Snatching the Whiskers of a Dragon, by Master Kusan

元 龍虎圖 軸 Dragon Artist: In the style of Muqi (Chinese, ca. 1210–after 1269)After ascending the dharma seat, and looking to all the four directions, Master Kusan said, ‘Today is the beginning of this three-month retreat. Within the assembly present here now — do each of you brave men intend to go through with this retreat? Those of you endowed with the Dharma Eye, speak! What is an extraordinary person (an awakened mind)?’

The assembly remained silent. After a pause the master gave a shout and said, ‘The oranges of Cheju-do and the apples of Taegu — do you know where they fall? One pill of golden cinnabar (the medicine of the immortals) swallows all the Dharma realms, and exudes many marvellous mani­festations. Everyone is Vairocana. Everything is a store of flowers within which the Sam­bhogakaya of the Buddha dwells. Do you understand this? You must be as audacious as someone trying to grab the eyebrows of a living tiger or to snatch the whiskers of a flying dragon. Then you will know. A poem says:

Extraordinary people ultimately extend in all horizontal and vertical directions.
Even if iron wheels were grinding their heads,
They wouldn’t be afraid.
Ten thousand trees of gold and jade enrich a desolate island;
One of their fragrant fruits stops the feeling of thirst.

‘If, in one thought, we suddenly transcend samsara, we can apprehend and defeat the buddhas and patriarchs. We can play in freedom. Why should this take a lot of time? If liberation has not yet been achieved, we must carefully investigate our own kung-­an. By breaking the limits of both past and future, only the mass of doubt will remain apparent. If, during all twenty-four hours of the day, from moment to moment, the doubt is not obscured, we will gradually enter wonderful states. At that moment, we cannot grasp or reject; there is no up or down. With one slash of a knife we cut the doubt-mass in two, and finally the mind is revealed.

‘Subtle streams of defilements are not suddenly stopped. So, at that time, when the doubt has coagulated, we must brand upon our forehead the two characters — birth and death. The body becomes like a stone which has rolled to the roadside; the mind is like a sharp blade upon which a windblown hair is split. We neglect our sleep and forget about food. We are not afraid of falling into emptiness, and deepen the hue of doubt on the kung-an.

‘We keep on working. If we can continue in this manner for one to three weeks, suddenly our mind and truth will mesh; we will understand the cause and conditions of the big matter (birth and death), and will have no further doubts about the words of the enlightened. How could we not be happy?

‘Although there is such an awakening, we must remain as if deaf and stupid, and go to meet enlightened masters. Having been tested by those masters on the truth or falsity, shallowness or depth of our awakening, we understand that which had not yet been completely understood. We are Manjushri amidst the assembly on Vulture Peak; Saman­tabhadra inside the tower of Maitreya. A poem says:

With one blow of our fist We strike down Mount Sumeru’s Peak
And establish the palace
Of the Dharma King of the Dragon Flower.1
Kasyapa’s offering is not something difficult to do.2
We make offerings to all
Within the Great Sea of the ten directions.3

The master gave a shout, and descended from the dharma seat.

Sutra Box with Dragons amid Clouds, China, Ming dynasty, Yongle period (1403–24) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1 Maitreya Bodhisattva.
2 Kashyapa’s offering: His golden orchid robe and green jade bowl which he offered to Maitreya.
3 Our offerings are made to all beings, and are the result of our enlightenment.

To read more teachings by Kusan Sunim click here.

This talk was given during the Winter meditation retreat of 1975-76 at Songgwang-sa monastery in Korea.

Reprinted from Nine Mountains: Dharma Lectures of the Korean Meditation Master Kusan,  © International Meditation Center, Songgwang-sa Monastery, Chogye Chonglim, Korea.

Categories: Buddhism, Buddhist meditation, Chan / Seon / Zen, Kusan Sunim, Mahayana

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