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Anecdotes and exchanges

Mazu's Chan community was the incubator for the greatest thinkers of the eighth century and the setting for some of the finest Chan anecdotes.

The anecdote is the perfect Chan teaching device, since it forces the listener to find its meaning in his own inner experience. The sermon provided the theoretical basis for an idea, but the anecdote showed the theory in action and made the listener share in a real experience, if only vicariously.

These two anecdotes were later enshrined in the famous collection of koans called the Wumen Kuan (Japanese: Mumonkan):

Question: "What is Buddha?" (What is the spirituality that all seek? )

Mazu: "Mind is Buddha"

Case 33

Question: "What is Buddha?"

Mazu: "No mind, no Buddha" (Spirituality is in the mind, and for its realization one must realize the mind.)

In both instances Mazu is merely following the earlier idea that there is no reality and thus no enlightenment outside the mind.

These two exchanges are part of a single anecdote of Mazu:

A monk asked why the Master maintained that "the Mind is the Buddha."

Mazu: "Because I want to stop the crying of a baby."

The monk: "When the crying has stopped, what is it then?"

Mazu: "Not Mind, not Buddha,"

The monk: "How do you teach a man who does not uphold either of these?"

Mazu: "I would tell him, 'Not things.'"

The monk (again): "If you met a man free from attachment to all things, what would you tell him?"

Mazu: "I would let him experience the Great Tao."

We see here an example of a teacher answering persons of different grades of attainments and intelligence with what might seem contradictory responses.

Another example of a seemingly contradictory position is recorded as a koan, in another famous collection, the Blue Cliff Record.

One day Mazu was asked about his health.

Mazu: "Sun-faced Buddhas, Moon-faced Buddhas."

According to Buddhist tradition, a Sun-faced Buddha lives for eighteen hundred years, a Moon-faced Buddha lives only a day and a night. Perhaps he was proposing these two contradictory cases to demonstrate the irrelevance of an inquiry after his physical state, when it would have been far better if the question had concerned his mind.