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"The St. Francis of Zen"

If we were to simply present a parade of recognized ancestors, we would overlook masters such as the maverick Niutou Farong (594-657). Never officially crowned an ancestor, Farong's humanity made him a legend.

Farong's yearning for spiritual challenge led him to Buddhism. When he finally settled in a rock cave in the side of a cliff near a famous monastery on Mt. Niutou, his sanctity reportedly caused birds to appear with offerings of flowers.

According to the Zen chronicle Transmission of the Lamp (1004),  Daoxin sensed that a famous Buddhist was living on Mt. Niutou and went there to search out the man.

After many days of seeking, he finally came upon a holy figure seated atop a rock. As the two meditation masters were becoming acquainted, there suddenly came the roar of a tiger from the bramble farther up the mountain. Daoxin was visibly startled, causing Farong—friend of the animals—to observe wryly, "I see it is still with you."

His meaning, of course, was that Daoxin was still enslaved by the phenomenal world, was not yet wholly detached from his fears and perceptions.

After they had chatted a while longer, Farong found occasion to leave his seat and attend nature at a detached location.

During Farong's absence Daoxin wrote the Chinese character for the Buddha's name on the very rock where he had been sitting. When Farong returned to resume his place, he was momentarily brought up short by the prospect of sitting on the Buddha's name. Expecting this, Daoxin smiled and said, "I see it is still with you.'

Zen's Chinese Heritage offers a longer version of this story >>>

He had shown that Farong was still intimidated by the trappings of classical Buddhism and had not yet become a completely detached master of the pure Mind. According to the story Farong failed to understand his comment and implored Daoxin to teach him Chan, which the Fourth Ancestor proceeded to do.

Daoxin counseled nondistinction, nonattachment, nondiscrimination. Abjure emotions, values, and striving; just be natural and be what you are, for that is the part of you that is closest to the Buddhist ideal of mental freedom.

There is nothing lacking in you, and you yourself are no different from the Buddha. There is no way of achieving Buddhahood other than letting your mind be free to be itself. You should not contemplate nor should you purify your mind. Let there be no craving and hatred, and have no anxiety or fear. Be boundless and absolutely free from all conditions. Be free to go in any direction you like. Do not act to do good, nor to pursue evil. Whether you walk or stay, sit or lie down, and whatever you see happen to.you, all are the wonderful activity of the Great Enlightened One. It is all joy, free from anxiety—it is called Buddha.

Song of Mind

Farong's school, the Oxhead school, flourished for a time in the 7th and 8th centuries. More than other Buddhist schools of this time, the Oxhead school refuted the possibility of objective knowledge, teaching that the world is a creation of the mind.

In the Song of Mind Farong wrote:

In past, present, and future,
There is nothing;
No mind, no buddha.
Sentient beings are without mind;
Out of no-mind they manifest.

Natural wisdom is self-illuminating;
All dharmas return to thusness.
There is no returning, no receiving;
Stop contemplating, forget keeping

Read entire Song of Mind >>>