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Buddhadharma : Fall 2018
And when you don’t answer a kong-an? Now we get to Fact #4: not answering is as important as answering. Everyone starting kong-an practice wants to Get It Right. But oh, what a terrible thing it is to be right all the time. There’s a won- derful story about Deshan Xuanjian, another great ninth-century master, which makes exactly that point. Originally a famous sutra master—he specialized in the Diamond Sutra—he had heard of monks in southern China who didn’t study sutras but simply sat facing the wall in meditation. Deshan was determined to show them the error of their ways and walked for hundreds of miles through China to do so. He came to a teahouse whose proprietor was an old woman (unnamed, of course). “Oh, you are a great Diamond Sutra master,” the woman said. “If you can answer my question, your lunch is free. Otherwise you get no lunch.” “Ask me anything!” said Deshan proudly. “Okay,” she said. “The Diamond Sutra says ‘past mind cannot be grasped, present mind cannot be grasped, future mind cannot be grasped.’ With which mind will you eat your lunch?” Deshan was completely stuck. None of his study prepared him for a question like this. His mind went back and forth, forth and back, like the people in ancient antiquity who tried painstakingly to untie the Gordian knot until Alexander the Great came along and took out his sword and simply cut the knot—whack! We can’t untie the knots in our minds. We have to cut through them with our mind sword. At that moment, Deshan couldn’t do that. He thought he knew everything. But he didn’t even know what photo | David Gabriel Fischer JUDY ROITMAN 83