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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
buddhadharma| 25 |winter 2007 Many students of Buddhism are the chil- dren of Master Linji, even if they don’t know his name. In the Zen tradition, the spirit of Master Linji is in everything we’re taught and everything we do. Master Linji lived during the Tang Dynasty in China. He was born in western Shandong prov- ince, just south of the Huang Ho (Yellow) River, sometime between 810 and 815.When he was still young, he left his family and traveled north to study with Zen patriarch Huangbo in his monas- tery near Hongzhou in Jiangxi province, just south of the Yangzi River. It was a time of political insta- bility in China. There was government repression of Buddhism, which culminated in a decree, issued in 845 by the emperor Tang Wu Zong, ordering all monks and nuns to disrobe and return to lay life. Many temples and statues were destroyed, particularly in the cities. Monasteries in outlying areas were less affected. After several years, the young Linji was sent by his teacher to study briefly with the reclusive monk Dayu, after which time he returned to live with the monks at Patriarch Huangbo’s temple. Later he had his own temple in Zhengzhou, Hebei province, where he taught in his signature direct and dramatic style. As was the custom in China at the time, he took his name, Linji, from the name of the mountain on which he lived and taught. He resided there until he passed away in 867. He never wrote down his teachings, but his students recorded and compiled them in The Record of Master Linji (known in the Japanese Zen tradi- tion as The Book of Rinzai). As a young monk, Linji studied diligently and gained a deep and extensive knowledge of the Trip- itaka, the three baskets of the Buddhist teachings: the sutras, commentaries, and vinaya (monastic precepts). He noticed that although many monks studied very diligently, their studies didn’t influ- ence their understanding and transformation. They appeared to be seeking knowledge only to increase their fame or position in the temple. So Master Linji let go of his studies in order to follow true Zen practice. Many of us have spent our whole lives learn- ing, questioning, and searching. But even on the path of enlightenment, if all we do is study, we’re wasting our time and that of our teacher. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study; study and practice help each other. But what’s important is not the goal we’re seeking—even if that goal is enlightenment—but living each moment of our daily life truly and fully. Master Linji had a solid knowledge of the Bud- dhist canon, but his teaching method was based on his confidence that human beings need only to wake up to their true nature and live as ordi- nary people. Master Linji didn’t call himself a Zen master. He called himself a “good spiritual friend,” someone who could help others on the path. Master Linji called those who had insight to teach “the host,” and the student, the one who comes to learn, “the guest.” In Master Linji’s time, some Buddhist terms were used so often they became meaningless. People chewed on words like “liberation” and “enlightenment” until they lost their power. It’s no different today. People use words that tire our ears. We hear the words “freedom” and “security” on talk radio, television, and in the newspaper so often that they’ve lost their effectiveness. Even the most beautiful words can lose their true meaning when they’re overused. For example, the word “love” is a wonderful word. When we like to eat hamburger, we say, “I love hamburger.” So what’s left of the deeper meaning of the word “love”? It’s the same with Buddhist words. Someone may be able to speak beautifully about compas- sion, wisdom, or nonself, but this doesn’t neces- sarily help others. And the speaker may still have a big self or treat others badly; his eloquent speech Thich NhaT haNh is a VieTNamese ZeN masTer, poeT, aNd peace aNd humaN righTs acTiVisT. This TeachiNg is adapTed from his New book, NothiNg to Do, Nowhere to go, published by parallax press, 2007. A Needle Woman, Delhi, 1999 – 2000