Joshu Washes the Bowl

A monk told Joshu: “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”

Joshu asked: “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”

The monk replied: “I have eaten.”

Joshu said: “Then you had better wash your bowl.”

At that moment the monk was enlightened.

Mumon’s comment: Joshu is the man who opens his mouth and shows his heart. I doubt if this monk really saw Joshu’s heart. I hope he did not mistake the bell for a pitcher.

It is too clear and so it is hard to see.
A dunce once searched for a fire with a lighted lantern.
Had he known what fire was,
He could have cooked his rice much sooner

Gutei’s Finger

Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

Gutei heard about the boy’s mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.

When Gutei was about to pass from this world he gathered his monks around him. “I attained my finger-Zen,” he said, “from my teacher Tenryu, and in my whole life I could not exhaust it.” Then he passed away.

Mumon’s comment: Enlightenment, which Gutei and the boy attained, has nothing to do with a finger. If anyone clings to a finger, Tenryu will be so disappointed that he will annihilate Gutei, the boy, and the clinger all together.

Gutei cheapens the teaching of Tenryu,
Emancipating the boy with a knife.
Compared to the Chinese god who pushed aside a mountain with one hand
Old Gutei is a poor imitator

It Is Not Mind, It Is Not Buddha, It Is Not Things

A monk asked Nansen: “Is there a teaching no master ever preached before?”

Nansen said: “Yes, there is.”

“What is it?” asked the monk.

Nansen replied: “It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not things.”

Mumon’s comment: Old Nansen gave away his treasure-words. He must have been greatly upset.

Nansen was too kind and lost his treasure.
Truly, words have no power
Even though the mountain becomes the sea,
Words cannot open another’s mind

Zen Sayings

Sitting Quietly


“Sitting quietly, doing nothing,

Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.” Zenrin Kushû (The Way of Zen 134, 222)



“The blue mountains are of themselves blue mountains;

“The white clouds are of themselves white clouds.” Zenrin Kushû (The Way of Zen 134, 222)

Mountains are Mountains

The famous saying of Ch’ing-yüan Wei-hsin (Seigen Ishin):

老僧三十年前未參禪時、見山是山、見水是水、及至後夾親見知識、有箇入處、見山不是山、見水不是水、而今得箇體歇處、依然見山秪是山、見水秪是水 (The Way of Zen 220 k)

Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters. 13

13 Ch’uan Teng Lu, 22. (The Way of Zen 126)

“Before a man studies Zen, to him mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after he gets an insight into the truth of Zen through the instruction of a good master, mountains to him are not mountains and waters are not waters; but after this when he really attains to the abode of rest, mountains are once more mountains and waters are waters.” (Essays in Zen Buddhism – First Series 24)

Eternity in an hour

萬古長空    An eternity of endless space:

一朝風月    A day of wind and moon. (The Golden Age of Zen 246, 322 n.2)

“One of the most frequently reiterated couplets in Chinese Zen literature” (The Golden Age of Zen 246)


天地同根    Heaven and earth and I are of the same root,

萬物一體    The ten-thousand things and I are of one substance.

Zen Master Sêng-chao/Sõjõ (僧肇 384-414)

“Nan-ch’uan and his lay disciple Lu Hsuan (陸亘). Lu was reciting Seng-chao’s saying:

天地與我同根      Heaven and earth come from the same root as myself:

萬物與我爲一      All things and I belong to one Whole.

However, he did not really understand the full purport of it. Nan-ch’uan pointed at the peonies in the courtyard, saying, ‘The worldlings look at these bush of flowers as in a dream.” Lu did not see the point.” (The Golden Age of Zen 285)

陸大夫向師道、「肇法師、也甚奇怪、解道”天地與我同根、萬物與我爲一”」師指庭前牡丹花曰、「大夫、時人見此一花株如夢相似」 (The Golden Age of Zen 324 n.92)

“While Rikkõ, a high government official of the T’ang dynasty, had a talk with his Zen master Nansen, the official quoted a saying of Sõjõ, a noted monk scholar of an earlier dynasty:

Heaven and earth and I are of the same root,

The ten-thousand things and I are of one substance

and continued, ‘Is not this a most remarkable statement?’ / Nansen called the attention of the visitor to the flowering plant in the garden and said, ‘People of the world look at these flowers as if they were in a dream.’ ” (The Essentials of Zen Buddhism 483-4)


Merge your mind with cosmic space, integrate your actions with myriad forms.

Ch’an master Hung-chih Cheng-chüeh (宏智正覺 Wanshi Shõkaku, 1091-1157)

(Transmission of Light xi)



“Entering the forest he moves not the grass;

Entering the water he makes not a ripple.” Zenrin Kushû (The Way of Zen 152, 224)

Everyday Mind

争如著衣喫飲、此外更無佛祖 “There’s nothing equal to wearing clothes and eating food. Outside this there are neither Buddhas nor Patriarchs.” Zenrin Kushû (The Way of Zen 152, 224)

Seeking the Same Thing

From the K’un-lun mountains eastward the (Taoist) term “Great Oneness” is used. From Kashmir westward the (Buddhist) term sambodhi is used. Whether one looks longingly toward “non-being” (wu) or cultivates “emptiness” (sunyata), the principle involved is the same. 4

4 Quoted by Fung Yu-lan (1), vol. 2, p. 240, from Seng-yu, Ch’u San-tsang Chi-chi, 9. (The Way of Zen 82)

Ocean of Pure Reality

清淨眞如海 Ocean of pure Reality,

湛然體常住 Its substance, in fathomless quiescence, exists eternally.

Ch’an master Fo-kuang Ju-man (佛光如滿 Bukkõ Nyoman)

(The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 64)

Great Unity


There is one thing: above, it supports Heaven; below, it upholds Earth. It is black like lacquer, always actively functioning.

Ch’an master Tung-shan Ling-chia (洞山良价 Tõsan Ryõkai, 807-869)

(The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 74)

Man of Tao


Like the clear stillness of autumn water—pure and without activity; in its tranquil depths are no obstructions. Such an one is called a man of Tao, also, a man who has nothing further to do.

Wei-shan Ling-yu (溈山靈祐 Isan Reiyû)

(The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 66)



“When you forget the good and the non-good, the worldly life and the religious life, and all other dharmas, and permit no thoughts relating to them to arise, and you abandon body and mind—then there is complete freedom. When the mind is like wood or stone, there is nothing to be discriminated.” Pai-chang Huai-hai (百丈懷海 Hyakujõ Ekai, 720-814)

(The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 63)

Speech and Silence


“Speech is blasphemy, silence a lie. Above speech and silence there is a way out.”

I-tuan (義端) one of Nan-ch’uan’s great disciples (The Golden Age of Zen 250, 322 n.13)


説不處用無盡      What is inexpressible is inexhaustible in its use.

A Chinese Zen master (The Golden Age of Zen 253, 322 n.19)



I would rather sink to the bottom of the sea for endless eons than seek liberation through all the saints of the universe. Shih-t’ou (石頭) (The Golden Age of Zen 270, 323 n.57)


丈夫自有衝天志  The full-grown man aspires to pierce through the heavens:

莫向如夾行處行  Let him not walk in the footsteps of the Buddha!

Ts’ui-yen (翠巖可眞) (The Golden Age of Zen 270, 323 n.59)

Bodhidharma’s Definition of Zen

Four Sacred Verses of Bodhidharma (Daruma no Shiseiku 達磨四聖句)

教外別傳    Kyõge betsuden    A special transmission outside the scriptures;

不立文字    Furyû monji          No dependence upon words and letters;

直指人心    Jikishi ninshin                Direct pointing at the soul of man;

見性成佛    Kenshõ jõbutsu     Seeing into one’s nature and the attainment of Buddhahood.

Bodhidharma (Essays in Zen Buddhism – First Series 176)

Accomplishing Beforehand

“When the task is done beforehand, then it is easy.” Zen master Yuan-tong

(The Tao of Abundance 100)

Begin at the Top

If you want to climb a mountain, begin at the top. Zen saying

Every Day is a Good Day


“Everyday is a good day.” (Nichi nichi kore kõjitsu.)

Yün-men (Unmon) Hekiganroku case 6

No Work, No Eating


“A day without work, a day without eating.”

“When there’s no work for a day, there’s no eating for a day.” (The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 62)

Ichijitsu nasazareba, ichijitsu kuwarazu. (一日作さざれば、一日食わらず。)

Pai-chang Huai-hai (百丈懷海 Hyakujõ Ekai, 720-814)

Living Dead

許多死漢、送一個活漢 What a long procession of dead bodies follows the wake of a single living person! Chao-chou Ts’ung-shen (趙州從諗Jõshû Jûshin)

“At the funeral of one of his monks, as the Abbot joined the procession, he remarked, ‘What a long procession of dead bodies follows the wake of a single living person!’ ” (The Golden Age of Zen 145, 309 n.47)

Mind is Buddha

Asked “What is buddha?” (如何[是]佛) Ma-tsu replied “This very mind, this is Buddha.” (即心即佛 or 即心是佛. Sokushin sokubutsu.)

Mumonkan case 30 (The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 53)

No Mind No Buddha

Asked “What is buddha?” (如何[是]佛) Ma-tsu replied “Neither mind nor Buddha.” (非心非佛. Hishin, hibutsu.)

Mumonkan case 33 (The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 53)

This Very Mind is Buddha

自心是佛 Jishin zebutsu. “Your own mind—this is Buddha.” Ma-tsu

(The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 55)

No Mind No Buddha Not a Thing

不是心不是佛不是物 “This is not mind, this is not Buddha, this is not a thing.” (Fuzeshin, fuzebutsu, fuzemotsu.) Nan-chüan (The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 55)

No Clinging

不着不求 “No clinging, no seeking.” (Fujaku, fugu.) Pai-chang (Hyakujõ)

(The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 62)

All Dharmas are Mind-Created

故三界唯心 “Therefore the Three Realms are only mind” (Yue ni sangai yuishin) Ma-tsu Tao-i (The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 54)

法界一相 Ultimate reality has a unified form. (Fa-chieh i-hsiang./Hokkai issõ.) Buddha

(Early Ch’an in China and Tibet 107)

Great Tao

不二大道 “The non-dual Great Tao.” (Funi Daidõ) Chao-chou Ts’ung-shên (趙州 Jõshû Jûshin) (The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 61)

No Delusive Thoughts

幕妄想 “Away with your delusive thoughts!” “Don’t be deluded!” (Maku mõzõ!)

Ch’an master Wu-ye (Mugõ, 760-821) (Zen Word, Zen Calligraphy 65)

Whatever the master was asked, he replied “Maku mõzõ!”

(I’m not sure about the first character 幕, it may be incorrect.)

Who is This

不識 [I] know not. (Fushiki.) Bodhidharma

No Merit At All

廓然無聖 Vast emptiness, nothing holy! (Kakunen mushõ.) Bodhidharma


身心脱落 “Body and mind dropped off.” (Shen-hsin t’o-lo./Shinjin datsuraku.) Dõgen

Dõgen’s words describing his enlightenment (This is not a saying)

(Zen Buddhism: A History vol. 2, 107 n.24)

身心脱落 “Body and mind dropped away.” (Zen Master Dogen 32)

身心脱落 (Casting off [both] body and mind.)

Hui-neng’s Enlightenment and Diamond Sutra

Fifth Patriarch Hung-jen (弘忍 Gunin or Kõnin, 601-674) signed Hui-neng to go to his chamber at the third watch in the evening.

“When the two were face to face in the stillness of the night, the Patriarch expounded the Diamond Sutra to his disciple. When he came to the sentence: “Keep your mind alive and free without abiding in anything or anywhere,” Hui-neng was suddenly and thoroughly enlightened” (The Golden Age of Zen 62)

應無所住而生其心 “Keep your mind alive and free without abiding in anything or anywhere.”

Diamond Sûtra (Vajracchedikâ [Prajña Paramita] Sûtra) (The Golden Age of Zen 300 n.6)

“To awaken the mind without fixing it anywhere” (Essays in Zen Buddhism – Second Series 32)


Note on Sources

1. Zenrin Kushû 禪林句集 “Ch’an lin lei chü in twenty fasciculi compiled in the year 1307. The title means ‘Zen materials (literally, woods) classified and collected’. The book is now very rare.” (Essays in Zen Buddhism – Second Series 253 n.1)

Also see Watts, The Way of Zen 117 n.4; Dumoulin, Zen Buddhism: A History vol. 2, 47 n.113

Extracted from the Sacred Text Archive

Buddha Twirls a Flower

When Buddha was in Grdhrakuta mountain he turned a flower in his fingers and held it before his listeners. Every one was silent. Only Maha-Kashapa smiled at this revelation, although he tried to control the lines of his face.

Buddha said: “I have the eye of the true teaching, the heart of Nirvana, the true aspect of non-form, and the ineffable stride of Dharma. It is not expressed by words, but especially transmitted beyond teaching. This teaching I have given to Maha-Kashapa.”

    Mumon’s comment: Golden-faced Gautama thought he could cheat anyone. He made the good listeners as bad, and sold dog meat under the sign of mutton. And he himself thought it was wonderful. What if all the audience had laughed together? How could he have transmitted the teaching? And again, if Maha-Kashapa had not smiled, how could he have transmitted the teaching? If he says that realization can be transmitted, he is like the city slicker that cheats the country dub, and if he says it cannot be transmitted, why does he approve of Maha-Kashapa?


        At the turning of a flower

        His disguise was exposed.

        No one in heaven or earth can surpass

        Maha-Kashapa’s wrinkled face.

Zen – better than mine?

One day a travelling Zen master came upon a hermit’s cell. It was a bitterly cold night and he asked of the hermit; “may I tarry a while?”

The hermit agreed and boiled some rice, for them both to share.

Sat on their mats a ball of string fell out of the Zen master’s cloak and the hermit noticed.

The hermit asked the Zen master; “Why, venerable one, do you carry this ball of string?”

The Zen master replied, “Mind is a labyrinth and to enter in without a string, is to be lost forever. It is wise to carry string.”

The hermit asked the master; “Is your Zen, better than mine?”

Even though the gate was opened, the Zen master walked out into the storm, though his belly sorely missed the rice he might have eaten.

Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two

Nansen saw the monks of the eastern and western halls fighting over a cat. He seized the cat and told the monks: “If any of you say a good word, you can save the cat.”

No one answered. So Nansen boldly cut the cat in two pieces.

That evening Joshu returned and Nansen told him about this. Joshu removed his sandals and, placing them on his head, walked out.

Nansen said: “If you had been there, you could have saved the cat.”


    Mumon’s comment: Why did Joshu put his sandals on his head? If anyone answers this question, he will understand exactly how Nansen enforced the edict. If not, he should watch his own head.


Had Joshu been there,

He would have enforced the edict oppositely.

Joshu snatches the sword

And Nansen begs for his life.

Meeting A Zen Master On The Road

Goso said: “When you meet a Zen master on the road you cannot talk to him, you cannot face him with silence. What are you going to do?”

Mumon’s comment: In such a case, if you can answer him intimately, your realization will be beautiful, but if you cannot, you should look about without seeing anything.


Meeting a Zen master on the road,

Face him neither with words nor silence.

Give him an uppercut

And you will be called one who understands Zen.


Bodhidharma Pacifies the Mind

Bodhidharma sits facing the wall. His future successor stands in the snow and presents his severed arm to Bodhidharma. He cries: “My mind is not pacified. Master, pacify my mind.”

Bodhidharma says: “If you bring me that mind, I will pacify it for you.”

The successor says: “When I search my mind I cannot hold it.”

Bodhidharma says: “Then your mind is pacified already.”



Mumon’s comment: That broken-toothed old Hindu, Bodhidharma, came thousands of miles over the sea from India to China as if he had something wonderful. He is like raising waves without wind. After he remained years in China he had only one disciple and that one lost his arm and was deformed. Alas, ever since he has had brainless disciples.


        Why did Bodhidharma come to China?

        For years monks have discussed this.

        All the troubles that have followed since

        Came from that teacher and disciple.