Green Koans Case 34: Keeping It Simple

Clark Strand

Green Koans 34

CASE #34:    Keeping It Simple
Master Chu-hung said to Layman Liu Lo-yang of Su-Chou, “Because it is simple, those of high intelligence overlook it.”

Master Chu-hung    Chu-hung (1535-1615) was a master of the Ming Dynasty who combined Ch’an with Pure Land teaching. He is often credited with the revival of Buddhism in 16th century China.

Because it is simple    Chu-hung is referring to the practice of nien-fo—reciting Namo-omito-fo, Amida Buddha’s name. A simple devotion, performed by laypeople and monastics alike, it could be used to express simple faith or to enter deep Samadhi, and often both at once. In Japan, where it became known as nembutsu, the nien-fo gradually drifted away from its origins as a meditative practice. In the Ch’an style advocated by Chu-hung, nien-fo was a way of realizing “one thought-moment of awareness” for people living in the everyday world.

Later in his discourse to Liu Lo-yang, Chu-hung says:

Right now, take this moment of mindfulness, and be mindful of buddha, remember buddha, recite the buddha-name. How close and cutting! What pure essential energy, so solid and real! If you see through where the mind arises, this is the Amitabha of our inherent nature. This is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West [i.e., the meaning of Ch’an].

Those who want to know why Bodhidharma came from the West just need to ask him directly. No need for a monastery as the scene for that meeting. Just get barefoot. For Buddha-recitation, the only acceptable backdrop is a world.

The world is simple,
Perfect, and without complaint.
There’s only one thing
That puzzles it—a temple!
What on Earth could that be for?

Find the complete list of Green Koans here.

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ibyaaang1009's picture

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Mat Osmond's picture

Yes, I like that very much too. It condenses a great deal in a few words.

There was a man who was certain that what he needed in life was a good pair of shoes, but all the shoes he tried on kept falling off as walked. Still, he went on trying new shoes, and sometimes they would last quite a while...but in the end they always came off along the road. What to do? He became disconsolate. Then someone else walking the same way called out to him, as they passed:
'Have you tried walking barefoot?''

(Lighbulb appears within the cloud above man's head. He begins to laugh.)

ClarkStrand's picture

Story of my life.

ClarkStrand's picture

I'd forgotten about that particular teaching from Trungpa. I don't want to elaborate too much, because getting barefoot can mean different things to different people. I will repeat, however, a motto that we've developed at our Ecological Recovery meetings: "Biology, not ideology." That pretty much says it. Or, you could simply say, "Just get directly connected to the Earth."

Dominic Gomez's picture

"Just get directly connected to the Earth."

I like that. Reminds me of the "Emerging from the Earth" chapter of the Lotus Sutra, wherein Shakyamuni Buddha announces to his audience, "After I have entered extinction these persons will be able to protect, read, recite and widely preach this sutra."
When the Buddha speaks these words, the earth immediately trembles and cracks open, and out of it emerges immeasurable thousands, ten thousands, millions of bodhisattvas and mahasattvas. The bodies of these bodhisattvas are all golden in hue, shining with immeasurable brightness and displaying the thirty-two features of a buddha. Previously they had all been dwelling in the empty space beneath the earth. But when these bodhisattvas hear the voice of the Buddha, they rise up in response from below.

ClarkStrand's picture

One of my favorite passages from the Lotus. You may remember that I quoted it near the end of my piece on Green Meditation from the Spring 2010 issue called "Turn Out the Lights."

Mat Osmond's picture

'Just get barefoot. For Buddha-recitation, the only acceptable backdrop is a world.'

I love this, and this line especially. Many thanks.
What other backdrop could there be? Screens and curtains, painted worlds.
Maybe getting barefoot happens as we lose our shoes along the way. It reminds me of Trungpa's 'wearing out ego like an old pair of shoes'.