How Trees and Grass Become Enlightened

One day a fifty-year-old student asked Shinkan, "Tendai claims that even grass and trees will become enlightened. How is that possible?" Shinkan said, "Of what use is it to discuss how grass and trees become enlightened? The question is how you yourself can become so." "I never thought of it that way," replied the old student.

Shinkan lived during the Kamakura period in Japan, and he studied Tendai for six years, then he studied Zen for ten years. After that, he went to China and contemplated Zen for thirteen years. When he returned to Japan, many wished to interview him, but he received few visitors and seldom answered their questions.

The questioner in this koan exhibits a great fault of the intellectual: studying and discussing something unrelated to himself. Zen always points within. It is very interesting that when one is enlightened, the grass and trees are enlightened also! The enlightenment of grass and trees is really the enlightenment of ourselves about trees and grass.


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