Sea-Slug Dharma

Sea Slug


Master Dongshan Liangjie  (807-869  Jpn.: Tōzan Ryōkai)

-The Nonsentient Expounds the Dharma-

Dongshan next visited Master Guishan, and asked him, “I’ve heard that the National Teacher Huizhong taught that the nonsentient can expound the Dharma, I don’t understand the intricate meaning of this teaching.”
Master Guishan said, “Do you remember the dialog?”
“Tell it again.”
Dongshan then repeated the following dialog: A monk asked, “What is the mind of the ancient Buddha?”
The National Teacher replied, “The wall and the rubble.”
“Aren’t the wall and the rubble nonsentient?”
“Can they expound the Dharma?”
“They speak very clearly and never stop.”
“Why can’t I hear it?”
“You don’t hear it, that doesn’t prevent others from hearing it.”
“Who can hear it?”
“The holy sages can hear it.”
“Do you hear it, master?”
“I don’t”
“If the master doesn’t hear it, how can you know that the nonsentient can expound the Dharma?”
“It’s fortunate that I don’t hear it; if I did, I’d be the equal of the saints, then you won’t hear me expounding the Dharma.”
“Well then it’s hopeless for ordinary beings.”
“I speak to the ordinary beings, not to the holy sages.”
“What happens after ordinary beings hear it?”
“Then they are no longer ordinary beings.”
“According to what scriptures is this teaching of the nonsentient expounding the Dharma?”
“Indeed, a noble one should not speak without references to scriptures. Haven’t you seen in the Avatamsaka Sutra that says, ‘The world speaks, ordinary beings speak, everything in the three periods of time speak.’”

When Dongshan was done, Master Guishan said, “I have this teaching too, but rare is one who can appreciate it.”
Dongshan said, “I don’t understand; I beg the master to instruct me.”
Guishan lifted up his whisk, “Understand?”
“No, please explain to me.”
“The mouth that came from my parents will never explain it to you.”
“Are there someone else who follow the Way like you, master?”
“Go to You County in Liling, where there are stone houses connected together, there is a cultivator of the Way named Yunyan. If you can step through the grass and face the breeze (i.e. are undaunted by the difficulties and pay respects to the master), you won’t be disappointed.”

Dongshan then bid farewell to Guishan and found Master Yunyan. He recounted the previous koan and asked, “Who can hear the nonsentient things expounding the Dharma?”
“The nonsentient can.”
“Do you hear it, master?”
“If I did, you wouldn’t hear me expounding the Dharma.”

“Why can’t I hear it?”
Yunyan lifted up his whisk and said, “Do you hear it?”
“You can’t even hear me expounding the Dharma, how can you hear the nonsentient?”
“According to what scriptures is this teaching of the nonsentient speaking the Dharma?”
“Haven’t you seen in the Amitabha Sutra which says, ‘The water, the birds, the forests all chant the Buddha and the Dharma?’”
Dongshan came to a realization, and said a verse:

How incredible! How incredible!
It’s inconceivable that the nonsentient expounds the Dharma!
You will never understand if you listen with your ears;
You will only know when you hear it with your eyes.

When one sees with eyes that hear
Then one keeps company with sea slugs that expound
The Wordless Buddhadharma

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