Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mumon and Hanging Man

The reading:

The Case
Kyogen said, "It's like a man in a tree, hanging from a branch by his teeth; his hands can't grasp a bough, his feet won't reach one. Under the tree is a another man, who asks him the meaning of Daruma's coming from the West. If he doesn't answer, he fails in his duty. If he does, he loses his life. What should he do?

Mumon's Commentary
Though your eloquence flows like a river, it is all of no avail. Even if you can explain the whole body of the Buddhist sutras, that is also useless. If you can answer the problem properly, you can kill the living, bring the dead to life. But if you can't answer, you must ask Maitreya when he comes."


Mumon is the complier of Mumonkan, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, collection of Zen anecdotes of all time. I'm not sure that it is studied all the much by novices, and is perhaps best taken as a series of love letters from one Zen Master to the others. Mumon was a student in the lineage of Rinzai. Sooner or later I will post the tree that Blyth appends to the Mumonkan, which is his fourth volume on Zen. Mumon is reminding us that study and scholarship is not the way.

Kyogen himself was an amazing student, but this failed to help him with his enlightenment. He finally gave up, is said to have remarked that "you cannot fill an empty stomach with a picture of food", burned his books, and left the monastic life. He later was enlightened by the sound of a bamboo stick on a stone.

Maiteya isn't coming, at least not in time to help you.

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