A Comedy Moment

CLASSIC HUMOR FROM THE CH’AN / ZEN BUDDHIST TRADITION

yang shengCompiled by Timothy Conway

POSTMORTEM
Before Japanese Zen Master Takuan Soho (1573-1645) died, he instructed: “Bury my body on the mountain behind the temple; throw earth on it and go away. No scripture reading, no offerings—go on with your meals. Afterwards, no pagoda, no monument, no posthumous name or title, and certainly no biography full of dates!”
When, earlier in his ministry as a Zen roshi, Takuan was asked by a monk whether he ever performed the sacred Nembutsu recitation of the Name of Amida Buddha, he replied, “No, never.” “Why not?” “Because I don’t want my mouth polluted!”

SPEECH-SILENCE
Chinese Ch’an (Zen) master I-tuan (9th century), disciple of Nan-ch’uan, declared: “Speech is blasphemy! Silence is a lie! Above speech and silence, there is a way out.”

TRADITION
When Ch’an master Yün-men (864-949) was asked by a monk for details about the life and teaching of ancient sage Nagarjuna, the renowned Indian master of the 2nd century, considered a primary Patriarch of Ch’an/Zen and other schools of Buddhism, Yün-men smilingly replied: “In India there are ninety-six classes of heretics, and you belong to the lowest.”

SUCCESSION
When the 6th Patriarch of Chinese Ch’an Buddhism, Hui-neng (638-713), was asked on what basis he succeeded the 5th Patriarch in this lineage of Buddhism, Hui-neng instantly replied, “Because I do not understand Buddhism.”

PRACTICE
Hui-neng’s successor, Master Nan-yüeh, came upon young Ma-tsu who had been ardently spending all his days sitting in meditation at a temple. The master asked Ma-tsu, “What are you doing?” “I’m practicing meditation.” “Why?” asked the master. Said Ma-tsu, “I want to attain enlightenment; I aim to become a Buddha.” Master Nan-yüeh thereupon picked up a rough tile lying nearby and began to vigorously rub it against a rock. “What are you doing?” asked Ma-tsu. Said the master, “I want to make this tile into a mirror.” “How is it possible to make a tile into a mirror?” asked Ma-tsu. Retorted Nan-yüeh: “How is it possible to become a Buddha by doing meditation?… If you keep the Buddha seated, this is murdering the Buddha.”

Modern-era Zen master Shunryu Suzuki clarifies: “We practice zazen meditation to naturally express True Nature, not to ‘attain enlightenment.’” And one of Zen master Sengai’s (1751-1837) famous cartoonish Zen paintings shows a smiling frog sitting on a lily pad, with the caption: “If by seated meditation one becomes a Buddha… [implication: then all frogs are Buddhas!]”)

VISIONS
Harada-roshi’s successor Hakuun Yasutani (1885-1973) declared: “To see a beautiful vision of a celestial Buddha does not mean that you are any nearer to becoming one yourself!”

[Submitted by Joy Staller]

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