összes
írást, tanulmányt, és a tűzbe hajította azokat.
- Soha többé nem tanulmányozom a zent ebben az életben -
mondta magában. - Inkább elmegyek egy hosszú zarándokút-
ra, mint kolduló szerzetes. Legalább nem döglök bele abba,
amit most csinálok.

Könnyes szemmel elhagyta Ling-jut, és egyenest a Hsziang-
jen-szu templomba ment, hogy tiszteletét tegye a nemzet mes-
tere, Huj-csung emléke előtt. Amikor odaért, elhatározta, hogy
ott marad egy ideig és kipiheni fáradalmait.

Az egyik napon Csih-kuan kiment a kolostor elé, hogy eltá-
volítsa a bozótot és a gizgazt. Egyszer csak sarlója egy kavics-
hoz ütődött, az pedig élével egy bambusznádhoz vágódott. Ab-
ban a pillanatban elérte a megvilágosodásL Visszarohant a szer-
zetesek szállására, megmosdott, majd meggyújtott néhány füs-
tolőt és mélyen meghajolt Ling-ju temploma irányába.
- A hála, amivel neked tartozom nagy együttérzésedért,
messze nagyobb, mint amivel szüleimnek tartozom. Ha azon
a napon mondtál volna nekem valamit segítségül, akkor ez
a pillanat sohasem jött volna el.


Kyōgen Chikan [Hsziang-jen Cse-hszien] megvilágosulása
In: Gudó Vafu Nisidzsima - Jeffrey Bailey
Találkozás az igazi sárkánnyal
Fordította: Mák Andrea és Fábián Gábor
Túlpart Kiadó, Budapest, 1997, 42-43. oldal

A buddhista iratokban számos történetet jegyeztek fel olyan mesterekről, akik a természetben ismerték fel az igazságot. Dógen mester több ilyen történetet közöl a Sóbógenzóban. Az egyik egy Kjógen Csikan nevű szerzetesről szól, aki Iszan Reijú [溈山靈祐 Guishan Lingyou] kínai mester iskolájában tanulmányozta a buddhizmust.

Egy napon Iszan Reijú mester így szólt Csikan szerzeteshez: „Éles eszű vagy, és ismereteid széles körűek. Anélkül, hogy valamelyik szövegből vagy kommentárból idéznél, fejezed ki néhány szóban a szüleid megszületése előtti állapotodat.”

A szerzetes nem talált szavakat. Hirtelen ráébredt, hogy bár sok könyvet olvasott a buddhizmusról, valójában semmit sem ért. Nagyon elszégyellte magát. Valamennyi könyvét elégette, és a kolostorban az ételek felszolgálója lett. Miután már egy ideje ezt az egyszerű életet élte, így szólt mesteréhez: „Testem és tudatom nehézkes ráadásul képtelen vagyok szavakba foglalni az igazságot. Kérem, mester, mondjon valamit!”

De Iszan Reijú mester visszautasította: „Szívesen mondanék valamit, azonban ha megtenném, később valószínűleg neheztelnél rám.”

Csikan még évekig így élt, majd úgy döntött. hogy a nagy mester, Nanjó Ecsú [南陽慧忠 Nanyang Huizhong] ösvényét fogja követni, és Buto hegyére ment. Ott, azon a helyen, ahol korábban Nanjó mester vonult vissza, egy kezdetleges kunyhót épített. Egyetlen társa a bambusz volt, amelyet saját maga ültetett a kunyhó mellé.

Egy napon, miközben az ösvényt söprögette, egy cserépdarab éles, tiszta hanggal a bambusznak ütődött. Csikan abban a pillanatban felismerte az igazságot. Leborult mesterének temploma irányába, és így szólt: „Nagy mester, Iszan! Ha már korábban elmagyaráztad volna, akkor most hogyan lehetne mindez lehetséges? Jóságod mélységesebb volt, mint a szüleimé!” Majd a következő verset írta:

„Egyetlen koccanás, és minden ismeretet elveszítettem:
Soha többé nincs szükségem az önmérséklet gyakorlására.
Viselkedésem az ősök útját dicsőíti,
És nincs idő búskomorságba zuhanni.
Minden konkrét hely valós, és nem hagy nyomot;
A magatartás méltósága túl van hangon és formán.
Mindazok. akik megvalósították az igazságot,
Mindenek fölött állóként dicsőítik majd természetemet.”