The Recorded Sayings of Master Linji (part 2) 

* Commentary by Master Sheng-yen on May 11,1997, the seventh day of a retreat held in Poland. Edited by Ernie Heau.

Tonight we will continue with section two of the sayings of Ch'an Master Linji. The text goes as follows:

    The Master one day had occasion to go to the Hebei prefectural office. Constant Attendant Wang, head of the prefecture, requested the Master to step up to the lecture seat.

    At that time Magu came forward and asked, "Of the eyes of the thousand-armed thousand-eyed bodhisattva of great compassion, which is the true eye?"

    The Master said, "Of the eyes of the thousand-armed thousand-eyed bodhisattva of great compassion, which is the true eye? Answer me! Answer me!"

    Magu dragged the Master down from the lecture seat and sat in it himself The Master went up close to him and said, "How are you?"

    Magu was about to say something when the Master dragged him down from the seat and sat in it himself. Magu thereupon walked out of the gathering, and the Master stepped down from the lecture seat.

In this record, we see two monks playing some kind of game of musical chairs. What's going on? This story involves two Ch'an masters, one of course is Linji, the other is Magu, a disciple of Mazu. In this story Magu challenges Linji with a very difficult question. It is not unusual for a master to throw back a difficult question to the questioner, as Linji does in this case.

A simple interpretation might be that Magu thought, "Is this how you answer my question? You're not fit to be a Ch'an a master." So he dragged Linji down and sat on the seat himself. Then Linji, thinking, "Hmm, this is not an ordinary fellow," went up to Magu, and said, "Who are you?" (Note: The translation in this text is incorrect; it should be "Who are you?" - quite different from "How are you?" The Chinese contains the meaning of "I don't recognize you - who are you?") And perhaps Magu, his realization being a level below Linji's, wanted to reply. Before Magu could speak, Linji dragged him down and reclaimed the seat. At this time, you could say, Magu should shut up; but before he could say anything, he was upstaged by Linji.

Let's put this story in a setting. Wang, an enlightened government official, invited his Dharma Master Linji to give a Dharma talk at his spacious office. There must have been many people there, including Magu, an enlightened disciple of Mazu. The dialogue ensued.

Despite his question, Magu was not necessarily challenging Linji. It could be he wanted to give the audience a direct taste of the Dharma of Ch'an. Magu was a direct descendant of Mazu, which made him senior to Linji in the Dharma lineage. Linji was two generations away from Mazu, with Baizhang and Huangbo in between. It would seem then that Magu was the older man when this story occurred.

So, Magu took the occasion to question Linji, this young fellow who was giving a Dharma talk. He asked him, "Guanyin has a thousand hands and a thousand eyes. All I want to do is ask you one simple question - which of the thousand eyes is the true eye?" According to the Great Compassionate Dharani Sutra attributed to Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin), this bodhisattva has a thousand hands and a thousand eyes to help sentient beings. This is a symbolic description of the bodhisattva's great compassion as he looks upon all sentient beings through many eyes and helps them in many ways. In this symbolism, the number of eyes and hands can be infinite, so great is this bodhisattva's compassion.

Right now when I look at you, I see each of you in a different perspective, each with your unique situation. When I help you with your method, or during interview, I try to help you in a way that suits your situation, your perspective. Even when two of you ask me the same question, I may give you different answers depending on your needs and situation. Although I do not have a thousand eyes and a thousand hands, I do have about forty-two eyes and forty-two hands to help you with. With this analogy, we can understand the meaning of Guanyin's thousand eyes and thousand hands. The difference is, Avalokiteshvara can simultaneously fulfill all the needs of sentient beings, whereas after a long day helping just forty-plus people, I am exhausted. The bodhisattva can even be depicted with a thousand ears, to hear the cries of sentient beings.

In Ch'an, a master can also be symbolically described in terms of the eyes and hands, as a way of expressing a master's skillful means - whether the master's eyes and hands are high or low, many or few, correct or deviant. If a master's eyes and hands are described as high, that means his skills in delivering sentient being are quite profound. If a master has many eyes and hands, he has many expedient ways to help. A genuine master is always described as someone whose eyes and hands are correct, as opposed to a false master, who has deviant eyes and hands. So in this sense, Avalokiteshvara is an archetype of all enlightened ones, with reference to their skills in helping sentient beings.

According to legend, once when the Buddha was at Vulture peak, he held up a flower before the Dharma assembly, but said not a word. Among the assembly only Mahakashyapa understood the Buddha's meaning and smiled. When Shakyamuni saw this he knew Mahakashyapa understood the mind Dharma, and transmitted to him the "treasure of the correct Dharma eye." This "correct eye" was what Magu was referring to.

Have you heard this story before? I am sure many of you have. It is so old, it's teeth have fallen out. But have you heard that the story was not true? (Different opinions are given by people in the hall.) Actually, there is no evidence it ever happened. It was likely fabricated in later generations, but it does describe the kind of thing that can take place in transmission. Nevertheless, it's true that the Dharma has been transmitted from Shakyamuni Buddha all the way to the present. The story is legend, but transmission is true.

Now what is this "treasure of the correct Dharma eye"? This is just a mere name, but generation after generation, this mind Dharma has been transmitted from master to disciple, to the very present day. For example my own master transmitted to me this "treasure of the correct Dharma eye," but as to what this precisely is, any answer given will be off the mark. This is analogous to the thousand-eyed, thousand-handed bodhisattva. Which one is the correct Dharma eye? It is analogous to the transmission, from generation to generation, of this "treasure of the correct Dharma eye" to all these enlightened people. For example, Mazu transmitted to over 130 disciples. Which one received the "treasure of the correct Dharma eye?" And if you say, "This one did," then what exactly did he receive? So because it was an unanswerable question Linji just threw it back at Magu, like a hot coal. So, what exactly is this "treasure of the correct Dharma eye?" When you are enlightened you will know.

In our dialogue, it is more likely that Magu knew that his question was unanswerable. So when Linji just threw it back at him, Magu thought the younger monk's answer showed real attainment, and seeing there was nothing more to be said, he decided to take over the seat. So it was not an act of aggression, but of affirmation. (Guo-gu Shi:) "But then, why did Linji himself drag Magu down and reclaim the seat?" A good question. When Magu took over the seat, he did not think that the first person to ask him a question would be Linji himself. Linji knew very well that Magu was an elder generation Ch'an master. But being very quick, Linji stood in front of him and said, "Hey, I don't know you, who are you?" Before Magu could say anything, Linji immediately pulled the old monk from the seat and got up there himself. This time, it was Magu who had nothing to say, and left.

The Dharma talk was over; both monks said what needed to be said and left the hall. This kind of Dharma dialogue is of the highest level, and it would have been most interesting if you had been there to see such a high expression of Dharma. If you had been there, being highly intelligent, maybe you would have thought, "No big deal, I could have done the same thing." But if you had good and deep virtuous roots or karmic affinity, upon witnessing this, perhaps you would have been enlightened at that very moment; you would have realized "So this is the Dharma of Ch'an!"

There are two kinds of meaning in the Dharma: the Dharma of secondary meaning, and the Dharma of ultimate meaning. Whatever can be spoken, heard, understood or learned refers to the Dharma of secondary meaning. The Dharma of ultimate meaning is beyond words and language, phrases, and names. To directly understand the Dharma of ultimate meaning is to be enlightened.

In ancient Ch'an monasteries, before the master spoke, the assembly gathered, and the chanting leader chanted a verse that begins something like this: "This assembly of great elephants and dragons gather to hear the Dharma King's Dharma," and concluded with: "The Dharma King's Dharma is just thus. This is the Dharma of ultimate meaning." Usually the first part was chanted before the master spoke, the last part after the talk. The Dharma King is of course the Buddha. Nowadays they just do this as a sort of ritual, so they chant the whole four verses. Actually it is much better, because the Dharma of first meaning is ineffable, so they chant: "The dragons and elephants gather together to hear the Dharma King's Dharma," then before anyone can speak any Dharma, they chant: "The Dharma is just thus." This "thus" is the ultimate Dharma.

In the Linji story, what is this Dharma of ultimate meaning? It is precisely the dialogue of Linji and Magu. This story is an expression of the Dharma of ultimate meaning. Whether you understood or not, tonight all of you assembled here have heard this Dharma of ultimate meaning. Tonight's text is an excellent expression of the style of the Linji school of sudden enlightenment. These stories are quite exciting. They convey the style of Ch'an, which is beyond words and language.

In Chinese Buddhism, dragons and elephants symbolize people of the highest attainment, the most fit vessels who embody the Dharma and who excel at propagating it. In Chinese legend, the dragon is the most powerful being in heaven, and the elephant the most powerful on earth. So practitioners who epitomize these creatures are of the highest and greatest capacity. For those of you assembled here who are already dragons and elephants, tonight's talk was just rubbish. If you are not yet dragons and elephants, I hope you got some useful message out of this talk.

When my disciple John Crook held retreat here previously, he introduced the silent illumination method of the Cao-Dong school. I would have liked to spend more time on silent illumination, because I also received transmission in the Cao-Dong school. But since you already had some grounding in silent illumination, I thought it would be useful to introduce the Linji school and its practice.

Though I have never before lectured on the sayings of Linji, I feel these have been useful talks. They were very condensed and complete, as I made full use of our limited time. We had just three evenings and two very short sections to bring out the essence and character of the Linji tradition. We got a lot from these stories, simple yet pregnant with meaning. The very little time we had forced me to distill a lot in a very short space of time. So for the purpose of giving you a general sense and understanding of the Linji tradition, whatever is essential to know, I had to give it birth using just two short stories. That is why I feel the talks were good. I think, I hope, we succeeded, and you may perhaps feel fortunate in that regard and find them useful.