everyday life is the path

Joshu asked Nansen: “What is the path?”

Nansen said: “Everyday life is the path.”

Joshu asked: “Can it be studied?”

Nansen said: “If you try to study, you will be far away from it.”

Joshu asked: “If I do not study, how can I know it is the path?”

Nansen said: “The path does not belong to the perception world, neither does it belong to the nonperception world. Cognition is a delusion and noncognition is senseless. If you want to reach the true path beyond doubt, place yourself in the same freedom as sky. You name it neither good nor not-good.”

At these words Joshu was enlightened.

Mumon’s comment: Nansen could melt Joshu’s frozen doubts at once when Joshu asked his questions. I doubt though if Joshu reached the point that Nansen did. He needed thirty more years of study.

        In spring, hundreds of flowers; in autumn, a harvest moon;

        In summer, a refreshing breeze; in winter, snow will accompany you.

        If useless things do not hang in your mind,

        Any season is a good season for you.


Excerpted from the Gateless Gate

The Sword of Taia

“Presumably, as a martial artist, I do not fight for gain or loss, am not concerned with strength or weakness, and neither advance a step nor retreat a step. The enemy does not see me. I do not see the enemy. Penetrating to a place where heaven and earth have not yet divided, where Ying and Yang have not yet arrived. I quickly and necessarily gain effect.”

The Unfettered Mind, Takuan Sōhō, Translated by William Scott Wilson,
Kodansha International, 17-14 Otowa-1-chome, Bunyo-ku, Tokyo 112-8652.

This kind of clip brings back happy memories of chasing around Tokyo martial arts shops in search of rare martial arts films for Finn sensei. They were all very helpful to the strange creature, who whilst in the midst of a business trip, tipped up at their door.

The Corporeal Observational Instrument

The noise inherent in our corporeal observational instrument is determined by a number of factors, primary amongst these is our internal dialogue and our biases. The more internal dialogue we have the more synapse firing occurs, all the time, we have a high dark current. If we cool our minds down by developing our mindfulness and heading towards a zen state, there is less dark current, which means that we can observe things better and with enhanced dynamic range. Most minds are “hot”, always firing. Indeed, there is a saying hot-headed. Hot-headed people do not think clearly.

The way the brain-current flows is dependent upon the applied bias. Things start firing at lower temperature when there is a bias, if something confirms our bias we get all excited.

A really quiet mind could be metaphorically at liquid Helium temperatures ~4K. That is not really practical, we could however have our own Peltier cooler, which we can switch on as and when.  It is called meditation, the practise of which cools the mind and reduces the dark current. If we can’t turn off our corporeal observational instrument, then we do not understand its workings all that much. No matter how clever we are, if we can’t turn off our mind, we are not in control of it. Maybe we should call in an engineer or read some manuals?

Three Gates of Tosotsu

Tosotsu built three barriers and made the monks pass through them. The first barrier is studying Zen. In studying Zen the aim is to see one’s own true nature. Now where is your true nature?

Secondly, when one realizes his own true nature he will be free from birth and death. Now when you shut the light from your eyes and become a corpse, how can you free yourself?

Thirdly, if you free yourself from birth and death, you should know where you are. Now your body separates into the four elements. Where are you?


Mumon’s comment: Whoever can pass these three barriers will be a master wherever he stands. Whatever happens about him he will turn into Zen. Otherwise he will be living on poor food and not even enough of that to satisfy himself.


An instant realization sees endless time.

Endless time is as one moment.

When one comprehends the endless moment

He realizes the person who is seeing it.


Excerpted from The Gateless Gate

Buddha Twirls a Flower

When Buddha was in Grdhrakuta mountain he turned a flower in his fingers and held it before his listeners. Every one was silent. Only Maha-Kashapa smiled at this revelation, although he tried to control the lines of his face.

Buddha said: “I have the eye of the true teaching, the heart of Nirvana, the true aspect of non-form, and the ineffable stride of Dharma. It is not expressed by words, but especially transmitted beyond teaching. This teaching I have given to Maha-Kashapa.”

Mumon’s comment: Golden-faced Gautama thought he could cheat anyone. He made the good listeners as bad, and sold dog meat under the sign of mutton. And he himself thought it was wonderful. What if all the audience had laughed together? How could he have transmitted the teaching? And again, if Maha-Kashapa had not smiled, how could he have transmitted the teaching? If he says that realization can be transmitted, he is like the city slicker that cheats the country dub, and if he says it cannot be transmitted, why does he approve of Maha-Kashapa?

At the turning of a flower

His disguise was exposed.

No one in heaven or earth can surpass

Maha-Kashapa’s wrinkled face.


Excerpted from The Gateless Gate

Squabble or Surrender?

In the previous two case studies we have slightly different versions of the same problem. Joshu simply says; “stop being dickheads!”, Solomon draws out the truth.

Which shows more love, surrender or bickering?

The ability to surrender and let go rather than to dig your heels in, is rare. Many claim ownership, few exhibit unconditional love-in-action. These two are not the same. If you really love something you will let it go rather than watch it be destroyed by constant bickering.

Nansen was a bit of a knob and liked to show off, he was a bit of a drama queen.

One of the harlots acted from the heart.