The Blue Cliff Record Case 73:
A monk asked Great Master Ma, Leaving the four phrases and cutting off a hundred negations, I ask you, Teacher, to directly indicate to me the meaning of the coming from the West. Great Master Ma said, I’m tired today. I can’t preach it for you. Go ask Chih Tsang. The monk asked Chih Tsang, and Chih Tsang said, Why didn’t you ask the Master? The monk said, the Master told me to come and ask you. Chih Tsang said, I have a headache today. I can’t preach it for you. Go and ask Brother Hai. The monk asked Brother Hai, and he said, When it comes to that, I don’t know. The monk told Great Master Ma what had happened. The Master said, Chih Tsang’s head is white, Hai’s head is black.
“Chih Tsang’s head is white, Hai’s head is black.”
Clear-eyed patchrobed monks cannot understand.
The horse tramples to death all people under heaven.
Rinzai isn’t yet a thief who can steal in broad daylight.
Leaving the four phrases and cutting off their hundred negations –
Below heaven, I alone know.
Now the monk in this case, as often happens, is made to look like a complete fool, though we shouldn’t judge him too harshly. He is asking, leaving aside the four phrases, cutting off the hundred negations, directly show me the dharma. And what he’s referring to is the kind of thing that we read in Nagarjuna, the negations of something exist versus something doesn’t exist, and both exists and doesn’t exist and neither exists nor not exist. In a way these are kinds of philosophical paths toward understanding emptiness. I indulge in those myself when I get you to read Hegel and Heidigger and Strawson and all of that. And the monk is basically saying, I’ve gone down those paths, and I get it. That’s not it. That may be a description of it, but it’s not the thing itself. Show me. So he has an idea that the path that he’s pursued has come to an end but he doesn’t know what comes next.
We might have a little more sympathy for his dilemma if we transpose it into more psychological terms that we might encounter ourselves. We might say, After years of practice, I get it. It’s not about stopping all the thoughts in my mind, it’s not about becoming impervious to pain and being able to sit all day and all night without moving. It’s not about being imperturbable, and not about becoming totally autonomous so I don’t need anybody. Ok. I get that. That’s not what meditation is. But tell me, what is it then? If it’s not those things, what is it?
The Master replies, I’m tired, I can’t tell you, go ask Chih Tsang. Chih Tsang says, I have a headache. I can’t tell you either. So he goes one more time to another monk, Hai. Hai says, Well, I don’t understand it. And in each case, it’s a matter of a bird not knowing a worm when he sees one. In each case he’s being given the answer to his question but he can’t grasp it as an answer. But how many of us really do grasp this as an answer? What is the essence of the dharma? I’m tired. No, really! What’s the essence of the dharma? I have a head-ache. Come on! Explain it! What is it? Honestly, I don’t understand.
Listen to the verse in the light of that: Chih Tsang’s head is white, Hai’s head is black. Think of white and black here as light and darkness as they’re described in the Sandokai. The white is the light of understanding, the black is the dark of not knowing. One monk may express the truth in terms of a particular, a head-ache, being tired, another it’s the light, a form. Hai expresses it in terms of not knowing. That’s the dark, not understanding. Clear-eyed monks do not understand. To be clear-eyed and not understand is like the darkness: It’s one form of penetrating the truth, not knowing. The horse tramples to death all people under heaven. Master Ma – the Chinese symbol for his name means a horse – and Rinzai too is not yet a thief in broad daylight. Rinzai I think, would later become one of the successors in Ma’s lineage.
Leaving the four phrases and cutting off a hundred negations, above and below heaven, I alone know. In the opposite of not knowing is that kind of stance of the absolute. It echoes what the infant Buddha was supposed to have said at his birth: “Above the heavens and below the earth, I alone am. . . .” That can seem very abstract, but it’s equivalent to: I have a head-ache. I’m tired. I’m living life totally from the midst of that condition, where there’s nothing else. We normally live with one foot in and one foot out. I have a head-ache. I wish you’d go away. I’m tired. I guess I need more sleep. I hope this day doesn’t drag on forever. We stand outside the experience judging it, comparing it, trying to fix it. We treat it as a problem rather than a koan, as we’ve been talking about. To treat it as a problem is to see it as something that has an opposite, something that has a solution. To treat it as a koan is to say, This is it. This is all there is. I alone know. All there is is this moment. In the summer the heat kills the monk, in the winter the cold kills the monk. All there is is heat. All there is is cold.
This koan in a certain way embodies the kind of teaching Joko went back to over and over again. You’re looking for the dharma? Find it in the head-ache. Find it in being tired. Find it in the pain in your knee. Find it in not knowing. There’s nowhere else to look.