The Koans of Pai-chang Huai-hai

In Zen lore Pai-chang Huai-hai, also known as Hyakujo, (724-814), was a great Zen master known for Hyakujo's Fox as well as the following "No Ducks" story:

Prior to his awakening experience he was a student of the also great Zen master Ma-tsu Ta-chi (709-788). One day while Pai-chang was still his student the two were out walking together and saw in the sky a formation of wild ducks. Ma-tsu asked, "What is that?" Pai-chang said, "Wild ducks." Ma-tsu said, "Where have they gone?" Pai-chang replied, "They have flown away." Ma-tsu then twisted Pai-chang's nose, of from which Pai-chang cried out in pain. Ma-tsu said, "When have they ever flown away, they have been here since the beginning."


In truth, all objects exist only as sets of relationships or dependencies--between various objects and between the object and the knower who mentally designates them. No core of self-nature or intrinsic essence supports our names, linguistic conventions, and projections. Nothing exists "underneath" our imputations or mental designations. Objects are none other than dependency relationships and names. In other words, all phenomena exist as a species of dependent arising--dependent upon causes and conditions, whole and part, and mental designation. This view thoroughly denies the mind-matter split of Cartesian dualism, the core of many of our Western prejudices that impede both our philosophic and scientific understanding.

It is natural to ask that if things lack inherent existence, if they are empty, then how can they function? How can an ultimately empty tree bear fruit that we eat? According to the Madhyamika, the very emptiness of independent existence of all phenomena is what allows them to function through their relationships and be sources of help and harm. In contrast, if objects inherently existed then they would of necessity be immutable and impotent, unable to act on us or we on them. Within this ultimately empty but conventionally existent world we must win our Buddhahood and thus they call our world the "womb of the Buddhas." Philosophically we must be able to move back and forth between the ultimate and conventional truth of phenomena.

The Chin shih-tzu chang (Essay on the Gold Lion) by Fa-tsang provides a clearer analogy to illustrate the relation between appearance and reality or phenomenon and noumenon. Of the Gold Lion, the gold metal symbolizes noumenon and the figure of the lion symbolizes phenomenon. Fa-tsang identifies the noumenal world with the realm of principles and the phenomenal world with the realm of things. The point of the analogy lies in explaining how the phenomenal world arises out of the noumenal world. Gold is the primary cause and the artisan the contributing or secondary cause (material and efficient causes respectively, to use Aristotle's terminology). For Fa-tsang, all things and events in the phenomenal world arise only through the combination of such causes.

Once the relation of phenomenon to noumenon is illustrated, the Essay explains the nature of the phenomenal world. Just as the outward aspect of the lion is illusory, the phenomenal world is devoid of its own reality while the noumenal world is free from generation and destruction like the gold in the analogy." Things of the phenomenal world are all manifestations of illusions, sole imagination or factitious ideas. Fa-tsang explains the three characters of things:

The fact that, from (the point of view of) the senses, the lion exists, is called its (character of) sole imagination. The fact that (from a higher point of view) the lion only seemingly exists, is called its (character of) dependency on others. And the fact that the gold (of which the lion is made) is immutable in its nature, is called (the character of) ultimate reality.

The implication of this analogy is that the events and things of the pheonmenal world have illusory being as the result of causation but lack any inhernt nature of their own.All beings in the phenomenal world depend on something else for their existence.

In all of the history of Ch'an there is not a single master that has written in such detail about his own practice and experiences, especially in describing the Enlightened state of mind than Hanshan Deqing (Han-shan Te-Ching) [1546-1623]. According to a compiled record The Dream Roaming of Great Master Hanshan, he had numerous and extraordinary Enlightenment experiences:

His first experience was during a Dharma lecture when he heard the profound teaching on the Interpenetration of Phenomena (in Japanese: Jijimuge) as taught in the Avatamsaka Sutra and the treatise, "The Ten Wondrous Gates." He experienced another deep Enlightenment experience sometime later when at Mt. Wu Tai he read the treatise by an early Chinese Madhyamika monk called Things do not Move. According to the record, Hanshan served as proofreader of the "Book of Chao," the source of "Things do not Move." Hanshan came across the stories of a Bramacharin who had left home in his youth and returned when he was white-haired. When people saw him, the neighbors asked, "Is that man [whom we know] still living today?" The Bramacharin replied, "I look like that man of the past, but I am not he." On reading this story ,, Hanshan suddenly understood that all things do not come and go:
When he got up from his seat and walked around, he did not see things in motion. When he opened the window blind, suddenly a wind blew the trees in the yard, and the leaves flew all over the sky. However, he did not see any signs of motion. When he went to urinate, he still did not see signs of flowing. He understood what the text spoke of as, "Streams and rivers run into the ocean and yet there is no flowing." At this time, Hanshan shattered all doubt and existential concerns about birth and death.(source)

Interestingly enough, in a more modern day context, the comments above by an established and proven master of old can be compared to those of Susan Segal, a young woman who is reputed to have experienced Awakening in the present era:

"I suddenly became aware that I was driving through myself. For years there had been no self at all, yet here on this road, everything was myself, and I was driving through me to arrive where I already was. In essence, I was going nowhere because I was everywhere already. The infinite emptiness I knew myself to be was now apparent as the infinite substance of everything I saw."


Comments from the Muula Madhyamaka Kaarikaa

The innate concepts ingrained into the following two sections, V and VI, from Nagarjuna's Eight Negations are probably two of the most important keys one can grasp:

V. NOT ONE THING Anekaartham:

Dependent origination, properly understood, denies that anything is absolutely singular. A thing is nothing more than the coming together of all its causes, and no thing has a single cause. So even though a thing may be perceived a single thing, reflection will always reveal that it is in fact a multiplicity of factors complexly arranged. What we take to be an individual (literally undivided whole) is never in fact indivisible. For Nagarjuna this means that no physical thing is simple; every thing is composed of parts, and therefore is liable to decompose. But it also means that no concept is primitive and basic. Every concept is built up of related concepts. Every concept has meaning only within a specific context of other concepts. And so the very attempt to arrive at primitive ideas, or axioms, from which other ideas can be derived, is doomed to failure.

VI. NOT MANY THINGS Anaanaartham:

Nagarjuna was very fond at applying recursive logic. Recursion is the name given to using the output of an operation as input to the same operation. Now we saw above that nothing is simple, because everything is made of a multiplicity of factors. So, for example, we could say that an apparent whole W is in fact a set of parts {a,b,c,d....}. But we can now substitute any one of those parts for W, with the result that we realize that none of the apparent parts of the whole is itself a simple thing. Indeed, if we continue the process of analysis to its logical conclusion, the result is that there are no things at all, even to serve as parts of larger wholes. But if there are no parts at all, then it is really NOT true after all to say of a whole that it is in fact made of many parts(nanaartha).

SEE: TURIYATITA: Chidakasa In Cosmic Consciousness.

Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.











IN THE WAY OF ENLIGHTENMENT: The Ten Fetters of Buddhism

The above in part from: