Tuesday, 14 June 2016


37. There is a sequel to the story about Master Kempo and the sutra quoting monk in search of the one straight road to Nirvana. It would seem that some monks were less than impressed by Kempo's use of his staff to draw a line in the air. And so, not happy with the not very famous Kempo, they went off to visit the greatly renowned Master Ummon. This Ummon (known in Chinese as Yun-men) has come to be considered by many commentators as a great, if not the greatest, master in the history of Zen. Clearly these monks must have felt that they were taking their case, as it were, to a higher court. And what did Ummon do? Asked about the whereabouts of the one straight road to Nirvana, he did as Kempo did and simply picked up what lay nearest to hand, in his case a fan. But whereas Kempo manifested the emptiness of the one road, Ummon demonstrated its fullness. Where Kempo accompanied his gesture with a laconic 'here it is', Ummon was almost voluble with his declaration: 'this fan jumps up to the thirty-third heaven and hits the nose of the deity Sakra Devanam Indra. When you strike the carp of the eastern sea, the rain comes down in torrents'. Where Kempo points severely to the emptiness of the form of one road, Ummon delights in the rich fullness of that form. This he does with reference to such mythological and mysterious figures as the deity Sakra Devanam Indra and the carp of the eastern sea. Taken together Masters Kempo and Ummon manifest the form that is emptiness and the emptiness that is form. One used his staff, the other a fan. One's speech was severely short, the other's playfully expansive. Each in his own way made manifest the one straight road to Nirvana.

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