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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
spring 2008| 22 |buddhadharma poem about it called “The View This Spring.” The poem contains two spare lines that sum it all up: The nation is destroyed, mountains and rivers remain. Some Chan practitioners saw what Du Fu saw, from their own perspective: In our world things are always getting broken and mended and bro- ken again, and there is also something that never breaks. Everything rises and falls, and yet in exactly the same moment things are eternal and go nowhere at all. How do we see with a kind of binocular vision, one eye aware of how things are coming and going all the time, the other aware of how they’ve never moved at all? How do we experience this not as two separate ways of seeing, but as one seamless field of vision? Mazu (Ma) Daoyi and Shitou Xiqian, who became Chan teachers around the time of the An Lushan Rebellion, pushed these questions further. They asked, What does it mean for each of us to be wholeheartedly part of this world? How do we fall willingly into the frightened, blasted, beauti- ful, tender world, just as it is? Because, as Peter Hershock formulates it in his wonderful study of Chan,1 “It’s not enough to see what buddhanature is; you have to realize what buddhanature does.” Perhaps it’s significant that these two creative geniuses came from the margins of Chinese society; in unprecedented times, no one is an expert yet, and anyone might become one. Both lived long lives that spanned the eighth century, and both had connections to Huineng, the sixth Chinese ancestor; from Ma’s heirs came the Linji (Rinzai) school, while some of Shitou’s descendants formed the Caodong (Soto) line. They never met but had great respect for each other; in their day it was said that you didn’t really know Chan until you had studied with both of them. They had a sometimes spooky connection that had unsettling effects on the students who passed between them. Here’s a typical story: Once a monk went to see Shitou. The monk had carefully prepared for all the chal- lenges he could anticipate, but Shitou caught him off guard by crying “Alas! Alas!” as soon as he saw him. Unable to respond, the monk consulted Ma, who slyly suggested that the next time Shitou cried “Alas! Alas!” the monk should puff twice. The monk went back to see Shitou, but before he could say anything, Shitou puffed twice. In middle age, Shitou settled down on South Mountain in Hunan province. At first he built a meditation hut on top of a large flat rock, which is where he got his name, Shitou, or Stone Head. When the Buddhist temple next door invited him to live there, he refused, preferring the independent life of a mountain recluse. “Better to drown at the bottom of the sea for eternity than to seek libera- tion by following the wise,” he once remarked. Shitou might have been a hermit, but he was a hermit in a lively neighborhood. South Mountain was one of the Five Holy Mountains of Chinese Buddhism and also the home of Taoist temples and a Confucian academy. Hundreds of recluses lived and practiced in the area, and Shitou also attracted many students over the years. Open-minded and 1 Chan Buddhism, by Peter Hershock (University of Hawaii Press, 2005) CourteSyoftHeArtiStAndHouldSwortH,london