Teisho 17 September 2023

CASE 81: Yakusan’s “Look! the Arrow!”


Snatching the (enemies’) banners and stealing the(their) drums: Even a thousand sages cannot discern it.
Cutting through complications through sitting:
Ten-thousand practitioners do not reach it. (But) these are not extraordinary feats or wondrous deeds;
They are not innate abilities either.
Just tell me: what has one taken hold of to attain such wonderful things?

A monk asked Yakusan, “On the grassy plain there gather great and small deer. How can one shoot the greatest deer of them all?” Yakusan said, “Look! the arrow!” The monk threw himself on the floor. Yakusan said, “Attendants! Carry this dead fellow out of here.” Thereupon, the monk ran away. Yakusan said, “This fellow will keep playing with mud balls for ever and ever.”

(Setchô took up this story and said, “He is alive for three steps, but he should die with five steps.”)

The greatest deer amidst great deer:
You must see him yourself.
An arrow is shot:
He runs three steps;
If he is brought to life with five steps, he will form a herd and meet the tiger. The true eye has always belonged to the hunter.
Setchô raises his voice and says, “Look! the arrow!”

Teisho 19 May 2023

CASE 93: Shiso Does Not Understand

People use jewels from Mt. Kei452 to strike down magpies;
Old rats bite pieces of gold.
They don’t understand their treasure, they can’t make use of it.
Is there anyone who suddenly finds the gem hidden in their own clothes?453

Shiso454 asked Nansen, “‘People do not recognize the Mani455-pearl; it is intimately grasped in the treasury of the Tathagata.’456 What is this treasury?” Nansen said, “Old Master O457 exchanges questions and answers with you. That’s it.” Shiso said, “How about when there is no exchange of questions and answers?” Nansen said, “That’s also the treasury.” Shiso said, “What is the pearl?’ Nansen called him to come near, saying, “Shiso!” Shiso said, “Yes!” Nansen said, “Get out. You don’t understand my words.”

Differentiating “yes” and “no,” clarifying “gain” and “loss”,
Responding to this in the heart, pointing to that in the palm –
Coming and going, not coming and not going: both are nothing but treasury. King Tenrin rewarded the worthy ones with it458,
Emperor Yellow found it through a blind man459.
Turning the pivotal activities, skilled in the art –
You clear-eyed monks, never take it carelessly!


452 A mountain famous for producing precious stones. The first half of this sentence depicts children who use jewels to strike magpies down to the ground, without knowing the value of the jewels.
453 A story in the Lotus-sutra goes: Once a rich man had to depart for a distant land, leaving a poor friend behind. The two had a farewell meal and drank a lot. The poor friend, getting drunk, fell deep asleep. The rich man actually wanted to give his friend costly jewels so that the friend would be better off during his absence. Since, however, the friend would not wake up, the rich man sewed the jewels into the friend’s clothes and went away. The poor friend woke up later, but not having noticed that the jewels were sewn into his clothes, he continued his usual poor life.
454 Mistakenly the original text renders “Roso” (Nansen's elder brother in Dharma); in reality it should be “Shiso” (Nansen's student), as Nansen's question indicates.
455 “Mani” in Sanskrit means “perfectly free-willed” or “unstained”.
456 A quote from the famous Shôdôka by Yôka Daishi.
457 Nansen himself.
458 From the Lotus-sutra: King of Tenrin declared in front of many soldiers of his that the ones who would show worthiest deeds would be rewarded with a famous pearl.
459 Cf. the Verse of Case 76.


Teisho 21 May 2023

CASE 13: Tokusan Carries His Bowl

One day Tokusan came down to the hall carrying his bowls. Seppô asked him, “Old Master, the bell has not yet rung nor the drum sounded. Where are you going with your bowls?” Tokusan immediately went back to his room.
Seppô told this to Gantô. Gantô said, “Great Tokusan though he is, he has not yet realized the last word34.” Hearing of this, Tokusan sent his attendant to summon Gantô and then asked him, “Don’t you approve of this old monk?” Gantô secretly whispered his intention. Tokusan remained silent. Sure enough, the next day when Tokusan ascended the rostrum, his talk was quite different from usual. Gantô went to the front of the Zen hall and rubbing his hands together, laughed loudly and said, “Wonderful! How happy I am that our Old Man has realized the last word. From now on he’ll be subject to no one on earth.”

Mumon’s Commentary:

As for the last word, neither Gantô nor Tokusan have ever heard it, even in a dream. When I examine this point, I find they are just puppets on a shelf.


If you grasp the first word,
You will realize the word.
The last word and the first word, They are not this one word.


Teisho 19th of March 2023

CASE 27 Mumonkan: This Isn’t a Thing

A monk asked Master Nansen, “Is there any Dharma that has not been preached to the people?” Nansen said, “There is.” The monk said, “What is the Dharma which has never been preached to the people?” Nansen said, “This isn’t mind; this isn’t Buddha; this isn’t a thing.”

Mumon’s Commentary:
Nansen was merely asked a question, and he exhausted all his possessions at once and was brought to naught.

Verse:                                                                                                                        Speaking too much degrades virtue, No-words is truly effective;
Even though the great ocean should change, It can never be communicated to you.


Teisho 19th of February 2023

CASE 54: Ungan and the “Great Mercy”

Transparent on eight sides, totally open in ten directions; Emitting light and shaking the earth in all places, exercising supernatural deeds and subtle functions at all times: Tell me, how could this be manifested?

Ungan asked Dôgo, “What does the Bodhisattva of the great Mercy use so many

hands and eyes for?” Dôgo answered, “It is like a person in the middle of the night reaching with his hand behind his head groping for his pillow.” Ungan said, “I get it.” Dôgo said, “How do you get it?” Ungan said, “The whole body is hands and eyes.” Dôgo said, “You said it very well. But you expressed (just) eight-tenths of it.” Ungan said, “How would you say it, Elder Brother?” Dôgo said, “The entire body is hands and eyes.”

One hole, void and open;
Transparent on eight sides.
Without form, without “I”, spring takes its shape;
Unobstructed and unhindered, the moon travels through the firmament.
Pure treasure eyes, arms of virtue;
“The whole body” and “the entire body” – how do they compare with each other?
The hands and eyes at this moment manifest the entire activities:
The great functions, vertical and horizontal – how could they detest anything at all?


Teisho 15th January 2023

CASE 48: Kempô’s One Way


A monk asked Master Kempô, “[In a sutra it says,] ‘’The Bhagavat in ten directions; the one way to the gate of nirvana.’ I wonder where the way is.” Kempô held up his staff, drew a line and said, “Here it is.”
Later a monk asked Unmon to give instruction about this. Unmon held up his fan and said, “This fan jumps up to the heaven of the thirty-three devas and adheres to the nose of the Deva Taishaku. When a carp in the eastern sea is struck with a stick, it rains torrents as though a tray of water is overturned.”

Mumon’s Commentary:

One goes to the bottom of the deepest sea, heaving sand and raising dust. The other stands on the top of the highest mountain, causing white waves to billow up to the sky. Gripping it tightly or letting it loose, each of them extends a single hand and together they support the essential principle of the school. It is like two running boys colliding. In this world there will be no one who has realised the truth completely. Examining with the true eye, you will find that neither of the old masters knows where the Way is.


Before a step is taken, the goal is reached;

Before the tongue is moved, the speech is finished.

Though you may take the initiative, point by point,

You must know there is still the all-surpassing hole.


Teisho 20th of November 2022

Case 29

The Record Of Transmitting The Light (Denkoroku) : The Twenty-ninth Patriarch, Taiso Daishi (Dazu Huike)


The Twenty-ninth Patriarch, Taiso Daishi: He attended upon the Twenty-eight Patriarch. One day, he told the patriarch saying, “All relations have come to the end for me.” The patriarch said, “Doesn’t it mean that all has (simply) become extinct?” The master said, “It has not (simply) become extinct.” The patriarch said, “What proof is there for it?” The master said, “It is always absolutely clear to me; therefore, no word can reach it.” The patriarch said. “That is precisely the essence of the mind which all buddhas have realized. Don’t doubt this anymore!”


Empty and clear – all thoughts about worldly relations are exhausted. In all clarity – always infinitely open.


Teisho 18th September 2022  

Case 9 The Blue Cliff Records (Hekiganroku):

Joshu’s Four Gates

Engo’s Introduction

The clear mirror is on its stand: beauty and ugliness are spontaneously discerned.

The sword of Bakuya is in your hand: you kill and give life, according to the occasion.

Kan leaves, Ko comes; Ko comes, Kan leaves.

In death you gain life, in life you gain death.

Just say, if you are at this point, what then?

If you don’t have the eye to penetrate the barrier, or a place where you turn yourself around, it’s obvious that at this point you don’t know what to do.

Just tell me, what is the eye that penetrates the barrier; where is the place you turn yourself around?

I’ll show you an example, look!


 A monk asked Joshu: “What is Joshu?” Joshu answered, “East gate, west gate, south gate, north gate.”


 With activity hidden in the phrase

He abruptly confronts him.

The diamond eye of perfect clarity,

Devoid of any dust:

East, west, south, and north – the gates face each other.

Even hammers, pounding endlessly, can’t blow them open.


Teisho 21st August 2022

Case 15, The Book of Equanimity: Kyōzan thrust his hoe in the ground.


To know before it is said is known as silent discussion. To have it appear although it is not clarified is known as dark activity. To press the palms together before the main gate and perform kinhin under the eaves has a meaning. But what about doing a dance in the garden and nodding your head under the back gate?


Isan asked Kyôzan, “Where have you been?”

Kyôzan said, “In the rice field.”

Isan said, “How many people are there in the rice field?”

Kyôzan thrust his hoe into the ground and stood with his hands folded on his chest.

Isan said, “Today many people are cutting thatch on the South Mountain.”

Kyôzan took up his hoe and immediately left.


The old enlightened one’s feelings are many, as he worries about his descendants.
Now he feels shame and raises up the family gate.
This requires remembering the story of the South Mountain.                                                         Carving it in the bones and impressing it on the skin to mutually repay the debt of gratitude.


Dharma Talk 31st of March 2022

Dogen’s Fukanzazengi:

Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen, translated by Carl Bielefelt 

The Way is originally perfect and all-pervading. How could it be contingent on practice and realization? The true vehicle is self-sufficient. What need is there for special effort? Indeed, the whole body is free from dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? It is never apart from this very place; what is the use of traveling around to practice? And yet, if there is a hairsbreadth deviation, it is like the gap between heaven and earth. If the least like or dislike arises, the mind is lost in confusion. Suppose you are confident in your understanding and rich in enlightenment, gaining the wisdom that knows at a glance, attaining the Way and clarifying the mind, arousing an aspiration to reach for the heavens. You are playing in the entranceway, but you are still short of the vital path of emancipation.

Consider the Buddha: although he was wise at birth, the traces of his six years of upright sitting can yet be seen. As for Bodhidharma, although he had received the mind-seal, his nine years of facing a wall is celebrated still. If even the ancient sages were like this, how can we today dispense with wholehearted practice?

Therefore, put aside the intellectual practice of investigating words and chasing phrases, and learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will manifest. If you want to realize such, get to work on such right now.

For practicing Zen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Put aside all involvements and suspend all affairs. Do not think “good” or “bad.” Do not judge true or false. Give up the operations of mind, intellect, and consciousness; stop measuring with thoughts, ideas, and views. Have no designs on becoming a Buddha. How could that be limited to sitting or lying down?

At your sitting place, spread out a thick mat and put a cushion on it. Sit either in the full-lotus or half-lotus position. In the full-lotus position, first place your right foot on your left thigh, then your left foot on your right thigh. In the half-lotus, simply place your left foot on your right thigh. Tie your robes loosely and arrange them neatly. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left hand on your right palm, thumb-tips lightly touching. Straighten your body and sit upright, leaning neither left nor right, neither forward nor backward. Align your ears with your shoulders and your nose with your navel. Rest the tip of your tongue against the front of the roof of your mouth, with teeth together and lips shut. Always keep your eyes open, and breathe softly through your nose.

Once you have adjusted your posture, take a breath and exhale fully, rock your body right and left, and settle into steady, immovable sitting. Think of not thinking. Not thinking-what kind of thinking is that? Nonthinking. This is the essential art of zazen.

The zazen I speak of is not meditation practice. It is simply the dharma gate of joyful ease, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the koan realized; traps and snares can never reach it. If you grasp the point, you are like a dragon gaining the water, like a tiger taking to the mountains. For you must know that the true dharma appears of itself, so that from the start dullness and distraction are struck aside.

When you arise from sitting, move slowly and quietly, calmly and deliberately. Do not rise suddenly or abruptly. In surveying the past, we find that transcendence of both mundane and sacred and dying while either sitting or standing have all depended entirely on the power of zazen.

In addition, triggering awakening with a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, and effecting realization with a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout – these cannot be understood by discriminative thinking; much less can they be known through the practice of supernatural power. They must represent conduct beyond seeing and hearing. Are they not a standard prior to knowledge and views?

This being the case, intelligence or lack of it is not an issue; make no distinction between the dull and the sharp-witted. If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is wholeheartedly engaging the way. Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. Going forward is, after all, an everyday affair.

In general, in our world and others, in both India and China, all equally hold the buddha-seal. While each lineage expresses its own style, they are all simply devoted to sitting, totally blocked in resolute stability. Although they say that there are ten thousand distinctions and a thousand variations, they just wholeheartedly engage the way in zazen. Why leave behind the seat in your own home to wander in vain through the dusty realms of other lands? If you make one misstep, you stumble past what is directly in front of you.

You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form. Do not pass your days and nights in vain. You are taking care of the essential activity of the buddha way. Who would take wasteful delight in the spark from a flintstone? Besides, form and substance are like the dew on the grass, the fortunes of life like a dart of lightning-emptied in an instant, vanished in a flash.

Please, honoured followers of Zen, long accustomed to groping for the elephant, do not doubt the true dragon. Devote your energies to the way of direct pointing at the real. Revere the one who has gone beyond learning and is free from effort. Accord with the enlightenment of all the buddhas; succeed to the samadhi of all the ancestors. Continue to live in such a way, and you will be such a person. The treasure store will open of itself, and you may enjoy it freely.


Zenkai 20.03.2022

Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)


Kinzan’s Single Arrow


The myriad Buddhas have never come into the world. There is no Dharma to be given to the people. The patriarch has never come from the West. There has never been a transmission of Mind. As a matter of course, the people of this time do not understand. They continue to run toward the outside looking for it. They do not know that the single great matter lying beneath their feet has never been found by the thousand sages. Right at this very moment: Seeing and not seeing, hearing and not hearing, speaking and not speaking, knowing and not knowing. Where do they come from? If you have not perceived, then go into the cave of entanglements and understand. To test, I cite this case. Look!


Ryô, a Zen devotee, asked Kinzan, “How is it when a single arrow has broken through three barriers?” Kinzan said, “Bring out the master within the barriers for me to see.” Ryô said, “In that case, I realize my error and must make amends.” Kinzan said, “What are you waiting for?” Ryô said, “A good shot was let loose but no one can discern it,” and was about to go out. Kinzan said, “Come here.” Ryô turned his head. Kinzan grasped him and said, “Leaving aside for the moment the matter of one arrow breaking through three barriers, try shooting an arrow for me.” Ryô hesitated. Kinzan hit him seven times with his stick and said, “I will let this fellow doubt another thirty years.”


I have brought him out for you, the master of the barrier. Those who let loose arrows, don’t be careless.
If you take this eye, the ears will surely become deaf.
If you take this ear, both eyes will go blind.

It is greatly to be admired, breaking through three barriers with a single arrow. Distinct and clear, the path of the arrow.
Don’t you see? Gensha had something to say: