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Venerable Master Lin Chi


Died 867

(Lin-chi Yi-sen, Lin-chi I-hsuan, Rinzai, Rinzai Gigen)


Venerable Master Lin Chi Yi-Sen founded one of the most influential school of Buddhism after the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng. For centuries his followers were the leading Ch'an (Zen) Buddhist masters of China. In the twelfth century, his teachings spread to Japan and formed the Rinzai School of Buddhism.

Lin Chi's method of teaching was straightforward, blunt, and rough. He did not hesitate to use the stick on his disciples, if he thought they needed to be knocked out of their's attachment, or conventional reasoning and logic. In some ways, this style actually reflected the national spirit of China, which was warrior-like and fierce; China was constantly at war with the invaders from the West (Tartars Turks, etc.). Lin Chi's style of Buddhism, (later known as Zen in Japan), was a way of opening up the mind beyond all intellection.

Philosophical or metaphysical questions were answered by Lin Chi with a swift blow. Students and disciples were to go out of their paradigms and habitual patters of thinking. When Lin Chi asked a question, the response could not be based on logic, traditional teachings, and reason. The disciples could not lean on any model or pattern of thinking. Lin Chi pulled out the rug from under everyone. The ordinary models of thinking were unacceptable and there was nothing to hold on to. When students wanted to know the truth sincerely , whole-heartedly, and there would occur an abandonment of all former thinking, and the mind would open up to the direct experience of its own nature.

Lin Chi rejected the religions conventions of Buddhism and the philosophical and scholarly approach to Buddhism teachings. In his approach, Lin Chi stressed spontaneity, absolute freedom and emptiness:


"Many students come to see me from all over the place. Many of them are not free from their entanglement with objective things. I treat them right on the spot. If their trouble is due to grasping hands, I strike there. If their trouble is a loose mouth, I strike them there. If their trouble is hidden behind their eyes, it is there I strike. So far I have not found anyone who can set himself free. This is because they have all been caught up in the useless ways of the old masters. As for me, I do not have one only method which I give to everyone, but I relieve whatever the trouble is and set men free."

"Friends, I tell you this: there is no Buddha, no spiritual path to follow, no training and no realization. What are you so feverishly running after? Putting a head on top of your own head, you blind idiots? Your head is right where it should be. The trouble lies in your not believing in yourselves enough. Because you don't believe in yourselves you are knocked here and there by all the conditions in which you find yourselves. Being enslaved and turned around by objective situations, you have no freedom whatever, you are not masters of yourselves. Stop turning to the outside and don't be attached to my words either. Just cease clinging to the past and hankering after the future. This will be better than ten years' pilgrimage."


When Lin Chi was a young monk, he studied under Master Huang Po Si-Yin (?-857) in Huang Po Shan (Yi-fong, Jiangxi). During the first three years at the temple, Lin Chi went unnoticed. He minded his own business and did what he was told; his daily schedule included: work in the fields, meditation, helping in the kitchens, and preparing baths for the older monks.

The head monk, Mu Chou, observed and noticed Lin Chi's mindfulness and meditation in action. He was impressed with Lin Chi's humanity and genuineness, and wanted the Master to notice Lin Chi. Since Lin Chi was so honest and simple, he never had anything to ask the Master, and did not make himself the center of attention for no reason. So Mu Chou advised Lin Chi to ask the following question: "What is the fundamental principle of Buddhism?" Lin Chi asked Huang Po this question three times, and each time Huang Po hit him with a six-foot pole. Lin Chi failed to understand the truth in these blows, and decided to leave the monastery. In the tradition of what eventually became known in Zen history as hsing-chiao, traveling on foot, he decided to be a Wanderling and learn from ordinary life what he failed to learn in the monastic setting. When he went to take his leave from Master, Huang Po told him not to go far away, but to first go to Master Ta Yu, who will teach him what he needs to know.

Lin Chi went to Ta Yu's monastery and told him what had transpired. Ta Yu then said, "Why, Huang Po was to you as your own grandmother. Why have you come here suddenly, asking me about your faults?" Lin Chi became Enlightened. Up until this moment, Lin Chi had a dualistic perception of Buddhism and teachings, they were ideas in his mind, separate from himself. He had always searched for the truth outside of himself, but now, in a flash, he experienced existence as it is in itself, and he realized the emptiness of thoughts, words, and philosophical explanations.


He now understood that Huang Po's stick pointed to the truth of his own being, and that his own question about Buddhism came from illusion.


He realized the true generosity and liberating kindness of Master Huang Po. He also understood that his question about Buddhism came from illusion! Where do YOUR questions come from?



When Lin Chi returned to Master Huang Po's monastery, he told him what had happened. Huang Po was delighted and said, "Just wait till Ta Yu comes here. I'll give that blabbermouth a real beating." Lin Chi cried out, "Why wait? You have it (Reality) all now!" And Lin Chi hit Master Huang Po, who was secretly amused by this. But to maintain the attitude of a master, he shouted, "A madman! He's come back to pull the tiger's whiskers."Lin Chi then responded with a thundering great shout of "Ho!" Lin Chi's "Ho" became famous and is still used by Rinzai masters. "Ho" became "Kwatz" in the Japanese language; this word is shouted to empty the student's mind and free him from dualistic, ego-centered perception.

Lin Chi's teachings encourage people to have faith that their natural spontaneous functioning is the true Buddha-Mind. In this pure state of being, one does not obstruct, block, withhold, or repress anything. In this state of being, freedom from attachment does not mean to be without feeling, but rather it means: entering into all activities with your whole heart, not holding anything back, being at one with any situation. This is the enlightened way to live an ordinary life. When Lin Chi's students told him they were searching for deliverance from this world he would ask them: if they were delivered from the world, where could they go? He advised his student to live simply and wholeheartedly, without blind, enslaving desire:



"When it's time to get dressed, put on your clothes. When you must walk, then walk. When you must sit, then sit. Just be your ordinary self in ordinary life, unconcerned in seeking for Buddhahood. When you're tired, lie down. The fool will laugh at you but the wise man will understand."


Even though Lin-chi is infamous in Zen circles for his abrupt approach and harsh style he also gave lengthy discourses. Primary among his teachings is his notion of "the true man.":


"The Master took the high seat in the Hall. He said: 'on your lump of red flesh is a true man without rank who is always going in and out of the face of every one of you. Those who have not yet proved him, look, look!"


Lin-chi makes a distinction here between the body, that is, the so-called "lump of flesh" and the true agent that makes use of it. In another discourse, it is recorded:


"The Master said: Look at the wooden puppets performing on the stage! Their jumps and jerks all depend on the man behind."


This is the classical dichotomy between Self and vehicle, spiritual agent and mechanism. Lin Chi's statement seems more Hindu than Buddhist, as Hindu doctrine posits a Higher Self-principle (see: Baba Faqir Chand) as being the agent who uses the physical body. It is interesting that Lin Chi made use of this notion. The following statement clarifies the issue:


"This physical body of yours, composed of the four great elements, can neither expound the Dharma [Buddhist teaching] nor listen to it... Then just what can expound the Dharma and listen to it? This very you standing distinctly before me without any form, shining alone -- this can expound the Dharma and listen to it! Understand it this way, and you are not different from the Patriarch Buddha."


Lin-chi is really saying that the essential Buddha is none other than the One who controls the physical body. This "true man without rank" has no form and is definitely not a fixed thing. The "true man" is intrinsically free from the basic qualities of material and mental phenomena. The One who sits upon this lump of red flesh is free of impermanence, suffering, and insubstantiality -- what Buddhists call "the three marks" of conditioned phenomena. True nature is intrinsically free, now and forever.

Yet, this is also the "very you" whom Lin-chi states "stands distinctly" before him. The teaching here is really not too different from the Hindu conception. The same discourse explains:


"Followers of the Way, mind is without form and pervades the ten directions… Fundamentally, it is one pure radiance; divided it becomes the six harmoniously united spheres of sense [the five physical senses, plus intellect]. Since the mind is non-existent, wherever you are, you are emancipated."


The teaching of Lin Chi are not concerned with ideas of Buddha or God, but with the Reality of the human being. A true human being should not search for what he can get out of Life, but for what Life is in itself. A true human being sees things as they are, is free from wrong ideas about reality and acts in harmony with the universe at all times.

When Master Li Chi was alive, his methods of teaching were considered eccentric and out of ordinary. However, when he was passing into Nirvana, he composed this profound stanza to reveal his final teaching:


Can't stop the thoughts arising and disappearing in your mind,
True awareness shining boundlessly, you must focus on the one that doesn't move.
To realize there are neither forms nor names, nothing to pursue,
Sword of Wisdom has been used, must hurry to hone it.



SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI: THE LAST AMERICAN DARSHAN
RECOUNTING A YOUNG BOY'S NEARLY INSTANT TRANSFORMATION INTO THE ABSOLUTE DURING HIS ONLY DARSHAN WITH THE MAHARSHI



Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.


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Information was drawn from Zen-Direct pointing to reality, by Anne Bancroft, Published by Thames and Hudson, New York, USA., 1993 as well as Sasaki, Ruth Fuller; The Record of Lin-chi. Kyoto, Japan: Institute For Zen Studies, 1975. Additional clarifications and elaborations regarding the Lin Chi "true man without rank" discourse researched from and through the graceful services of Scott Mandelker, Ph.D.



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