August 20th, 1967

Originally offered: August 20th, 1967 | Modified October 26th, 2010 by korin

GENJŌ-KŌAN NO.  1 [3?]

Sunday, August 20, 1967

Morning Sesshin

Zen Mountain Center, Tassajara

Edited by Brian Fikes

(Note from Brian Fikes:  The first portion of this lecture was not recorded.  This is the first [sic][1] in a series of [three] lectures on the Genjokoan given      during the sesshin ending the first training period at Tassajara.)

There are four ways of understanding the relationship of form and emptiness: form is emptiness, emptiness is form, form is form, and emptiness is emptiness.  “Form is emptiness” may not be so difficult to understand, but it will be misunderstood by some advanced, hasty people.  “Yes, form is emptiness.  There is no need for us to attach to some particular thing.  Form is emptiness.”  This looks very clear, and this view of life is better than attaching to some particular form or color, because in it there are actually many, many views of life.  And this view of non‑existence is deeper than the view of seeing many things which actually look per­manent and which look like they have some self‑na­ture.  But as we explained already, and as you have already understood, there is no special self‑nature for anything, and everything is changing.  As long as everything is changing, nothing is permanent.  So this [form is emptiness] may be a more advanced view of life.

But “emptiness is form” is rather difficult to understand.  The empti­ness which is the absolute goal we will attain, which is enlightenment itself, is form.  So whatever you do is enlightenment itself.  This is rather difficult to understand, or to accept, because you think emptiness is some unusual thing.  Something unusual is something very common.  This is rather difficult to understand, especially when you practice zazen.  Even though your practice is not perfect, that is enlightenment.  This statement is very difficult to accept.  “No, my practice is not perfect.”  But when we under­stand form is emptiness, and emptiness is form, back and forth in this way, and form is form, and emptiness is emptiness, when emptiness comes, everything is emptiness, and when form comes, form is form, and we accept things as it is.

So when we come to the understanding of, “Form is form and emptiness is emptiness,” there is no problem.  This stage, or this understanding, is what Dōgen-zenji means by, “When the moon is in the water, the water will not be broken, nor will the moon be wet.”  Moon is moon, and water is water.  This is “form is form, emptiness is emptiness.”  But here there is the possibility of the misunderstanding that there is no need to practice Zen.  “Form is form, and emptiness is emptiness.  If this is true, why do we practice zazen?”  You will have this kind of misunderstanding.  But each of the four statements also includes the other three, so there are four ways of understanding each statement.  If it is not so, it is not true understanding.  So all four state­ments are actually the same.  Whether you say form is form or emptiness is emptiness, or form is emptiness, or emptiness is form, one statement is enough for you.  This is true understanding of Prajñāpāramitā.

Here Dōgen-zenji referred to the kōan of Zen Master Hōtetsu [Pao-ch’e] of Mount Myoho (Mayu) [Mayoku] fanning himself.  He was a disciple of the famous Hyakujō-zenji, and he was a very good Zen master.  “Hōtetsu-zenji of Mt. Myoho was fanning himself.  A monk approached and said, ‘Sir, the nature of wind is permanent, and there is no place it does not reach.  Why then must you fan yourself?'”  If the wind is everywhere, why do you fan yourself?  Do you understand?  If everyone has Buddha nature, and form is emptiness and emptiness is form, why then must you fan yourself?”‘  Although you understand that the nature of wind is permanent,’ the master replied, ‘you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere.'”  Even though you understand form is emptiness, you do not understand that emptiness is form, in other words.  “‘What is the meaning?’ asked the monk.  The master just fanned himself.”  He did not answer, but just fanned himself.  There is a very great difference between a man who fans himself and one who does not fan himself.  One will be very hot, one will be very cool, even though wind is everywhere.  “The master just fanned himself.  The monk bowed with great respect.”

This is an experience of the correct transmission of Buddhism.  Dōgen-zenji said, “Those who say we should not use a fan because there is wind know neither permanency nor the nature of wind.  The nature of wind is permanent.  The wind of Buddhism actualizes the gold of the earth and ripens the cheese of the Long River.”

“Ripens the cheese of the Long River”—this is a quotation from the Gandavyuha [sic: Bandavyuha] Sūtra.  The water of the Long River is supposed to be pure milk.  But even though the water of the Long River is pure milk, if it doesn’t go through the right process, it cannot be cheese, you know.  Milk is milk, and cheese is cheese.  So if you want to ripen cheese, you should work on it.  Even though there is wind, if you do not use your fan, it will not make you cool.  Even though there is a lot of gold on the earth, if you do not pick it up, you cannot get gold.  This is a very important point.

People may think Zen is a wonderful teaching.  “If you study Zen, you will acquire complete freedom.  Whatever you do, if you are in a Zen Buddhist robe, it is alright.  If you wear a black robe like this, whatever you do is alright.  We have that much freedom in our teaching.”  This kind of understanding looks like observing the teaching that form is emptiness, but what I mean by “form is emptiness” is quite different.  Back and forth we practice, we train our mind and our emotions and our body.  And after that process, you will acquire the perfect freedom.

And perfect freedom will only be acquired under some limitation.  When you are in one position, realization of the truth will be there, will happen to you.  But if you do not work on any position, wandering about from one place to another without knowing where you are, without knowing the place on which you work, then there will be no chance for you to realize your true nature.  Even though you use something to make yourself cool, even though you have a Japanese round fan and a Chinese fan and a big electric fan, if you are always changing from one to the other as you wish, then you will spend your time just changing your equipment to make yourself cool.  And you will have no time to appreciate the cool wind.  That is what most people are doing.  If you are not in some condition, you cannot experience reality.  Reality will be experienced only when you are in some particular condition.  [A line is missing here, so I’m not sure if this is right—B.F.]  That is why we say emptiness is form.  Emptiness will be very good, but it can only be ap­preciated in some form or color or under some limitation.

But we cannot be attached to it.  Even though it is very wonderful to use a big fan in Tassajara, if you use it in San Francisco, what will happen to you?  You cannot use such a big electric fan in San Francisco.  So you cannot be attached to anything.

But you should appreciate, moment after moment, what you are doing right now under some condition.  First of all, you must know under which condition you actually are.  This is very important.  If you are a teacher, you should behave like a teacher; when you are a student, you should behave like a student.  So first of all you should know what your position is, or else realization of the truth will not happen to you.  This is how we should understand our way.  To realize our position and find ourselves is the way.

In this kōan, he says, “‘Even though you know the nature of wind is permanent and reaches everywhere,'” but strictly speaking, this is a kind of rhetoric or a compliment.  Actually, the monk doesn’t even know the nature of wind nor what is meant by permanence.  This is just complete ignorance.  “‘Although you understand that the nature of wind is per­manent,’ the master replied, ‘you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere.'”  How the wind reaches everywhere, and what is everywhere, and what reaching is, he has no idea.  He doesn’t know at all, about anything!  When the nature of wind is permanent, and how it is permanent, is that when the wind works in some certain direction, in some spirit, under some condition, then the nature of wind will appear.  You see?

“Reaching everywhere” means that the activity of the cool wind, which is blowing in some certain direction, in some spirit, covers everything.  At that moment, the movement of the wind is the whole world, and the independent activity of the wind.  Nothing can be compared with the wind under this condition.  Ash is ash, having its own past and future, and firewood is firewood, having its own past and future.  Firewood and ash are thoroughly independent.  So is the wind.  This is how wind reaches everywhere, and this activity is beyond the idea of time.

When we attain enlightenment, all the patriarchs attain enlightenment at the same time.  You cannot say Buddha is before and we are after.  When you understand enlightenment, you are independent from everything; you have your own past and future, as Buddha had his own past and future.  And his position is independent, as your position is independent.  If so, this realization is beyond time and space.  In this way, the wind reaches everywhere.  Do you understand?  You cannot say Buddha is before and we are after, like ashes are after and firewood is before.  In this way, you should understand that the wind reaches everywhere.  In this way, you should realize the nature of wind, which is permanent.  The monk did not have any understanding of this kind.  For Hōtetsu-zenji, it was impossible to explain this direct experience of reality, so he just fanned himself, appreciating the cool wind.

This is a very famous statement: “The wind of Buddhism actualizes the gold of the earth and ripens the cheese of the Long River.”  Only by your practice, when you practice zazen in this way, aiming at this kind of goal, will you have a chance to attain true enlightenment.

Thank you very much.


Transcribed by Brian Fikes.  Text reformatted and notes amended by Bill Redican 2/20/02.

[1]  According to Wind Bell (1968, No. 1-2, p. 16), this is the last lecture of a series of three on the Genjō Kōan given by Suzuki-rōshi at Tassajara.  The fact that Suzuki-rōshi is discussing the last paragraphs of the fascicle also supports the conclusion that this is last in the series rather than first.  Suzuki-rōshi gave an earlier series of lectures on the Genjō Kōan at Soko-ji in 1966 (see SR-66-03-13A, SR-66-05-25, etc.). —WKR, April 30, 2001.

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2 Responses to “August 20th, 1967”

  1. korin Says:

    For more on Genjo Koan, see also these talks from 1966:

    Here is the Tanahashi & Aitken translation of the last section of Genjo Koan:

    Zen master Baoche of Mount Mayu was fanning himself. A monk approached and said, “Master, the nature of wind is permanent and there is no place it does not reach. Why, then do you fan yourself?” “Although you understand that the nature of wind is permanent;” Baoche replied, “you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere.” “What is the meaning of its reaching everywhere?” asked the monk again. The master just kept fanning himself. The monk bowed deeply. The actualization of the buddha-dharma, the vital path of its correct transmission, is like this. If you say that you do not need to fan yourself because the nature of wind is permanent and you can have wind without fanning, you will understand neither permanence nor the nature of wind. The nature of wind is permanent; because of that, the wind of the Buddha’s house brings forth the gold of the earth and makes fragrant the cream of the long river.

    Earlier sections of Genjo Koan include passages on finding your place where you are and the relationship of firewood and ash.

  2. Brit Pyland Says:

    Hi Korin,

    Even though Roshi is discussing the end of Genjokoan in this talk on August 20th, he did give further talks on GK on August 21st and 23rd during Sesshin at ZMC. They are included in a Genjokoan study guide [53 pages] compiled by David Chadwick around 1975-76. It included all available SR teishos on GK and a 1974 seminar by Dr. Masao Abe at City Center. The ZC Library had copies of the study guide at one time.

    Thank you so much for all of your efforts on this dharmablog that I study with great enjoyment and benefit.


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