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Buddhadharma : Winter 2017
98 Buddhadharma: The PracTiTioner's QuarTerly of the awakened heart, alive in the ashes of whatever is presently act- ing as an obstruction. After this, Guishan became the cook at Baizhang’s monastery. In another famous koan, Baizhang was looking for someone to be the teacher at a new monastery on Mount Gui. He put a water bottle on the floor and asked his gathered students, “You can’t call this a water bottle—what do you call it?” The head monk answered, “You can’t call it a wooden sandal!” Guishan, however, simply kicked the bottle over and walked away. Baizhang named Guishan head of the new monastery. On Mount Gui, Guishan built himself a hut and continued his practice. After about eight years, students began to gather around him. Their number eventually reached fifteen hun- dred. Guishan, notable for his calmness, patience, and skill at teach- ing, produced forty-one successors, including Liu Tiemo. Looking at the famous dialogue between Guishan and Liu—“Old cow, you’ve come!”—the two of them appear to have had quite an unusual relationship for the times they lived in. Even for the present time, it’s refreshing to see two people as playful as they are in this case, both embracing and disregarding gender. Pat Enkyo O’Hara, in her commentary on this koan in The Hidden Lamp, calls the exchange “a perfect pas de deux...satisfyingly complete and heart- breakingly intimate.” Yuanwu comments: “Might as well gather together, touching the difficult. Playing her part, this experienced old woman does not play by the rules.” Here is the first clue to Liu’s freedom, a woman who is not trapped by gender but is most certainly a woman. Guishan calls her “Old cow!” In English, calling a woman a cow is an insult, but in this relationship, it functions as a recognition of sameness and dif- ferentiation. Guishan himself identified with being a water buffalo, saying that was the form in which he would be reborn. Here, the male buffalo and the female cow meet, ready to engage. Yuanwu compares the encounter to searching for something in the shadows of the grass with a pole. It can’t yet be seen, but it can