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Zen Delight

How Buddha's Attendant Was Enlightened


Ananda served as Buddha's personal attendent. When Buddha died, Ananda had still not attained enlightenment, but afterwards he found time for his own practice. At that time another of Buddha's main disciples was organizing the First Buddhist Council, a gathering of all Buddhist monks to organize and consolidate all of Buddha's teachings.

Ananda wanted to be enlightened, but the day before the Council he still seemed nowhere near enlightenment. That night Ananda tried very, very hard, but all the same he got nowhere. It was getting late, and finally he decided,

"I'll relax and work for enlightenment after the Council. No need to hurry now.".

Thinking so, he laid down to rest. The moment his head touched the pillow, he got enlightened.

Mo Chao, Silent Contemplation

"Nowadays, when Zen practice is mentioned, people immediately think of the koan (or Hua Toa) exercise as though there were no other way of practicing Zen. Nothing could be more mistaken . . . It was mainly through the eloquent Master Tsung Kao (1089-1163) that the Hua Tou exercise became the most popular . . . means by which Zen students have practiced during the past eight centuries. How, before the popularisation and standardisation of the koan exercise, did students of older times practice Zen? How did those great figures, Hui Neng, Ma Tsu, Huang Po, and Lin Chi, themselves practice Zen? We have sufficient reason to believe that in the old days the "serene-reflection" type of meditation now found in the teaching of the Tsao Tung sect was probably the mainstay of Zen meditation techniques." (Chang 1970, 66-67)

"The Zen practice of the Tsao Tung School can be summed up in these two words: "serene reflection" (Chinese: mo chao) . . .

"The Chinese word, mo, means "silent" or "serene"; chao means "to reflect" or "to observe." Mo chao may thuse be translated as "serene-reflection" or "serene-observation." . . . The meaning of "serene" . . . implies transcendency over all words and thoughts, denoting a state "beyond," of pervasive peace. The meaning of "reflection" . . . has no savor of mental activity or of contemplative thought, but is a mirror-like clear awareness. . . . To speak even more concisely, "serene" means the tranquility of no-thought . . . and "reflection" means vivid and clear awareness." (Chang 1970, 68-69) [Also see Dogen's eko hensho]

"Clear awareness in the tranquility of no-thought . . . how can one put his mind into such a state? . . . The uninitiated never know how to do this work. This serene-reflection meditation . . . is not an ordinary exercise of quietism. . . . It is the meditation of Zen." (Chang 1970, 69)

"Unable to find [a competent Zen Master], you should try to work through the following . . . quintessential instructions on Zen practice . . .

  • When any thought does arise, cut it off and bring your mind back to the work.
  • Meditate as frequently as possible.
  • In the midst of the most tumultous activities, stop and look at the mind for a moment.
  • Meditate for brief periods with the eyes wide open." (Chang 1970, 70)


The truth of the teaching is important, the personality of the teacher too, but much less so. At first make a connection with the truth of the teaching. The true teacher is the spokesman of the truth.

Ascertain whether the guidance given accords with the teachings of the Buddha, who tells us to:

Rely first on the message of the teacher, not his personality;
Rely basically on the meaning, not just the words;
Rely on the real (deep) meaning, not just any provisional meaning;
Rely on your Deep Mind, attune well to it.

[Better: The whole Kalama Sutta]


Four Zen Tales

"The Buddha's smile is born of higher understanding and true liberation." - Conrad Hyers

Dying Zen Master

A Zen master lay dying. His monks had gathered around his bed, from the most senior to the most novice monk. The senior monk leaned over to ask the dying master if he had any final words of advice for his monks. The old master slowly opened his eyes and in a weak voice whispered, "Tell them Truth is like a river."

The senior monk passed this piece of information in turn to the monk next to him, and it circulated around the room.

When the words reached the youngest monk he asked, "What does he mean, 'Truth is like a river'?"

The question was passed back around the room to the senior monk who leaned over the bed and asked, "Master, what do you mean, 'Truth is like a river'?"

Slowly the master opened his eyes and in a weak voice whispered, "OK, Truth is not like a river."

The Master of Silence

A monk called himself the Master of Silence. He was actually a fraud and had no genuine understanding. To sell his humbug Zen, he had two eloquent attendant monks to answer questions for him; but he himself never uttered a word, as if to show his inscrutable "Silent Zen".

One day, when his two attendants were away, a pilgrim monk came to him and asked: "Master what is the Buddha?"

Not knowing what to do or to answer, in his confusion he could only look desperately around in all directions - east and west, here and there - for his missing mouthpieces (the two monks).

The pilgrim monk, apparently satisfied, then asked him: "What is the Dharma?"

He could not answer this question either, so he first looked up at the ceiling and then down at the floor, calling for help from heaven and earth.

Again the monk asked: "What is the Sangha?"

Now the Master of Silence could do nothing but close his eyes.

Finally the monk asked: "What is blessing?"

In desperation, the Master of Silence helplessly spread his hands to the questioner as a sign of surrender.

But the pilgrim monk was very pleased and satisfied with this interview. He left the Silence Master and set out again on his journey.

On the road the pilgrim met the two attendant monks on their way home, and began telling them enthusiastically what an enlightened being this Master of Silence was. He said: "I asked him what Buddha is. At once he turned his face to the east and then to the west, implying that human beings are always looking for Buddha here and there, but actually Buddha is not to be found either in the east or in the west.

I then asked him what the Dharma is. In answer to this question he looked up and down, meaning that the truth of Dharma is a totality of equalness, there being no discrimination between high and low, basically.

In answering my question as to what the Sangha was, he simply closed his eyes and said nothing. That was a clue to the famous saying:

If one can close his eyes and sleep soundly in the deep recesses of the cloudy mountains,
He is then a great monk.

Finally, in answering my last question, 'What is the blessing?' he stretched out his arms and showed both his hands to me. This implied that he was stretching out his helping hands to guide sentient beings with his blessings. Oh, what an enlightened Zen Master! How profound is his teaching!"

When the attendant monks returned, the Master of Silence scolded them: "Where have you been all this time? A while ago I was embarrassed to death, and almost ruined, by an inquisitive pilgrim!"

[From Garma Chang: The Practice of Zen, p. 33-35]

Dark Outside

Tokusan was studying Zen under Ryutan. One night he came to Ryutan and asked many questions. The teacher said: "The night is getting old. Why don't you retire?"

So Tukusan bowed and opened the screen to go out, observing, "It's very dark outside."

Ryutan offered Tokusan a lighted candle to find his way. Just as Tokusan received it, Ryutan blew it out. At that moment the mind of Tokusan was opened.

"I see - I won't doubt my teacher's words from now on," said Tokusan.

Next day Ryutan told the monks at his lecture: "I see one monk among you . . . Someday he will mount the highest peak and carry my teaching there."

That day Tokusan burned to ashes his commentaries on the sutras in front of the lecture hall and said: "Compared to this enlightenment the teachings - however abstruse they be - are like a single hair to the great sky. And compared to this enlightenment the complicated knowledge of the world - however profound - it is like a drop of water to the great ocean."

Then he left the monastry.

How can we accommodate to our benefit? That is often a question.


Zen tales of Zen Buddhism, Literature  

Chang, Garma C. C. 1970. The Practice of Zen. Perennial ed. New York: Harper and Row.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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