Ordinary Mind is Tao

Mumonkan CoverZen Comments on the Mumonkan
Zenkai Shibayama
Harper & Row

One of the great Zen texts 48 cases / koans.

KOAN 19. Ordinary Mind is Tao

Joshu once asked Nansen, ‘What is Tao (the Way)?’ Nansen answered, ‘Ordinary mind is Tao.’ ‘Then should we direct ourselves toward it or not?’ asked Joshu. ‘If you try to direct yourself toward it, you go away from it,’ answered Nansen. Joshu continued, ‘If we do not try, how can we know that it is Tao?’ Nansen replied, ‘Tao does not belong to knowing or to not-knowing. Knowing is illusion; not-knowing is blankness. If you really attain to Tao of no-doubt, it is like the great void, so vast and boundless. How, then, can there be right and wrong in the Tao?’ At these words, Joshu was suddenly enlightened.

Mumon’s Commentary

Questioned by Joshu, Nansen immediately shows that the tile is disintegrating, the ice is dissolving, and no communication whatsoever is possible. Even though Joshu may be enlightened, he can truly get it only after studying for thirty more years.

Mumon’s Poem

Hundreds of flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
The cool breeze in summer and snow in winter;
If there is no vain cloud in your mind,
for you it is a good season.

Three bows to Master Mumon and Shibayama Roshi.

I sometimes read just a koan from this book for inspiration, but try to read the entire volume with Shibayama Roshi’s wonderful teishos every other year.

If you’re drawn to Zen, look around for a second-hand copy of the Harper & Row hardback, the one with the calligraphy of the void on the cover; there’s none better.


Categories: Book reviews, Buddhist meditation, Chan / Seon / Zen

Tags: , ,

1 reply

  1. … and i can only agree. worth far more than its weight in gold


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