The Master was born in Tongcheng, a son of the Yang family. He studied under Master Yunmen. Master Yunmen asked him, "What did you do before?" The Master replied, "I upheld the verse of Vipashyin." Master Yunmen said, "The four elements are unreal. The false mind is empty. Who dragged your corpse here?" The Master was speechless for a long while. Then Master Yunmen brought up the case of killing the cat, and the Master had an instantaneous insight. He threw down his meditation cushion and said, "Your words have shown me the way to Xuzhou." Soon afterwards he became Master Yunmen's attendant at Qiaoshang ("On the Bridge"). Master Yunmen said, "The stream flows on and on. Let's see what you have to say about it."
The Master said, "Knocking on space makes a sound. Beating on wood makes no noise." Master Yunmen was pleased. Six days later, upon hearing the tolling of the bell, he experienced a great awakening. From then on, his eloquence was outstanding in all situations.
Master Yunmen transmitted the Dharma to him. When Master Yunmen passed away, the Master became the next abbot of Xiansheng Monastery. In the year of gengwu during the reign of Chongzhen, he founded the Ancient Longhua ("Dragon Flower") Monastery at Bianshan in Huzhou and served as the abbot at eight monasteries. On the fifteenth day of the third lunar month in the year of xingsi, he told his attendant to help ease him into an upright coffin. He wrote a verse and then beckoned everyone with a wave of his hand. By the time they walked over to him, he had already passed away. A stupa containing his whole body was erected at Longhua Monastery.
This Patriarch is of the Caodong Sect. His name was Mingxue (Bright Snow), and he was also called Ruibai (Auspicious White). The Master was born in Tongcheng, a son of the Yang family. He was born in Tongcheng County. Is that in Henan Province? [Disciple: It's in Anhui Province.] His lay surname was Yang, the same as that of Liulang Yang.
He studied under Master Yunmen. He went to bow to Dhyana Master Yunmen, who asked him, "What did you do before?" The Master, Dhyana Master Mingxue, replied, "I upheld the verse of Vipashyin." This is a verse, not a mantra. It probably refers to a verse spoken by Vipashyin Buddha. Master Yunmen said, "The four elements are unreal. Earth, water, fire, and air temporarily combine to form the body. The false mind is empty. The mind that engages in false, stream-of-consciousness thoughts is also empty. Who dragged your corpse here? "Who has brought you here?" He was deliberately putting him on the spot.
The four elements--earth, water, fire, and air--are not really the self nor do they belong to the self. When a person dies, the earth in his body returns to the element earth in the natural environment. Likewise, water returns to water, fire returns to fire, and air returns to air. Each returns to its own place. Since they all have places to which to return, they do not belong to oneself. They have merely invested a little capital to form a corporation, so to speak. The body is a corporation formed from every member's investments. But when the members each take their share of the money, the corporation--the body--is gone.
The false mind is empty. False thinking has no substance and no appearance; it is like empty space. "Who was it who dragged your corpse over here?" "Who's in charge of you? Do you know? What is it that really causes you to become enlightened and to become a Buddha?" Dhyana Master Yunmen was referring to the Buddha nature, but he didn't say it outright; he merely asked him, "Do you know what it is?"
The Master was speechless for a long while. He had nothing to say in reply. He didn't really understand, so he wasn't able to answer.
Then Master Yunmen brought up the public record (Chinese: gong an, Japanese: koan) of killing the cat, in which a cat was killed (by Dharma Master Nanquan) in order to end the debate. There had been an argument about the true and false, but when the cat was killed, the people had nothing left to argue about, so they stopped arguing. Those on the side of the true stopped arguing, and so did those on the side of the false.
And the Master had an instantaneous insight. Hearing those words, Dhyana Master Mingxue had an insight--he knew that there was a Buddha nature. He threw down his meditation cushion and said, "Your words have shown me the way to Xuzhou." He had been carrying a meditation cushion on his back, and he was quite attached to it, but after hearing Master Yunmen's words, he threw the cushion away. He then said, "Because of that one sentence you spoke, I now know how to get to Xuzhou." He was saying, in effect, that he understood the meaning.
Soon afterwards he became Master Yunmen's attendant at Qiaoshang ("On the Bridge"). Master Yunmen said, "The stream flows on and on. Let's see what you have to say about it. See the stream? Why don't you make a verse about it? This is a test I'm giving you."
The Master Mingxue spoke two verses spontaneously. He said, "Knocking on space makes a sound. I knock on the air, but there's a sound. Beating on wood makes no noise. I hit the wood, but there's no sound." Now, what do you think he means? Knocking on space shouldn't make any sound and beating on wood should, but he said just the opposite.
His meaning was that the principles of cultivation are the opposite of mundane dharmas. What worldly people regard as existing, the cultivator thinks of as nonexistent. What worldly people regard as nonexistent, he takes to exist. Thus, transcendental dharmas are just the opposite of worldly dharmas. In the way of the world, boys want to find girlfriends and girls want to find boyfriends. In terms of transcendental dharmas, it doesn't work that way. Girls don't need to have boyfriends, and boys don't need to have girlfriends. Then they are pure. Thus, the principles for transcending the world are opposed to worldly principles.
To be continued