Lesson
17

Nanquan and Zhaozhou

6 of 6

This wisdom made Zhaozhou such a legend in his own lifetime that many monks from the south came north to try to test him, but he always outwitted them, even when he was well past a hundred.

We conclude the story of Zhaozhou with a garland of some of the exchanges he had with new monks:

A new arrival, apologetically: "I have come here empty-handed!”

Zhaozhou: "Lay it down then!"

"Since I have brought nothing with me, what can I lay. down?"

"Then go on carrying it!"

Falling down in the snow, Zhaozhou: "Help me up! Help me up!"

A monk came and lay down beside him. Zhaozhou got up and went away.

A monk : "When a beggar comes, what shall we give him?"

The master: "He is lacking in nothing."

A monk: "What is the real significance of Bodhidharma's coming from the west?"

Zhaozhou: "The cypress tree in the courtyard."

The monk protested that Zhaozhou was only referring to a mere object.

Zhaozhou: "No, I am not referring you to an object."

The monk then repeated again the question.

"The cypress tree in the courtyard!"

A monk besought Zhaozhou to tell him the most vitally important principle of Chan.

The master, excusing himself: "I must now go to make water. Think even such a trifling thing I have to do in person."

Zhaozhou was of a unique breed of "Golden Age" masters who created Chan's finest moment. While Zhaozhou is quoted as recognizing that Chan had already passed through its most dynamic epoch and although he himself had no illustrious heirs, there were other Southern Chan masters who would extend the lineage of Mazu into what would one day be the Rinzai school. Among these are a layman named Pang and the master Huangbo, both of whom we will meet next.