Filed in Zen (Chan), Devotion

A Special Transmission

Teachings from the heart of the Chan Buddhist traditionGuo Jun

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Song Nian was fond of repeating the parable of the waving flag.

Two monks were looking at a flag blowing in the wind and arguing. One said the flag was moving; the other said it was the wind that was moving. Wind or flag? They went to their master to settle the issue. “Neither flag nor wind,” their master said. “The mind is moving.”

Song Nian rarely smiled, but recounting this little story invariably seemed to amuse him.

In the morning service, if I hit the wooden fish, singing bowl, gong, or drum wrong, he would peer around, looking under things and making a great display after we were done.

“What are you doing, master?” I would ask.

“Looking for the lost notes. Have you seen them?”

He scolded me with poems:

I used my true heart
To face the moon.
Who knew
The moon was facing a drain?


“Drain” in this case could be thought of as toilet or sewer.

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