Unmon's Feast in the Joss House

One day, while lecturing his monks, Unmon asked, "Do you want to meet the old patriarchs?" Before anyone could answer, he pointed his stick above their heads and said, "The old patriarchs are jumping on your heads." Then he asked, "Do you wish to look them in the eye?" He pointed to the ground and said, "They are all under your feet." After a moment, he spoke, as though to himself, saying "I made a feast in the joss house, but the hungry gods are never satisfied."

In China a joss house was a memorial chapel where incense was burned and offerings of food were made for the spirits of the dead. Unmon was a great Master, founder of the Unmon school, and he instructed more than ninety Zen Masters. He was known for his wisdom and oratory. Here, he advises that if you want to know the essence of Zen, as taught by the patriarchs, do not search in India, or in olden times: look here, on top of your head. Enlightenment, Nirvana, is right under your feet. Unmon taught so much that he made a feast (in the joss house), but "the hungry gods are never satisfied," for they did not eat the food. We are the hungry gods, looking for Nirvana when we are already in it.


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