An Outsider Questions the Buddha
Appearing without form, filling the ten directions of space, expanding everywhere equally; responding without mind, extending over lands and seas without trouble; understanding three when one is raised, judging grains and ounces at the glance of an eye. Even if the blows of your staff fall like rain and your shouts are like thunder rolling, still you have not yet filled the footsteps of a trancendent man. But tell me, what is the business of a transcendent man? Try to see.
An outsider asked the Buddha, “I do not ask about the spoken or the unspoken.”(1) The World Honored One remained silent.(2) The outsider sighed in admiration and said, “The World Honored One’s great kindness and great compassion have opened up my clouds of illusion and let me gain entry.”(3) After the outsider had left, Ananda asked the Buddha, “What did the outsider realize, that he said he had gained entry?”(4) The Buddha said, “Like a good horse, he goes as soon as he sees the shadow of the whip.”(5)
1. Although he is not a member of the household, still he has a bit of a fragrant air. Twin swords fly through space. It’s lucky he doesn’t ask.
2. Do not slander the World Honored One; his voice is like thunder. No one sitting or standing here could move him.
3. A sharp fellow-one push and he rolls, a bright pearl in a bowl.
4. He can’t avoid making others doubt; still he wants everyone to know. He is trying to repair a pot with cold iron.
5. Tell me, what do you call the shadow of the whip? Striking with my whisk, (I say) on the staff there is an eye bright as the sun. If you want to know if it is real gold, see it through fire. Having gotten a mouth, eat.
If this matter were in words and phrases, do not the twelve parts of the Teachings of the Three Vehicles contain words and phrases? Some say it is right just not to speak. Then what would have been the use of the Patriarch’s coming from the West? As for so many public cases which have come down from ancient times, after all how will you see what they are getting at?
This one public case is understood verbally by quite a few people. Some call it remaining silent, some call it remaining seated, and some call it silently not answering. But fortunately none of this has anything to do with it; how could you ever manage to find it by groping around? This matter really isn’t in words and phrases, yet it is not apart from words and phrases. If you have the slightest bit of hesitation, then you are a thousand miles, ten thousand miles away. See how after that outsider had intuitively awakened, only then did he realize that it is neither here nor there, neither in affirmation nor in negation. But tell me, what is this?
Master I Huai of T’ien I made a verse which said,
Vimalakirti was not silent, did not remain that way;(a)
Sitting on his seat engaged in deliberation, he made an error.
Though the sharp sword is in its scabbard, its chill light is cold;
Outsiders and celestial demons all fold their hands helplessly.
When Master Tao Ch’ang of Pai Chang was studying with Fa Yen, Yen had him contemplate this story. Fa Yen one day asked him, “What incident are you contemplating?” Ch’ang said, “The outsider questioning the Buddha.” Yen said, “Stop! Stop! You’re about to go to his silence to understand, aren’t you?” At these words Ch’ang was suddenly greatly enlightened. Later, in teaching his community, he said, “On Pai Chang there are three secrets; ‘drink tea,’ ‘take care,’ and ‘rest.’ If you still try to think any more about them, I know you are still not through.”
“Breast-beater Chen” of Ts’ui Yen cited (this case) and said, “In the six directions and nine states, blue, yellow, red, and white each intermingle.”
The outsider knew the four Vedas and told himself he was omniscient; everywhere he was, he drew people into discussions. He posed a question, hoping to cut off old Shakya Buddha’s tongue. The World Honored One did not expend any energy, yet the outsider was immediately awakened. He sighed in admiration and said, “The World Honored One’s great kindness and great compassion have opened up the clouds of my confusion and allowed me to gain entry.”
But tell me, where are the World Honored One’s great kindness and compassion? The World Honored One’s single eye sees through past, present, and future; the outsider’s twin pupils penetrate the Indian continent.
Chen Ju of Kuei Shan brought this up and said,
The heretic had the most precious jewel hidden within;
The World Honored One kindly lifted it on high for him.
Forests of patterns are clearly revealed,
Myriad forms are evident.
But after all, what did the outsider realize? It was like chasing a dog towards a fence: when he gets as far as is possible, when there is no way to get by, he must turn around and come back; then he will be leaping lively. If you cast away judgement and comparison and affirmation and negation all at once, your emotions ended and your views gone, it will naturally become thoroughly obvious.
After the outsider had left, Ananda asked the Buddha, “What did the outsider realize, that he said he had gained entry?” The Buddha said, “Like a good horse, he goes as soon as he sees the shadow of the whip.” Since then, everywhere it has been said that at this point even he was blown by the wind into a different tune. It has also been said that he had a dragon’s head but a snake’s tail. Where is the shadow of the World Honored One’s whip? Where is the seeing of the shadow of the whip? Hsueh Tau said, “False and true are not separate; the fault comes from the shadow of the whip.”
Chen Ju said, “Ananda’s golden bell is rung twice, and everyone hears it together. Even though this is so, it is very much like two dragons fighting for a jewel. It matured the majestic dragon of that other wise one.”
The wheel of potential has never turned;
It is here. After all it doesn’t move a bit.
If it turns, it will surely go two ways.
If it doesn’t fall into existence, it will surely fall into nonexistence; if it doesn’t go east, then it will go west. The left eye is half a pound, the right eye eight ounces.
A clear mirror is suddenly leaned on a stand,
But do you see old Shakyamuni? One push and it turns. Broken! Broken! Scattered! Scattered!
And immediately distinguishes beautiful and ugly.
The whole world is the gate of liberation. I should give you thirty blows of the staff. But do you see old Shakyamuni?
Beautiful and ugly distinct, the clouds of illusion open.
He lets out a pathway. I allow as you have a place to tum your body, but nevertheless you’re just an outsider.
In the gate of compassion, where is any dust produced?
The whole world has never concealed it. Retreat; retreat-Bodhidharma has come.
Thus I think of a good horse seeing the whip’s shadow:
I have a staff; there’s no need for you to give me one. But tell me, where is the shadow of the whip, and where is the good horse?
Gone a thousand miles in pursuit of the wind, I call him back;
Riding on the Buddha-hall, I go out the main gate. If he turns around, he goes wrong. He shouldn’t be let go, so I strike.
Calling, if I get him to return, I’d snap my fingers thrice.
He neither reaches the village nor gets to the shop. With your staff broken, where will you go? The sound of Hsueh Tou’s thunder is great, but there is no rain at all.
“The wheel of potential has never turned; if it turns it will surely go two ways.” The “potential” is the spiritual potential of the thousand sages; the “wheel” is the original lifeline of all people. Have you not read Hsueh Tou’s saying,
The spiritual potential of the thousand sages is not easily approached;
Dragon’s sons born of dragons, do not be irresolute.
Chao Chou has stolen a gem worth many cities;
The King of Ch’in and Hsiang fu both lose their lives. (b)
The outsider, after all, was able to hold it still and be the master; he never moved at all. How so? He said, “I do not ask about the spoken or the unspoken.” Is this not the entirety of potential?
The World Honored One knew how to observe the wind to set the sail, how to give medicine in accordance with the disease; that is why he remained silent. The entire potential uplifted, the outsider merged with it completely; his wheel of potential then turned freely and smoothly: it neither turned towards existence nor nonexistence; it did not fall into gain or loss, was not bound by the ordinary or the holy-both sides were cut off at once. Just as the World Honored One remained silent, the other bowed. Many people nowadays fall into nonexistence, or else they fall into existence; they only remain within being and non-being, running either way.
Hsueh Tou says, “A clear mirror is suddenly leaned on a stand, and immediately distinguishes beautiful and ugly.” This has never moved; it just calls for silence, like a clear mirror leaning on its stand-myriad forms cannot avoid their appearance.
The outsider said, “The World Honored One’s great kindness and compassion have opened my clouds of illusion and allowed me to gain entry.” Tell me, where is the outsider’s point of entry? At this point, you must each seek on your own, investigate on your own, awaken on your own, and understand on your own before you will find it. Then in all places, walking, standing, sitting, and lying, without question of high or low, all at once it is completely manifest and does not move at all anymore. The moment they make judgements and comparisons, or have the slightest hair of rationalization, then this blocks people up completely, and there is no more ability to enter actively.
The last part versifies, “The World Honored One’s great kindness and great compassion have opened up the clouds of my illusion and allowed me to gain entry.” Right away he abruptly distinguishes beautiful and ugly; “Beautiful and ugly distinct, the clouds of illusion open; in the gate of compassion, where is any dust produced?” The whole world is the door of the World Honored One’s great compassion. If you can pass through, it’s not worth grasping. This also is an open door. Have you not read how the World Honored One contemplated this matter for twenty-one days-“1 would rather not explain the truth, but quickly enter extinction.”
“So I think of a good horse seeing the shadow of the whip; gone a thousand miles in pursuit of the wind, I call him back.” A “wind-chasing” horse, seeing the shadow of a whip, immediately goes a thousand miles; if you make it return, it returns. Hsueh Tau intends to praise him by saying, “If you find an excellent breed, then you can give one push, and he immediately rolls; one call, and he immediately comes back. Calling, if I get him to return, I’d snap my fingers thrice.” But tell me, is this criticism, or is it scattering sand?
a. In the scripture spoken by Vimalakirti (Vimalakirtinirdesasutra), after hearing a number of bodhisattvas give eloquent explanations of non-duality, the enlightened layman Vimalakirti gave his explanation of non-duality by not saying anything; Manjusri, the embodiment of wisdom, praised this explanation as most eloquent. (See Case 84.)
b. Hsiang Ju was a minister of the King of Chao in the early third century B.C., during the “Warring States” period; he was sent to offer a rare gem to the king of Ch’in (a neighboring state in what is now northern China) in exchange for dominion over fifteen cities. After presenting the gem, Hsiang Ju perceived that the king of Ch’in was reluctant to keep his part of the bargain; so he used a ruse to get the gem back, and had it returned secretly to the kingdom of Chao. In this poem from his Tsu Ying Chi (“Collection on Outstanding Ancestors”), Hsueh Tou constructs a simile based on the name of Chao Chou, the place where the great Ch’an master Ts’ung Shen (778-897) lived. He was called by the name of the place, which had been in the ancient Kingdom of Chao. The King of Ch’in and Hsiang Ju represent opposition; the Buddha, represented by Ch’an master Chao Chou, cuts off opposition by taking away the object of contention.
– Taken from The Blue Cliff Record.
Translated by Thomas Cleary and J.C. Cleary