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Ch'ing-jang's Unattained Buddha

The Gateless Barrier

A monk asked the priest Ch'ing-jang of Hsing-yang, "The Buddha of Supremely Pervading, Surpassing Wisdom did zazen on the Bodhi Seat for ten kalpas, but the Dharma of the Buddha did not manifest itself and he could not attain Buddhahood. Why is this?"

  • Ch'ing-jang said, "Your question is exactly to the point." The monk said, " But he did zazen on the Bodhi Seat; why couldn't he attain Buddhahood?" Ch'ing-jang said, "Because he is a nonattained Buddha"

Wu-men's Comment

I approve the Old barbarian's realization, but I don't approve his understanding. If an ordinary person realizes, he or she is a sage. If a sage understands, he or she is thus an ordinary person.

Wu-men's Verse

  • Better than knowing the body is knowing the mind in peace; when the mind is realized, the body is no loger anxious. When the body and mind are fully realized, the saintly hermit declines to become a noble.
  • This story goes to the heart of our notions of what is supposed to happen to us as a result of practice. In it, a monk uses a bit of ald mythology to implore his Teacher to explain, why, after all these sesshyins, nothing seems to have changed - at least not in the way that he expected. In the old story within the story, a Buddha of Supremely pervading, Surpassing Wisdom sits for ten kalpas but still doesn't attain Buddhahood. Why not?

    As you may know. a kalpa was an Indian measurte for a seemingly infinite stretch of time. There are different definitions of a kalpa, but one is to imaine a container a mile long, a mile wide, and a mile deep filled with poppy seeds. If once every three years you remove one poppy seed, a kalpa is the time it would take to empty the whole container. A seemingly endless period of time. Of course, when you're sitting here in pain. waiting for the bell to ring, it may eem like a kalpa to you. As long as you're WAITING. the time stretches out forever.

    Why couldn't this Buddha attain Buddhahood? Because he already WAS a Buddha, as you are, and what attainment could be added on top of that? How can water get any wetter? In Wu-men's terms, the monks "understands" this, but doesn't "realize" it. Understanding is intellectual and implies a separation between the person and what's understood. Realizing is just being the thing realized. "If an ordinary person realizes, he or she is a sage, if a sage understands, he or she is thus an ordinary person." I would say that our ordinary picture of realization is that it will turn us into somebody special, a sage. But a sage realizes he's just an ordinary person. But even a "sage" who gets caught up in "understanding" his "realization" is back to square one.

    • "Better than knowing the body is knowing the mind at peace; when the mind is realized, the body is no loger anxious."
  • The body here stands for our conditioning; the mind for awareness. The mind at peace is the mind aware and at rest in the midst of its conditioning. But watch out for that line, "the body is no longer anxious!" Does that mean that practice will make all our problems disappear? Well, it does! But they don't disappear OUT of our lives, they disappear INTO our lives. We no longer live our lives thinking that if only this or that problem would only go away, then I could be happy...Our so-called problems become seamilessly part of our lives, part of the everchanging sequence of happiness and illness and opportunity and relationship and joy and death that we are and that we respond to. "When body and mind are fully realized" - when we truly accept "Life as it is, the only Teacher" - when attainmentment and nonattainment are indistinguishable, then we too are Nonattained Buddhas, Buddhas just as we are, which is the only kind we or anyone else can can be. There is nothing we need to add to who we are, and so "The saintly hermit declines to become a noble."
  • In the old Indian mythology, the Buddha could be recognized by a variety of physical characteristics such as long earlobes. What are the corresponding attributes of the Nonattained Buddha? Anxiety, anger, and fear perhaps? All the hallmarks of our ordinary minds, which are what we all start with, and what after years and years of practice, are all we end up with. After all that time, are we the same or different?