A Philosopher Asks Buddha

A philosopher asked Buddha: “Without words, without the wordless, will you tell me truth?”

The Buddha kept silence.

The philosopher bowed and thanked the Buddha, saying: “With your loving kindness I have cleared away my delusions and entered the true path.”

After the philosopher had gone, Ananda asked the Buddha what he had attained.

The Buddha replied: “A good horse runs even at the shadow of the whip.”

Mumon’s comment: Ananda was the disciple of the Buddha. Even so, his opinion did not surpass that of outsiders. I want to ask you monks: How much difference is there between disciples and outsiders?


To tread the sharp edge of a sword,

To run on smooth-frozen ice,

One needs no footsteps to follow.

Walk over the cliffs with hands free.


Excerpted from the Gateless Gate


Tozan’s Three Pounds

A monk asked Tozan when he was weighing some flax: “What is Buddha?”

Tozan said: “This flax weighs three pounds.”

Mumon’s comment: Old Tozan’s Zen is like a clam. The minute the shell opens you see the whole inside. However, I want to ask you: Do you see the real Tozan?

        Three pounds of flax in front of your nose,

        Close enough, and mind is still closer.

        Whoever talks about affirmation and negation

        Lives in the right and wrong region.


Excerpted from the Gateless Gate

Gutei’s Finger

Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

Gutei heard about the boy’s mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.

When Gutei was about to pass from this world he gathered his monks around him. “I attained my finger-Zen,” he said, “from my teacher Tenryu, and in my whole life I could not exhaust it.” Then he passed away.


Mumon’s comment: Enlightenment, which Gutei and the boy attained, has nothing to do with a finger. If anyone clings to a finger, Tenryu will be so disappointed that he will annihilate Gutei, the boy, and the clinger all together.


         Gutei cheapens the teaching of Tenryu,

        Emancipating the boy with a knife.

        Compared to the Chinese god who pushed aside a mountain with one hand

        Old Gutei is a poor imitator.


Excerpted from the Gateless Gate

It Is Not Mind, It Is Not Buddha, It Is Not Things

A monk asked Nansen: “Is there a teaching no master ever preached before?”

Nansen said: “Yes, there is.”

“What is it?” asked the monk.

Nansen replied: “It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not things.”


Mumon’s comment: Old Nansen gave away his treasure-words. He must have been greatly upset.


Nansen was too kind and lost his treasure.

Truly, words have no power.

Even though the mountain becomes the sea,

Words cannot open another’s mind.


Excerpted from the Gateless Gate