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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
summer 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 63 THE GATELESS GATE, CASE 13: Deshan, Bowls in Hand Deshan one day descended to the dining hall, bowls in hand. Xuefeng asked him, “Where are you going with your bowls in hand, Old Teacher? The bell has not rung, and the drum has not sounded.” Deshan turned and went back to his room. Xuefeng brought up this matter with Yantou. Yantou said, “Deshan, great as he is, does not yet know the last word.” Hearing about this, Deshan sent for Yan- tou and asked, “Don’t you approve of this old monk?” Yantou whispered his meaning. Deshan said nothing further. Next day, when Deshan took the high seat before his assembly, his presentation was very dif- ferent from usual. Yantou came to the front of the hall, rubbing his hands and laughing loudly, say- ing, “How delightful! Our old Boss has got hold of the last word. From now on, no one under heaven can outdo him!” Wumen’s verse When you realize the first word, you understand the last; the first and the last— as to this, it is not one word. —adapted from a translation by Joan Sutherland and John Tarrant Deshan is one of my favorite characters in Zen. Believed to have lived in the ninth century in China, he appears in many koan stories, first as an arrogant young scholar, eager to teach Zen masters where they are wrong about everything, then as a wandering Zen pilgrim, still a bit full of himself but no longer wed to intellectual understanding. And later, he is an old man, humble and quiet, who doesn’t know the last word of Zen— at least according to his chief disciple, Yantou. Studying koans is like choosing to live inside a vivid dream. In these dream stories, we encounter ourselves in the form of legendary characters who may or may not have lived in China over a thou- sand years ago. Sometimes we hesitate to identify with these old myths and legends and struggle to see the relevance of them. How does dreaming into koans relate to the pain and difficulties of our lives in the twenty-first century? When we allow ourselves to enter these mytho- logical stories deeply, dreaming into them, we find that a certain kind of intimacy develops. We begin to breathe together with these ancient teachers, to see through their eyes and hear with their ears. We are no longer male or female, no longer modern or ancient. We are simply together in our hunger for the dharma. Like them, we want to understand how The Last Word of Zen melissa myozen blacker invites you to step into the tale of Deshan so that you may explore the ultimate meaning of Zen. ILLUSTRATIONS By mark t. morse