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Mazu — enlightenment as a natural part of life

Less than a hundred years after the most renowned of the Chinese Zen masters, Huineng, we come to Mazu Daoyi (Ma-tsu Tao-i) (709-788), perhaps the second most celebrated for being the source of what was to become, through his famous descendent Linji, Rinzai Zen.

Mazu's uncompromising methods foreshadowed those of Linji. In this lesson we'll look at Mazu's teachings and methods in some depth. While there is little in the way of written record of Mazu's teachings, Zen lore celebrates Mazu's methods and the awesome sense of presence that he conveyed. This comportment (remarkable composure, effortless grace and uncluttered vision they embody) is conveyed powerfully in the legends that come down to us.

Ordained at early age, Mazu wandered until he came to the monastery of Nanyue Huairang. The story of their first encounter became a archetype among later Chan masters, for it is a particularly effective discrediting of that one-time Chan mainstay, meditation, which became anathema to the more revolutionary Southern school.
As the story goes, Huairang one day came upon Mazu absorbed in meditation.

Huairang asked Mazu the reason for his long bouts of dhyana.

Mazu: "I want to become a Buddha, an enlightened being."                    

Saying nothing, the master quietly picked up a brick and started rubbing it on a stone.

Curious after watching the master for a while, Mazu: "Why are you rubbing that brick on a stone?"

Huairang: "I am polishing it into a mirror.'

Mazu probably knew by this time that he had been set up, but he had to follow through: "But how can you make a mirror by polishing a brick on a stone?"

The master: "How can you become enlightened by sitting in meditation?"

The point of this celebrated answer, driven home time and again throughout the eighth century, was that enlightenment is an active, not a passive, condition. And Mazu himself was to become the foremost exponent of enlightenment as a natural part of life.