Today, I want to write about something completely different than the usual topics of my blog. This time I am commenting on a text which I like called “On Zen” by Daio Kokushi. Daio Kokushi was a japanese monk in the Rinzai Zen lineage who lived from 1235 to 1309.

I first encountered this text when i was on vacation at a monastery. We read it and at first I did not get it at all. The version I read was in my mother tongue German and used very flowery and uncommon language. But do not worry, for the purpose of this post I am concentrating on an English translation. After a while i got some parts of the text, and that is now what i want to write down, in case i forget it again.

My Comments on “On Zen”

There is a reality even prior to heaven and earth;
Indeed, it has no form, much less a name;
Eyes fail to see it; It has no voice for ears to detect;
To call it Mind or Buddha violates its nature,
For it then becomes like a visionary flower in the air;
It is not Mind, nor Buddha;

Kokushi talks about a thing which is beyond the duality of good and evil, male and female, heaven and earth, and so on. He does not say that the duality does not exist, but rather that there is something “even prior” to this duality. You cannot get it by using your usual senses like eyes and ears. And if you give it a name, it becomes a concept. But a concept could never encompass it for it is beyond human concepts and human thinking.

Absolutely quiet, and yet illuminating in a mysterious way,
It allows itself to be perceived only by the clear-eyed.
It is Dharma truly beyond form and sound;
It is Tao having nothing to do with words.

This is again about how it transcends form and sound. It is reality not tainted with any words. It is the sound of a distorted guitar, before categorizing it as “distorted guitar playing an e minor chord”. Actually, when i say “sound of a distorted guitar”, it is already categorized. That is, why it is beyond language.

I speculate that there are some remains in language which point to it. For example the “it” in “It is nine o’clock” or “It is raining”. What is that “it” that is nine o’clock? What is that “it” that is raining?

Wishing to entice the blind,
The Buddha has playfully let words escape his golden mouth;
Heaven and earth are ever since filled with entangling briars.

That part took me a while to understand. Though now it seems really easy. The Buddha tried to explain that “it” with words to those who did not get it. However, since it cannot be described with words, his explanation filled heaven and earth “with entangling briars”. It is hard to explain a dream, as you are currently inside this same dream.

O my good worthy friends gathered here,
If you desire to listen to the thunderous voice of the Dharma,
Exhaust your words, empty your thoughts,
For then you may come to recognize this One Essence.

If you want to get to know this reality beyond human concepts get rid of human concepts. Do not approach it with words nor with human thinking, as that does not work.


19 February 2020