Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma
Book 12
Lancet of Zazen
(Zazen shin)


Kannon Dôri Kôshô Hôrin Ji <1>

Once, when the Great Master Hongdao of Yueshan was sitting [in meditation], a monk asked him, "What are you thinking of, [sitting there] so fixedly?"
The master answered, "I'm thinking of not thinking."
The monk asked, "How do you think of not thinking?"
The Master answered, "Nonthinking." <2>

Verifying that such are the words of the Great Master, we should study fixed sitting, we should participate in the correct transmission of fixed sitting. This is the investigation of fixed sitting transmitted in the way of the buddha. Although he is not alone in "thinking fixedly", Yueshan's words are singular: "thinking of not thinking". Thinking is the very "skin, flesh, bones and marrow"; "not thinking" is the very skin, flesh, bones and marrow. <3>

"The monk asked, 'How do you think of not thinking?'" Indeed, while "not thinking" may be old, here it is "how do you think"? Could there be no "thinking" in sitting "fixedly"? How could [it] fail to penetrate beyond sitting "fixedly"? If we are not the sort of fool that "despises what is near", we ought to have the strength, we ought to have the "thinking", to question sitting "fixedly". <4>

"The master answered, 'Nonthinking'." Although the employment of "nonthinking" is "crystal clear", when we "think of not thinking", we always use "nonthinking". There is someone in "nonthinking", and this someone maintains us. Although it is we who are sitting "fixedly", [our sitting] is not merely "thinking": it presents itself as sitting "fixedly". Although sitting "fixedly" is sitting "fixedly", how could it "think" of sitting "fixedly"? Therefore, sitting "fixedly" is not the "measure of the buddha", not the measure of the dharma, not the measure of awakening, not the measure of comprehension. <5>

The single transmission of this sitting "fixedly" by Yueshan represents the thirty-sixth generation directly from the Buddha Shâkyamuni: if we trace beyond Yueshan thirty-six generations, there is the Buddha Shâkyamuni. In what was thus correctly transmitted there was already "thinking of not thinking". <6>

Recently, however, some stupid illiterates say, "Once you attain [the state in which] the breast is without concerns, the concentrated effort at seated meditation is peace and tranquility." <7> This view does not compare with that of the scholastics of the Lesser Vehicle; it is inferior even to the Vehicle of Men and Gods. How could one [who holds such a view] be called a person who studies the buddha dharma? At present, there are many such practitioners in the land of the Great Sung. How sad that the way of the ancestors has become overgrown.

Then there is another type of person [who says,] "To pursue the way in seated meditation is a function essential for the "beginner's mind and the latter-day student", but it is not necessarily an observance of the buddhas and ancestors. 'Walking is Zen, sitting is Zen; whether in speech or silence, motion or rest, the substance is at ease.' <8> Do not adhere solely to the present concentrated effort [of seated meditation]." Many of the type calling itself a branch of the Linji [lineage] are of this view. It is because they are deficient in transmitting the right life of the buddha-dharma that they speak thus. What is the "beginner's mind"? Where is there no "beginner's mind"? Where do we leave the "beginner's mind"?

Be it known that, for studying the way, the established [means of] investigation is pursuing the way in seated meditation. The essential point of its standard is [the understanding] that there is a practice of a buddha that does not seek to make a buddha. Since the practice of a buddha is not to make a buddha, it is the realization of the kôan. The embodied buddha does not make a buddha; when "the baskets and cages" are broken, a seated buddha does not interfere with making a buddha. At just such a time, from one thousand, from ten thousand ages past, we originally have the power "to enter into Buddha and enter into Måra". Stepping forward and back, its measure fully "fills the ditches and clogs the moats". <9>

* * * * *

When the Chan master Daji of Jiangxi was studying with the Chan master Dahui of Nanyue, after intimately receiving the mind seal, he always practiced seated meditation. Once Nanyue went to Dajii and said, "Worthy one, what are you figuring to do, sitting there in meditation?"<10>

We should give concentrated effort to the investigation of this question. Does it mean that there must be some "figuring" above and beyond seated meditation? Is there not yet a path to be "figured" outside the bounds of seated meditation? Should there be no "figuring" at all? Or does it ask what kind of "figuring" occurs at the very time we are practicing seated meditation? We should make concentrated effort to understand this in detail. Rather than love "the carved dragon", we should go on to love the real dragon. We should learn that both the carved and the real dragons have the ability [to produce] clouds and rain. Do not "value what is far away", and do not despise it; become completely familiar with it. Do not "despise what is near at hand", and do not value it; become completely familiar with it. Do not "take the eyes lightly", and do not give them weight. Do not "give weight to the ears", and do not take them lightly. Make your eyes and ears clear and sharp. <11>

Jiangxi said, "I'm figuring to make a buddha."

We should clarify and penetrate this saying. What does he mean by saying "make a buddha"? Is he saying "make a buddha" is to be made a buddha by the buddha? Is he saying "make a buddha" is to "make a buddha" of the buddha? Is he saying "make a buddha" is one or two faces of the buddha emerging? Is it that "figuring to make a buddha" is "sloughing off", and [that what is meant here is a] "figuring to make a buddha" as [the act of] sloughing off? Or is he saying by "figuring to make a buddha" that, while there are ten thousand ways to "make a buddha", they become entangled in this "figuring"? <12>

It should be recognized that Daji's saying means that seated meditation is inevitably "figuring to make a buddha", seated meditation is inevitably the "figuring" of "making a buddha". This "figuring" must be prior to "making a buddha"; it must be subsequent to "making a buddha"; and it must be at the very moment of "making a buddha". Now what I ask is this: How many [ways of] "making a buddha" does this one "figuring" entangle? These entanglements, moreover, must themselves "intertwine" with entanglements. At this point, entanglements, as individual instances of the entirety of "making a buddha", are always direct expressions of that entirety, are all individual instances of "figuring". We should not avoid this one "figuring". When we avoid the one "figuring", we "destroy our body and lose our life." When we destroy our body and lose our life, this is the entanglement of the one "figuring". <13>

At this point, Nanyue took up a tile and began to rub it on a stone. At length, Daji asked, "Master, what are you doing?" <14>

Who indeed could fail to see that he was "polishing a tile"? Who could see that he was "polishing a tile"? Still, "polishing a tile" has been questioned in this way: "What are you doing?" This "what are you doing?" is itself always "polishing a tile". This land and the other world may differ, but [in both] there is the essential message that "polishing a tile" never ceases. Not only should we avoid deciding that what we see is what we see, we should be firmly convinced that there is an essential message to be studied in all the ten thousand activities. We should know that, just as we may see the buddha without knowing or understanding him, so we may see water and yet not know water, may see mountains and yet not know mountains. The precipitate assumption that the phenomena before one's eyes offer no further passage is not the study of the buddha. <15>

Nanyue said, "I'm polishing this to make a mirror."

We should be clear about the meaning of these words. There is definitely a reason for "polishing [a tile] to make a mirror": there is the "kôan of realization"; this is no mere empty contrivance. A "tile" may be a "tile" and a "mirror" a "mirror", but when we vigorously investigate the principle of "polishing", we shall find there are many standard models. The "old mirror" and the "bright mirror" -- these are "mirrors" made through "polishing a tile". If we do not realize that these "mirrors" come from "polishing a tile", then the buddhas and ancestors have no utterance; the buddhas and ancestors do not open their mouths, and we do not perceive the buddhas and ancestors exhaling. <16>

Daji said, "How can you produce a mirror by polishing a tile?"

Indeed, though [the one who is] "polishing a tile" be "a man of iron", who does not borrow another's power, "polishing a tile" is not "producing a mirror". Even if it is "producing a mirror", it must be quick about it.

Nanyue replied, "How can you make a buddha by sitting in meditation (zazen)?"

This is clearly understood: there is a reason that sitting in meditation does not await "making a buddha"; there is nothing obscure about the essential point that "making a buddha" is not connected with sitting in meditation.

Daji asked, "Then, what is right?"

Although this saying resembles a simple question about this, it is also asking about that "rightness". Consider, for example, the occasion when one friend meets another: the fact that he is my friend means that I am his friend. "What" and "right" emerge simultaneously. <17>

Nanyue replied, "When someone is driving a cart, if the cart doesn't go, should he beat the cart or beat the ox?" <18>

Now, when he says, "if the cart doesn't go", what does he mean by the cart's "going" or the cart's "not going"? For example, is water's flowing the cart's "going", or is water's not flowing the cart's going? We can say that flowing is water's "not going", and it should also be that water's "going" is not its flowing. Therefore, in investigating the saying, "if the cart doesn't go", we should approach it both in terms of "not going" and in terms of not "not going"; for it is time. The saying, "if [the cart] doesn't go" is not saying simply that it does not go. <19>

"Should he beat the cart or beat the ox?" Should there be "beating the cart" as well as "beating the ox"? Are "beating the cart" and "beating the ox" the same or are they not the same? In the world, there is no method of "beating the cart"; but, though commoners have no method of "beating the cart", we know that on the way of the buddha there is a method of "beating the cart"; this is the very eye of study. Even though we study that there is a method of "beating the cart", it should not be equivalent to "beating the ox"; we should make detailed, concentrated effort [on this point]. Even though the method of "beating the ox" is common in the world, we should go on to investigate and study "beating the ox" on the way of the buddha. Is this "ox-beating" the water buffalo? Or "ox-beating" the iron bull? Or "ox-beating" the clay ox? Is this beating with a whip? Is it beating with the entire world? Beating with the entire mind? Is this to beat out the marrow? Is it to beat with the fist? There should be the fist beating the fist; there should be the ox beating the ox. <20>

Daji had no response.

We should not idly miss [the import of] this. [In it,] there is "throwing out a tile to take in a jade"; there is "turning the head and reversing the face". By no means should we do violence to his "no response" here. <21>

Nanyue went on, "Are you studying seated meditation or are you studying seated buddha?"

We should investigate this saying and discern the essential function of the ancestral lineage. Even without knowing the actual meaning of "studying seated meditation", we do know here that it is "studying seated buddha". Who but a scion of correct descent could say that "studying seated meditation" is "studying seated buddha"? We should know indeed that the "seated meditation" of the beginner's mind is the first "seated meditation", and the first "seated meditation" is the first "seated buddha". In speaking of this "seated meditation", [Nanyue] said,

"If you're studying seated meditation, meditation is not sitting or reclining." <22>

What he says here is that "seated meditation" is "seated meditation"; it is not "sitting or reclining". From the time the fact that it is not "sitting or reclining" has been singly transmitted [to us], [our] unlimited "sitting or reclining" is our own self. Why should we inquire about close or distant familial lines? How could we discuss delusion and awakening? Who would seek wisdom and eradication? <23> Nanyue said,

"If you're studying seated buddha, buddha is no fixed mark." <24>

Such is the way to say a saying. That the "seated buddha" is like one or two buddhas is because he has adorned himself with "no fixed mark". When [Nanyue] says here that "buddha is no fixed mark", he is speaking of the mark of the buddha. Since he is a buddha of "no fixed mark", the "seated buddha" is difficult to avoid. Therefore, since it is adorned with this "Budddha is no fixed mark", "if you're studying seated meditation" is a "seated buddha". "In a nonabiding dharma", who would "grasp or reject" [anything] as not the buddha? Who would "grasp or reject" it as the buddha. It is because it has already sloughed off "grasping and rejecting" that it is a "seated buddha." <25> Nanyue says,

"If you're studying seated buddha, this is killing buddha."

This means that, in further investigating "seated buddha", there is the virtue of "killing buddha". The very moment of a "seated buddha" is "killing buddha". Indeed, when we pursue it, the marks and signs and the radiance of "killing buddha" will always be a "seated buddha". Although the word kill here is identical with the term used by commoners, it is not simply the same as the [usage of the] commoner. Moreover, we must investigate in what form it is that a "seated buddha" is "killing buddha". Taking up the fact that "killing buddha" is a virtue of the buddha, we should study whether we are killing people or not killing people. <26>

"If you grasp the mark of sitting, you're not reaching its principle."

To "grasp the mark of sitting" here means to "reject the mark of sitting" and touch "the mark of sitting". The reason for this is that, in being a "seated buddha", we cannot not "grasp the mark of sitting". Since we cannot not "grasp the mark of sitting", though "grasping the mark of sitting" is crystal clear, we are "not reaching its principle". Such concentrated effort is called "sloughing off body and mind." <27>

Those who have never sat do not have these words: they belong to the time of sitting and the person who sits, to the sitting buddha and the study of the sitting buddha. The sitting of a person's sitting and reclining is not this sitting buddha. Although a person's sitting naturally resembles a "seated buddha", or a buddha's sitting, it is like a person's "making a buddha", or the person who makes a buddha: though there are people who make buddhas, not all people make buddhas, and buddhas are not all people. Since all buddhas are not simply all people, a person is not necessarily a buddha, and a buddha is not necessarily a person. A "seated buddha" is also like this.

Nanyue and Jiangxi, the master superior, the disciple strong, were like this. Jiangxii is the one who verifies that the "seated buddha" is "making a buddha"; Nanyue is the one who points out the "seated buddha" for "making a buddha". There was this kind of concentrated effort in the congregation of Nanyue and sayings like the above in the congregation of Yueshan.

* * * * *

Know this, that it is the seated buddha that buddha after buddha and ancestor after ancestor have taken as their essential function. Those who are buddhas and ancestors have employed this essential function, while those who are not have never even dreamt of it. To say that the buddha dharma has been transmitted from the Western Heavens to the Eastern Earth implies the transmission of the seated buddha, for it is the essential function. And where the buddha dharma is not transmitted, neither is seated meditation. What has been inherited by successor after successor [in this transmission] is just this essential message of seated meditation; one who does not participate in the single transmission of this essential message is not a buddha or an ancestor. When one is not clear about this one dharma, one is not clear about the ten thousand dharmas, not clear about the ten thousand practices. And without being clear about each dharma, one cannot be said to have a clear eye. One has not attained the way; how could he represent the present or past [in the lineage] of the buddhas and ancestors? By this, then, we should be firmly convinced that the buddhas and ancestors always singly transmit seated meditation.

To be illumined by the radiance of the buddhas and ancestors means to concentrate one's efforts in the investigation of this seated meditation. There are a bunch of fools who, misunderstanding the radiance of the buddha, think it must be like the radiance of the sun or moon or the light from a pearl or fire. But the light of the sun and moon is nothing but a mark of action within transmigration in the six destinies; it is not to be compared with the radiance of the buddha. The radiance of the buddha means receiving and hearing a single phrase, maintaining and protecting a single dharma, participating in the single transmission of seated meditation. So long as one is not illumined by the radiance [of the buddha], one is not maintaining, nor has he accepted, [the buddha dharma]. <28>

This being the case, even from ancient times there have been few who know seated meditation as seated meditation. And at present, in the [Chan] "mountains" of the land of the great Song, many of those who are heads of the primary monasteries do not know, and do not study, seated meditation. There may be some who have clearly known it but not many. Of course, the monasteries have fixed periods for seated meditation; the monks, from the abbot down, take seated meditation as their allotted task; and, in leading their students, [the teachers] encourage the practice. Nevertheless, there are few abbots who know [seated meditation].

For this reason, although from ancient times to the present there have been one or two old worthies who have written [texts entitled] "Inscriptions on Seated Meditation", "Principles of Seated Meditation" or "Lancets of Seated Meditation", among them there is nothing worth taking from any of the "Inscriptions on Seated Meditation", and the "Principles of Seated Meditation" are ignorant of its observances. They were written by a bunch who do not know seated meditation, who do not participate in its single transmission. Such are the "Lancet of Seated Meditation" (Zuochan zhen) in the Jingde chuandeng lu and the "Inscription on Seated Meditation" (Zuochan ming) in the Jiatai pudeng lu. <29> What a pity that, although [the authors of such texts] spend their entire lives passing among the "groves" of the ten directions, they do not have the concentrated effort of a single sitting-- that sitting is not their own, and concentrated effort never encounters them. <30> This is not because seated meditation rejects their bodies and minds but because they do not aspire to the true concentrated effort and are precipitately drunk in their delusion.

What they have collected is nothing but models for "reverting to the source and returning to the origin", vain programs for "suspending considerations and congealing in tranquility". [Such views] do not approach the stages of "observation, exercise, infusion, and cultivation", or the views of the "ten stages and virtual enlightenment"; how, then, could they singly transmit the seated meditation of buddha after buddha and ancestor after ancestor? The Song chroniclers were mistaken to record them, and later students should cast them aside and not look at them. <31>

Among the "Lancets of Seated Mediation", the only one that is of the buddhas and ancestors is that by the Reverend Zhenjue, the Chan Master Hongzhi of the Jingde Monastery at Tiantong, renowned Mt. Taipai, in the district of Jingyuan in the Great Song. This one is a [true] "lancet of seated meditation". This one says it right. It alone radiates throughout the surface and interior of the dharma realm. It is [the statement of] a buddha and ancestor among the buddhas and ancestors of past and present. Prior buddhas and later buddhas have been lanced by this "Lancet"; present ancestors and ancient ancestors appear from this "Lancet". Here is that "Lancet of Seated Meditation".

* * * * *

by Zhengjue
by imperial designation the Chan Master Spacious Wisdom <32>

Essential function of buddha after buddha,
Functioning essence of ancestor after ancestor --
It knows without touching things;
It illumines without facing objects.
Knowing without touching things,
Its knowing is inherently subtle;
Illumining without facing objects,
Its illumining is inherently mysterious.
Its knowing inherently subtle,
It is ever without discriminatory thought;
Its illumining inherently mysterious,
It is ever without a hair's breadth of sign.
Ever without discriminatory thought,
Its knowing is rare without peer;
Ever without a hair's breadth of sign,
Its illumining comprehends without grasping.
The water is clear right through to the bottom;
A fish goes lazily along.
The sky is vast without horizon;
A bird flies far far away.

The "lancet" in this "Lancet of Seated Meditation" means "the manifestation of the great function", "the comportment beyond sight and sound"; it is "the juncture before your parents were born". It means "you had better not slander the buddhas and ancestors"; "you do not avoid destroying your body and losing your life"; it is "a head of three feet and neck of two inches". <33>

"Essential function of buddha after buddha." The buddhas always take the "buddhas" as their "essential function" -- this is the "essential function" that is realized here; this is "seated meditation".

"Functioning essence of all the ancestors." "My master had no such words" -- this principle is "the ancestors". The dharma and the robe are transmitted. The faces [that are reversed] when we "turn the head and reverse the face" are the "essential function of all the buddhas"; the heads [that turn] when we "reverse the face and turn the head" are the "functioning essence of all the ancestors". <34>

"It knows without touching things." "Knowing" does not mean perception; for perception is of little measure. It does not mean understanding; for understanding is artificially constructed. Therefore, this "knowing" is "not touching things", and "not touching things" is "knowing". [Such "knowing"] should not be measured as universal knowledge; it should not be categorized as self-knowledge. This "not touching things" means "When they come in the light, I hit them in the light; when they come in the dark, I hit them in the dark". It means "sitting and breaking the skin born of mother". <35>

"It illumines without facing objects." This "illumining" does not mean the "illumining" of luminosity or spiritual illumination; "without facing objects" is "illumining". "Illumining" does not change into the "object", for the "object" itself is "illumining". "Without facing" means "it is never hidden throughout the world"; "it does not emerge when you break the world". It is "subtle"; it is "mysterious"; it is "interacting without interacting". <36>

"Its knowing inherently subtle, it is ever without discriminatory thought." "Thought" is itself "knowing", without dependence on another's power. "Its knowing" is its form, and its form is the mountains and rivers. These mountains and rivers are "subtle", and this "subtlety" is "mysterious". When we put it to use, it is "brisk and lively". When we make a dragon, it does not matter whether we are inside or out of the Yu Gate. To put this single "knowing" to the slightest use is to take up the mountains and rivers of the entire world and "know" them with one's entire power. Without our intimate "knowing" of the mountains and rivers, we do not have a single knowing or a half understanding. We should not lament the late arrival of "disciminatory" thinking: the buddhas of previous "discrimination" have already been realized. "Ever without" here means "previously"; "previously" means "realized". Therefore, "ever without discrimination" means "you do not meet a single person". <37>

"Its illumining inherently mysterious, it is ever without a hair's breadth of sign." "A hair's breadth" here means the entire world; yet it is "inherently mysterious", inherently "illumining". Therefore, it is as if it is never brought out. The eyes are not to be doubted, nor the ears to be trusted. "You should clarify the essential meaning apart from the sense"; "do not look to words to grasp the rule" -- this is "illumining". Therefore, it is "without peer"; therefore, it is "without grasping". This has been preserved as "rare" and maintained as "comprehending", but "I have my doubts". <38>

"The water is clear right through to the bottom; a fish swims lazily along." "The water is clear." The "water" that has to do with the sky does not get "right through to the bottom" of clear water; still less is that which forms clear, deep pools in the "vessel world" the "water" of "the water is clear". That which has no shore as its boundary -- this is what is meant by clear water penetrated "right through to the bottom". If a fish goes through this "water", it is not that it does not "go"; yet, however many tens of thousands the degree of its progress, its "going" is immeasurable, inexhaustible. There is no shoreline by which it is gauged; there is no sky to which it ascends, nor bottom to which it sinks. And therefore there is no one who can take its measure. If we try to discuss its measure, it is only clear water penetrated "right through to the bottom". The virtue of seated meditation is like the "fish going": who can calculate its degree in thousands or tens of thousands? The degree of the "going" that penetrates "right through to the bottom" is the "path of the bird", along which the whole body does not "go". <39>

"The sky is vast without horizon; a bird flies far far away." [The expression] "the sky is vast" here has nothing to do with the heavens: the "sky" that has to do with the heavens is not the vast sky; still less is that which extends everywhere here and there the vast sky. Neither hidden nor manifest, without surface or interior -- this is what is meant by the vast sky. When the bird flies this "sky", it is the single dharma of "flying sky". This observance of "flying sky" is not to be measured: "flying sky" is the entire world, for it is the entire world "flying sky". Although we do not know how far this "flying" goes, to say what is beyond our calculations, we say "far far away". This is "you should go off without a string beneath your feet". When the "sky" flies off, the "bird" flies off; in the "bird's" flying off, the "sky" flies off. In a saying that investigates flying off, it is said, "It is right here". This is the lancet of [sitting] fixedly: through how many tens of thousands of degrees does it declare "it is right here"? <40>

Such, then, is the "Lancet of Seated Meditation" by the Chan Master Hongzhi. Among the old worthies throughout all the generations, there has never been another lancet of seated meditation like this one. If the "stinking skin bags" throughout all quarters were to attempt to express a lancet of seated meditation like this one, they could not do so though they exhaust the efforts of a lifetime or two. This is the only lancet in any quarter; there is no other to be found. When he ascended the hall, my former master often said, "Hongzhi is an old buddha." He never said this about any other person. When one has the eye to know a person, he will "know the music" of the buddhas and ancestors. In truth, we know that there are buddhas and ancestors in Tongshan. <41>

Now, some eighty years and more since [the days of] the Chan Master Hongzhi, reading his "Lancet of Seated Meditation", I compose this "Lancet of Seated Meditation". The date is the eighteenth day of the third month in Mizunoe-tora, the third year of Ninji; if we calculate back from this year to the eighth day of the tenth month in the twenty-seventh year of Shao-xing, there are just eighty-five years. <42> The "Lancet of Seated Meditation" I now compose is as follows.


Essential function of all the buddhas,
Functioning essence of all the ancestors-
It is present without thinking;
It is completed without interacting.
Present without thinking,
Its presence is inherently intimate;
Completed without interacting,
Its completion is inherently verified.
Its presence inherently intimate,
It is ever without stain or defilement;
Its completion inherently verified,
It is ever without the upright or inclined.
Intimacy ever without stain or defilement,
Its intimacy sloughs off without discarding;
Verification ever without upright or inclined,
Its verification makes effort without figuring.
The water is clear right through the earth;
A fish goes along like a fish.
The sky is vast straight into the heavens,
A bird flies just like a bird. <43>

It is not that the "Lancet of Seated Meditation" by the Chan Master Hongzhi has not yet said it right, but it can also be said like this. Above all, descendants of the buddhas and ancestors should study seated meditation as "the one great concern". This is the orthodox seal of the single transmission.