From Chan to Zen
The Meditation Tradition in Japan

The two main lines of Chinese Zen Buddhism derive from Ma-tsu and Shih-t’ou. While it is clear that Chinese Zen in no sense began at this time, it is also true that Zen as we know it today first took a clearly defined form during the third generation after Hui-neng. ... In contrast to the passive style of meditation practices in the Northern school, Ma-tsu promoted the dynamic Zen of the Sixth Patriarch; his teacher, Nan-yueh Huai-jang, had convinced him of the futility of simply sitting in meditation.The chronicle reports:

[Ma-tsu] was residing in the monastery of Dembo-in where he sat constantly in meditation. The master, aware that he was a vessel of the Dharma, went to him and asked, “Virtuous one, for what purpose are you sitting in meditation?”
       Tao-i answered: “I wish to become a Buddha.”
       Thereupon the master picked up a tile and started rubbing it on a stone in front of the hermitage.
       Tao-i asked: “What is the Master doing?”
       The master replied: “I am polishing [this tile] to make a mirror.”
       “How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?” exclaimed Tao-i.
       “And how can you make a Buddha by practicing zazen?” countered the master.
Ma-tsu is the dominant figure in early Zen. The principal stage of his activity was Chiang-hsi (Kiangsi) Province. Crowds of disciples streamed after him and he often changed location. With him begins the mainstream of Chinese Zen, out of which would arise the powerful Rinzai school. He was the first to make use of shouting (Chin., ho; Jpn., katsu) as a means of fostering enlightenment, a means later made famous by Lin-chi (Jpn., Rinzai). With Ma-tsu paradox is mixed with rudeness. On one occasion, at the conclusion of a paradoxical dialogue, he suddenly grabbed the nose of his disciple Pai-chang and twisted it so violently that the disciple cried out in pain — and attained enlightenment. (Zen Buddhism: A History, Volume 1, 163)

Nansen & the Cat
Mumonkan: Case 14
Once the monks of the Eastern Hall were disputing about a cat. Nansen, holding up the cat, said, “Monks, if you can say a word of Zen, I will spare the cat. If you cannot, I will kill it!” No monk could answer. Nansen finally killed the cat. In the evening, when Joshu came back, Nansen told him of the incident. Joshu took off his sandal, put it on his head, and walked off. Nansen said, “If you had been there, I could have saved the cat!” (Mumonkan, 107 [Case 14])

A monk asked Joshu in all earnestness,
“Has a dog Buddha nature or not?”

Joshu said, “Mu!”

... concentrate your whole self, with its 360 bones and joints and 84,000 pores, into Mu making your whole body a solid lump of doubt. Day and night, without ceasing, keep digging into it, but don’t take it as “nothingness” or as “being” or “non-being.” It must be like a red-hot iron ball which you have gulped down and which you try to vomit up, but cannot. You must extinguish all delusive thoughts and feelings which you have cherished up to the present. After a certain period of such efforts, Mu will come to fruition, and inside and out will become one naturally. You will then be like a dumb man who has had a dream. You will know yourself and for yourself only.
       Then all of a sudden, Mu will break open and astonish the heavens and shake the earth. It will be just as if you had snatched the great sword of General Kan. If you meet a Buddha, you will kill him.  If you meet an ancient Zen master, you will kill him. Though you may stand on the brink of life and death, you will enjoy the great freedom. In the six realms and the four modes of birth, you will live in the samadhi of innocent play.”

Mumon’s Final Verse

Dog! Buddha nature!
The perfect manifestation, the absolute command;
A little “has” or “has not,”
And body is lost! Life is lost!

(Gateless Gate, 11-2)

So ... what did the Enlightened Cat
say to the Buddha Nature Dog?
(For the answer, double-click below the cat!)


Visit to a Zen Temple
China/Japan Study Abroad

Zen Rock Gardens