Tuesday, 16 April 2019


312. Master Mumon says of Kyōgen that 'his vice and poison are endless'. What is this vice, this poison? It has something to do with Kyōgen's power to 'stop up the mouths of the monks', that is, to bring them into silence. Bear in mind that Kyōgen was a scholar who in his early years as a Zen practitioner was noted for his ability to expound the Buddhist scriptures. For a long time he made little progress in his study of Zen. One day his teacher Master Isan pointed out to him that his vast learning was holding him back from realizing his enlightenment. Isan wasn't interested in what Kyōgen had learnt from his close study of the sutras. And so he put to him this question: 'What is your real self - the self that existed before you came out of your mother's womb, before you knew east from west?' Suddenly Kyōgen found himself in the position of 'a man up in a tree hanging from a branch with his mouth'. All his book learning was of no avail. And so he gave up his sutra study and devoted himself to menial tasks. One day when he was sweeping the ground around the grave of a national teacher, a stone struck some bamboo. At that sudden, unexpected sound he came to enlightenment and realized that enlightenment is beyond speech. He entered into the silence of the Mystery of Emptiness. Thus he acquired the endless poison of the teaching with which he would stop up the mouths of monks.

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