“There is One-thing that is pure and sublime from its birthless birth, and as it has neither beginning nor end, there is no way to be named or described.” This is the opening line of ‘The Mirror of Seon’ by the Most Venerable Seosan. He then asks himself, “What is it that is the One-thing called?” and answers his own question quoting a passage from an ancient sage: “There was a circle even before the arrival of Buddha, which not even Sakyamuni could describe. How then was it possible for Mahakasyapa to transmit it?” This is the theme and the essence of the work: finding our true nature and original face, which is without form and indescribable.
1Shravaka: The term was originally applied to Buddha’s immediate disciples but later came to mean those who follow the teachings of Hinayana Buddhism.
cessation of myriad things. All these are recorded in the Record of Transmission of the Lamp.
2A disciple and dharma heir of Nanyue Huirang. He is famous for his teachings, “the everyday mind is the Way” and “the mind is the Buddha.” 3He is one of the great Chinese Chan masters in the Tang period. He is also a student and dharma heir of Mazu Taoyi. 4He is one of the greatest Chinese Chan masters, and dharma heir of Baizhang Huaihai and teacher of Linji Yixuan.
1) The Linji Order: It is the direct lineal Order originated from Shakyamuni Buddha down to the 33rd Master Huineng. It is transmitted from Master Nanyue Huairang to Mazu Daoyi, from Mazu Daoyi to Baizhang Huaihai, from Baizhang Huaihai to Huangbi Xiyun, from Huangbi Xyun to Linji Yixuan, from Linji Yixuan to Xinghua Cunjiang, from Xinghua Cunjiang to Nanyuan Daoyong, from Nanyuan Daoyong to Fengxue Yanzhao, from Fengxue Yanzhao to Shoushan Shengnian, from Shoushan Shengnian to Fenyang Shanzhao, from Fenyang Shanzhao to Ciming Chuyan, from Ciming Chuyan to Yangqi Fanghui, from Yangqi Fanghui to Baiyun Shouduan, from Baiyun Shouduan to the Fifth Patriarch Fayan, from the Fifth Patriarch Fayan to Yuanwu Keqin, from Yuanwu Keqin to Jingshan Zonggao, etc.
2) The Caodong Order: It is a separate branch Order originated from the Sixth Patriarch Huineng, and transmitted from Master Qingyuan Xingsi to Shitou Xiquan, from Shitou Xiquan to Yaoshan Weiyan, from Yaoshan Weiyan to Yunyan Tansheng, from Yunyan Tansheng to Dongshan Liangjie, from Dongshan Liangjie to Caoshan Danzhang, from Caoshan Danzhang to Yunji Daoying, etc.
3) The Yunmen Order: It is a separate branch Order originated from Master Mazu Daoyi, and transmitted to Tianhuang Daowu, from Tianhuang Daowu to Longtan Chongxin, from Longtan Chongxin to Deshan Xuangjian, from Deshan Xuangjian to Xuefeng Yicun, from Xuefeng Yicun to Yunmen Wenyan, from Yunmen Wenyan to Xuednou Chongxian, from Xuednou Chongxian to Tianyi Yihuai, etc.
4) The Weiyang Order: It is a separate branch Order originated from Master Baizhang Huaihai, and transmitted to Weishan Lingyu, from Weishan Lingyu to Yangshan Huiji, from Yangshan Huiji to Xiangyan Zhixian, from Xiangyan Zhixian to Nanta Guangyong, from Nanta Guangyong to Bajiao Huiquing, from Bajiao Huiquing to Houshan Jingtong, from Houshan Jingtong to Wuzhuo Wenxi, etc.
5) The Fayan Order: It is a separate branch Order originated from Master Xuefeng Yicun, and transmitted to Xuansha Shibei, from Xuansha Shibei to Dizang Guizhen, from Dizang Guizhen to Fayan Wenyi, from Fayan Wenyi to Tientai Dezhao, from Tientai Dezhao to Yongming Yanshou, from Yongming Yanshou to Longji Zhaoxiu, from Longji Zhaoxiu to Nantai Shouan, etc.
Three sublime teachings are contained in a phrase,5 and three essentials, in a sublime teaching. A phrase is the seal without a letter, and three sublime teachings and three essentials, the seals with letters. The expediency and the true nature of things are the entrances to the sublime teaching, and the right application of illumination and function, the essentials.
Three phrases (三句)
The first phrase means no more body and life.6 The second phrase means committing a mistake even before opening the mouth.7 The third phrase means a shit container and a bloom.8
Three essentials (三要)
The first essential means illumination is the great frame. The second essential means illumination is the great function. The third essential means
Three sublime teachings (三玄)
A sublime teaching in the essential means that three spheres are in a thought, etc. A sublime teaching in a phrase means a shortcut of the words and phrases, etc. And a sublime teaching in the sublime teaching means silence, hitting with a staff, and a shout, etc.
Four types of outlook (四料揀)
The first: There is no subject; only object exists. This applies to a student of low mind. The second: There is no object; only subject exists. This applies to a student of intermediate mind. The third: There is neither subject nor object. This applies to a student of high mind. The fourth: Subject as well as object exists. This applies to a student of extraordinary capability.
Four types of relation between master and student (四賓主)
The first case: The student is in the dark and is unable to understand the teaching of the master. The second case: The student is superior to his teacher in his study. The third case: The teacher is not fully prepared to teach the student. The fourth case: The teacher is fully qualified to teach the student.
Four illuminations and functions (四照用)
Illumination followed by function means there is a man. The function followed by illumination means there is dharma. The simultaneous illumination and function mean stealing the cow of a farmer who is tilling the field, and stealing the food of a hungry man. The separate illumination and function mean that there are both questions and answers.
Four great styles of practice (四大式)
profitable correct style means facing the wall in a cave in the deep mountains in meditation,9 etc. A plain ordinary style means that a monk knows how to beat a drum,10 etc. The original face or true self-nature means something like a comment of a monk, “I don’t know,” etc. Feigning a lie means something like a comment of Bodhidharma, “I don’t know,” etc.
Four shouts! (四喝)
The shout of the King of Diamond means cessation of all kinds of thoughts and cleverness in the blow of a sword. The shout of a lion lying on its belly means busting the heads of all devils at the moment of its opening the mouth or even at the puff of its breath.
A batch of grass at the end of a fishing rod means trying to find out whether or not a man has a hole in his nose. Another kind of shout is not simply a shout but all the methods mentioned above combined in addition to the “three sublime teachings“ and “the relationship of the teacher and student.”
Eight kinds of rod or blow (八捧)
The first is giving an order to correct one’s path. The second is the random blow to correct one’s path. The third is giving a blow without a principle, right or wrong. The fourth is a punitive blow for reprimand. The fifth is the complimentary blow to the practitioner who is agreeable to the principle of the Order. The sixth is to distinguish right from wrong. The seventh is the blind blow without discretion. The eighth is the commendable blow to both sentient being and saint.
Such practices are, however, not confined to the characteristic practices of the Linji Order. They are all appropriate practices applicable from the Buddha to sentient beings. If there is anyone who is preaching without such practices, he is a thief and a liar.
5“A phrase” here means the ultimate truth, which is beyond words and expression, completely cut off from the ungraspable path of the mind and letters. 6Cf. footnote 5. 7The ultimate truth is beyond words and expression, yet it could be explained through an artful liberative technique. 8All the talks are the tales “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (From Shakespeare). 9This is where Bodhidharma spent nine years facing the wall practicing meditation. 10When a practitioner asked the master at the end of a dharma talk, “What is the true understanding of the ultimate truth?” the master’s answer was, “To know how to beat the drum.” The second question was, “What is the meaning of ‘Neither the mind nor the Buddha?’” The master’s answer was again, “To know how to beat the drum.” The third question was, “How are you going to meet a man who is in a great progress in his study?” The master’s answer was the same, “To know how to beat the drum.” It probably means “Not trying to be smart,” non-speculation or discrimination.
11In the cold winter, Master Danxia stopped at a temple and went up to the Main Dharma Hall and seeing the Buddha statue is made of wood, he took it down and burned it to warm himself. The frightened abbot asked the master what was the reason. The master’s answer was, “I just wanted to find the Buddha’s sarira in the image.” It probably means not to find the Buddha outside ourselves because we are all Buddhas even before our birth. 12It is the story of Master Yunmen’s comment on Shakyamuni’s declaration at his birth, “In the Heavens and on earth, I alone am the Honored One.” There were many interpretations to the declaration, and Master Yunme’s commend was, “If I were there, I would had him clobbered to death and had the dead body given to the dog.” It is the most frightening and sacrilegious things to say, but what the master was trying to say was perhaps not to be attached to any image. 13There was a great assembly of people to see Shakyamuni Buddha, but there was an old lady who refused to see the Buddha by covering her eyes with her hands, and Lo! she saw the images of Buddha on the tips of her every finger. This probably means not to be attached to any form, inside and outside, even the form of a living Buddha. The true Buddha resides in our pure original nature and mind, the formless form and the mindless mind.
14The Great Master Seosan died at the age of 85 in 1605, and here is his Nirvana song: “Billions of billion thoughts are / But a tiny white snow flake falling down on the fire. / A mud-ox is walking on the water, / And the bottoms of heaven and earth are dropping out.”