Tuesday, 5 July 2016


44. Sometime in the 10th century of the common era a Korean monk made his way into China. Once there he wandered about visiting various Ch'an masters until he came to Master Nan-ta, whose disciple he then became. After receiving Dharma Transmission from Nan-ta, he took up residence on Pa-chiao Mountain and trained disciples of his own. And so it came to pass that a Korean monk is remembered as Pa-chiao in Chinese Ch'an and as Basho in Japanese Zen.
     This Basho, settled down at last as master of his mountain temple, his many years of wandering behind him, surely retained a certain fondness for his trusty old pilgrim staff. It had helped him wade across rivers where bridges were either non existent or broken down. It had been effective in warding off aggressive dogs when he had passed through unfriendly villages. Nor could he forget how it had supported him on narrow mountain tracks where steep climbs were followed by steep descents. And there were those rare occasions when, far from any town, he was overtaken by darkness on moonless nights and it had helped to keep him safely on the right path. It is no surprise then that that selfsame staff should have figured prominently in his teaching. He was in the habit of addressing his disciples as follows: 'If you have a staff, I will give you a staff. If you have no staff, I will take it from you'.
     Many words have been wasted, and much ink spilt, in ceaseless discussion of what for many is a puzzling teaching. But Basho's staff swallows up words and images and concepts together with books fat with commentary. For it teaches what is immediately to hand.

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