Disrupting the Harmony

by Master Lin-chi

Disrupting-the-Harmony-Image“WHAT IS MEANT BY DISRUPTING the harmony of the Monastic Order?”
The Master said, “If you properly understand that the bonds and entanglements of earthly desires are so much emptiness with no place to lean on, this is disrupting the harmony of the Monastic Order.”

“What is meant by burning the sutras and images?”
The Master said, “When you can see the emptiness of causes and conditions, the emptiness of the mind, the emptiness of all phenomena, when the mind is every instant completely calm, far removed and doing nothing, this is burning the sutras and images. Fellow believers, if you can reach this kind of understanding, you will no longer be impeded by words such as common mortal or sage.

“Your minds instant by instant confront an empty fist, a pointing finger, and take it for some sort of reality, vainly thrashing around in the realm of senses, environments, phenomena. Or you think too little of yourselves, shrinking aside with the words, ‘I’m just a common mortal, while he is a sage!’

“Bald-headed idiots! Why all this fluster? Will you put on a lion’s skin and then yap like a jackal? First-rate fellows who don’t draw a first-rate fellow’s breath, you’re unwilling to trust to what you have at home and instead go looking for something outside, letting yourselves become taken up with the idle words and phrases of the men of old, clinging to the shade, relying on sunshine, never able to stand on your own. You encounter a certain environment and are swayed by it, you encounter a bit of dust and clutch at it, everywhere stirred and led astray, lacking any fixed standards of your own.

“Followers of the Way, don’t be too taken up with my pronouncements either. Why? Because pronouncements are without basis or underpinning, something painted for a time on the empty sky, as in the simile of the painter with his colors.

 “Followers of the Way, don’t take the Buddha to be some sort of ultimate goal. In my view he’s more like the hole in a privy. Bodhisattvas and arhats are all so many cangues and chains, things for fettering people. Therefore Manjushri grasped his sword, ready to kill Gautama, and Angulimala, blade in hand, tried to do injury to Shakyamuni.

“Followers of the Way, there is no Buddha to be gained, and the Three Vehicles, the five natures, the teaching of the perfect and immediate enlightenment are all simply medicines to cure diseases of the moment. None have any true reality. Even if they had, they would still all be mere shams, placards proclaiming superficial matters, so many words lined up, pronouncements of such kind. “Followers of the Way, there are certain baldheads who turn all their efforts inward, seeking in this way to find some otherworldly truth. But they are completely mistaken! Seek the Buddha and you’ll lose the Buddha. Seek the Way and you’ll lose the Way. Seek the patriarchs and you’ll lose the patriarchs.

 “Fellow believers, don’t mistake me! I don’t care whether you understand the sutras and treatises. I don’t care whether you are rulers or great statesmen. I don’t care whether you can pour out torrents of eloquence. I don’t care whether you display brilliant intellects. All I ask is that you have a true and proper understanding.

“Followers of the Way, even if you can understand a hundred sutras and treatises, you’re not as good as one plain monk who does nothing. As soon as you acquire a little of such understanding, you start treating others with scorn and contempt, vying and struggling with them like so many asuras, blinded by the ignorance of self and others, forever creating karma that will send you to hell. You’re like the monk Good Star who understood all the twelve divisions of the teachings but fell into hell alive, the earth unwilling to tolerate him. Better to do nothing, to leave off all that.

When you get hungry, eat your rice;
when you get sleepy, close your eyes.
Fools may laugh at me,
but wise men will know what I mean.

“Followers of the Way, don’t search for anything in written words. The exertions of your mind will tire it out, you’ll gulp cold air and gain nothing. Better to realize that at every moment all is conditioned and without true birth, to go beyond the bodhisattvas of the Three Vehicle provisional doctrines.

“Fellow believers, don’t dawdle your days away! In the past, before I had come to see things right, there was nothing but blackness all around me. But I knew that I shouldn’t let the time slip by in vain, and so, belly all afire, mind in a rush, I raced all over in search of the Way. Later I was able to get help from others, so that finally I could do as I’m doing today, talking with you followers of the Way. As followers of the Way, let me urge you not to do what you are doing just for the sake of clothing and food. See how quickly the world goes by! A good friend and teacher is hard to find, as rarely met with as the udumbara flower.

“You’ve heard here and there that there’s this old fellow Lin-chi, and so you come here intending to confront him in debate and push him to the point where he can’t answer. But when I come at students like that with my whole body, their eyes are wide open enough but their mouths can’t utter a word. Dumbfounded, they have no idea how to answer me. Then I say to them, ‘The trampling of a bull elephant is more than a donkey can stand!’

“You go all around pointing to your chest, puffing out your sides, saying, ‘I understand Ch’an! I understand the Way!’ But when two or three of you turn up here, you’re
completely helpless. For shame! With that body and mind of yours you go around everywhere flapping your two lips, hoodwinking the village people, but the day will come when you’ll taste the iron cudgels of hell! You’re not men who have left the household—you belong, all of you, in the realm of the asuras!

“The ultimate principles that make up the Way are not something to be thrashed out in contentious debate, clanging and banging to beat down the unbelievers. This thing handed down from the buddhas and patriarchs has no special meaning. If it were put in the form of verbal teachings, it would sink to the level of the teaching categories, the Three Vehicles, the five natures, the conditions leading to birth as human and heavenly beings. But the teaching of the sudden and immediate enlightenment is not like that. The Bodhisattva Good Treasures never went around searching anywhere.

“Fellow believers, do not use your minds in a mistaken manner, but be like the sea that rejects the bodies of the dead. While you continue to carry such dead bodies and go
racing around the world with them, you only obstruct your own vision and create obstacles in your mind. When no clouds block the sun, the beautiful light of heaven shines everywhere. When no disease afflicts the eye, it does not see phantom flowers in the empty air.

“Followers of the Way, if you wish to be always in accord with the Dharma, never give way to doubt.’ Spread it out and it fills the whole Dharma-realm, gather it up and it’s tinier than a thread of hair.’ Its lone brightness gleaming forth, it has never lacked anything. ‘The eye doesn’t see it, the ear doesn’t hear it.’ What shall we call this thing? A man of old said, ‘Say something about a thing and already you’re off the mark.’ You’ll just have to see it for yourselves. What other way is there? But there’s no end to this talk. Each of you, do your best! Thank you for your trouble.”


Lin-chi (Photo)The Chinese Zen master Lin-chi was one of the most highly regarded sages of the T’ang period. In the twelfth century, his teachings spread to Japan and formed the Rinzai School of Buddhism.

 Lin-chi rejected the religious conventions of Buddhism and the philosophical and scholarly approach of its teachings. He always stressed spontaneity, absolute freedom, and emptiness. His method of teaching was straightforward, blunt, and rough. He did not hesitate to use the stick on his disciples, if he thought they needed to be knocked out of their attachment to conventional reasoning and logic. Lin-chi pulled out the rug from under everyone. When he asked a question, the response could not be based on logic, traditional teachings, and reason. If a student wanted to know the truth sincerely and whole-heartedly, Lin-chi would ask that they abandon all manner of prior thinking so that the mind would open to the direct experience of its own nature.

 From The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi. Translated by Burton Watson. Copyright 1993 by Burton Watson. Published by Shambhala Publications, Boston, Massachusetts. www.shamabhalapubs.org