Carrying the Bundle Under His Arm

Tokusan arrived at Isan's temple carrying his pilgrim's bundle under his arm. Inside the temple he walked back and forth from east to west and from west to east, looked carefully around, and muttered, "Nothing, nothing." Then he left.

Once outside the gate he reconsidered his opinion, saying, "Too careless to obtain a proper view." So he entered a second time and examined the temple. This time the Master, Isan, was seated in his place of authority. Seeing him, Tokusan paid him reverence as befits a new arrival seeking instruction. Isan took up his ceremonial whisk, but Tokusan shouted, brushed the Master's arm aside, and went out again.

When evening came, Master Isan asked, "That recent arrival, where is he?" The chief monk said, "He turned his back on the temple and went away for good." Isan commented, "After this, that young man will go to some isolated mountain top, establish a hermitage, laugh at the Buddha, and insult the patriarchs of Zen."

This koan concerns Tokusan as a young man - posturing, critical, self-satisfied. (In later years he became a great Master.) Here, Master Isan reprimands the young monk's egotism. Tokusan thinks he has attained enlightenment and knows everything. He visited Isan's temple as if he were the Master; there is nothing significant in his eyes. Master Isan recognised Tokusan's empty enlightenment and self-boasting.

It is said that before one studies Zen, mountains are simply mountains, rivers simply rivers; when one has studied Zen for a while, mountains are no longer mountains, rivers no longer rivers; but when one has mastered Zen, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers. Truth is naturalness. It requires no dramatisation.


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