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The discernment of sameness Barry Magid March 3rd 2018

This koan takes up the question of discernment - seeing how things are. We typically think of discernment in terms of differentiating - dragons from snakes, gems from stones, one student from another. Yet the conversation with Manjusri in this case says that not all discernment is about seeing the difference between things. The discernment of sameness is much harder to come by than discernment of difference. How do we see ourselves in relation to one another? Do we fit in? Do we see the people in the room as people just like me?

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The Blue Cliff Record, Case 35 Questions and Answers


In determining dragons and snakes, differentiating gems and stones, distinguishing black and white, and settling uncertainty, without an eye on your forehead and a talisman at your side, time and again you will mistake what you're dealing with. Right now, seeing and hearing are not obscured, sound and form are unadulterated reality, but tell me — is it black, or is it white? Is it crooked, or is it straight? When you get here, how do you distinguish?

The Main Case

Manjushri asked Mukaju, "Where have you just come from?"
Mujaku said, "The South."
Manjushri asked, "How is Buddhism being maintained in the South."
Mujaku said, "Few mendicants maintain the precepts in this age of degeneration."
Manjushri asked, "How many are in the congregation?"
Mujaku said, "Some three hundred, some five hundred."
And then Mujaku asked Manjushri, "How is it being maintained here?"
Manjushri said, "The ordinary and the holy live together, snakes and dragons mix."
Mujaku asked, "How many are in the congregation?"
Manjushri said, "Three by three in front, three by three in back."


The twists and turns of the thousand peaks are blue as indigo;
Who says Manjushri was engaged in conversation?
Laughable how many the people on the clear cool mountain;
Three by three in front and three by three in back.

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