Only those who have left the home-life no longer traverse the road of non-birth. Only those who have renounced the worldly life no longer walk on the road of non-birth—a state of no production and no extinction, no coming and no going.
Great assembly, speak up! Which way should we go? If left-home people do not walk on the road of non-birth, which way are they heading? Hearing his question, the assembly was dumbfounded and speechless.
“Tiantai Mountain in the south, or Wutai Mountain in the north?” Should we study the teachings in the Tiantai (Heavenly Terrace) School or go to Wutai (Five Terraces) Mountain to sit in meditation? The Master continued, “Investigate!” This word was spoken in a loud voice. It is a sentence by itself, separate from the previous sentence, and it means to meditate and think it over.
A verse in praise says:
He released only a single strand of his principle.
The Chan and Pure Land schools stood face to face.
Which is the provisional? Which is the actual?
Even a thousand sages would not be able to discern this.
The Great Being teaches in response to the opportunity;
Adverse or favorable states cannot be fathomed.
At Donglin (Eastern Grove) Monastery,
The Master established a Buddha-recitation association.
At Bear’s Ear Mountain, Bodhidharma sat facing the wall.
He released only a single strand of his principle. This means there was only a tiny opening, a very slight crevice.
The Chan and Pure Land schools stood face to face. Each school proclaims its own merits and the other’s faults, thus they mutually disagree. If you truly understand, you’ll discover that Chan does not obstruct Pure Land, and Pure Land does not obstruct Chan. To truly investigate Chan is to truly recite the Buddha’s name. To truly recite the Buddha’s name is just to investigate Chan. These two schools are not pitted against each other.
Which is the provisional? Which is the actual? Ultimately, which is true and which is false? Which is important and which is unimportant?
Even a thousand sages would not be able to discern this. Even if a thousand sages appeared in the world, still they wouldn’t be able to settle the argument of who’s right and who’s wrong. You say you’re right and he says he is right. Ultimately, who is right and who is wrong?
The Great Being teaches in response to the opportunity. The “Great Being” refers to the Bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas teach and transform living beings according to their potentials. Adverse or favorable states cannot be fathomed. At times they will teach living beings by means of adverse situations; at other times they will use favorable situation. Sometimes they will comfort you with kind and gentle words, at other times they will beat you over the head and give you a rude awakening. But most common people will fail to understand the intent of the sages. That’s why it says that “most people cannot understand the actions of a superior person”. The superior person is someone whose realization is outstanding and beyond the reach of ordinary people; they cannot fathom his state.
At Donglin (Eastern Grove)
Monastery, the Master established a Buddha-recitation association, where people specialized in and disseminated the Buddha-recitation Dharma door.
At Bear’s Ear Mountain, Bodhidharma sat facing the wall. On Bear’s Ear Mountain, the Patriarch Bodhidharma transmitted the Dharma door of Chan School, which is outside of the Teaching. Since living beings’ faculties are different, they are gathered in by different Dharma doors.
We should not be as eccentric as Jie Zhitui. He was too attached to his sense of personal integrity and not amenable to reason. He hid himself and cultivated in the mountain forest with his mother, and in the end they were burned to death together. Would you say this was a filial act or not? He was not filial, nor was he a loyal subject. It’s not known what his motives were when he offered his own flesh to Duke Wen of Jin. And when Duke Wen forgot about him, Jie Zhitui must have harbored a grudge. Otherwise how could he have felt so self-righteous? He thought, “You! You have forgotten all the favors I had done for you. I even offered you my own flesh to prevent you from starving and now you’ve forgotten it all!” So he left and hid in the mountain out of rage. This rage attracted fire from outside. The outcome was that both he and his mother were burned to death.
Another verse says:
Jie Zhitui was burned in a fire at Mian Mountain.
A series of accidents led to this end; even at death he did not submit.
To commemorate him, Duke Wen of Jin set aside a day during which fires were prohibited.
The enlightened one speaks the Dharma:
“This is just piling dirt upon mounds of bones.”
Those who have left the home-life look lightly on fame and profit.
Only one who has transcended the ordinary can freely fly about.
You ask, “What does this ultimately point to?”
Green pines, lush bamboo and blossoming plum trees in the mountains.
Jie Zhitui was burned in a fire at
Mian Mountain. A series of accidents led to this end; even at death he did not submit. You cannot always figure out or foretell how things are going to turn out. Often things turn out in the most unexpected ways. You might have the best of intentions to do something good, but you plant an evil cause in the process. At other times you might be engaged in doing something in a totally improper way, but you obtain a good result. These mattes perplex people to no end. Just take the example of Jie Zhitui. He was extremely loyal and sincere to Duke Wen of Jin, and yet in the end he was burned to death by Duke Wen. This was a case of repaying kindness with animosity. But was it the case that Duke Wen wanted it this way? No. Was it the case that Jie Zhitui wanted things to turn out this way? No. It was a hit-or-miss situation that resulted in a great deal of unhappiness and regret.
To commemorate him, Duke Wen of Jin set aside a day during which fires were prohibited. Duke Wen of Jin ordered that food had to be eaten cold and no fire to be lit for cooking on that day, which is two days before the Qingming Festival. That’s why this day is called the “Cold Food Festival”. But of what use is eating cold food; what meaning has this act of commemorating Jie Zhitui? It had no meaning. This shows how living beings turn things all around, piling mistake upon mistake. Duke Wen of Jin might be afraid that he would not be remembered, whether in fame or notoriety, so he left everyone a story to commemorate Jie Zhitui, the man he had burned. And so we have this story from history. What’s the meaning behind this, ultimately? The way I see it, it has very little meaning.
The enlightened one speaks the Dharma: “This is just piling dirt upon mounds of bones.” The enlightened one refers to Dhyana Master Ci Jue, who ascended the Dharma seat and spoke a verse: “What is the point of sweeping your ancestors’ graves?” “Piling dirt upon mounds of bones” refers to when people go to sweep their ancestors’ graves, they always put more dirt back on the graves, because the dirt eroded away during the year. The point is for people to understand that everything is impermanent, and that everything we do is confused. You may insist you’re right, but what’s right about it? You may think something’s wrong, but what’s wrong with it? People are attached and so they argue that something is right or wrong, good or bad. Actually there isn’t any of that foolishness going on.
You ask me, “What does this ultimately point to?” If you insist on further explanation of what is right action and keep thinking about it, then you won’t understand it even if I told you straightly. Then just what is the truth? I’ll tell you:
Green pines, lush bamboo and blossoming plum trees in the mountains. Evergreen pines can withstand the bitter cold. Bamboo is hollow inside. Plum blossoms on the mountain must undergo the severe cold of winter before they release their fragrance. All of these plants are natural. They have “backbone.” Anyone who has spine, backbone, and wisdom is like the green pine trees, lush bamboo, and plum blossoms on the mountains.