H.H. Patriarch Dong Shan Liang Chieh


(806 - 869)

First Patriarch and Founder of Soto Zen (Chinese Tsao Dong Ch'an) Lineage

In youth he followed a teacher and recited the Heart Sutra. Coming to where it says, 'There is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind,' he suddenly felt his face and asked the teacher, "I have eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and so forth; why does the sutra say there are none?" The teacher was surpassed at this and said, "I am not your teacher." Then he directed him to go to Mt. Wu Hsieh (in Chekiang China) to pay obeisance to Ch'an master (Ling) Mo (746-818); reckoned as one of Ma Tsu's successors, he was actually Enlightened under Shih T'ao and was his attendant for twenty years), by whom he had his head shaved. At twenty-one he went to Sung Shan and received the precepts in full.

Traveling around, he first called on Nan Ch'uan; as it happened, it was the anniversary of Ma Tsu's death, so they were preparing a ceremonial feast. Ch'uan asked the community, "Tomorrow we will set out a feast for Ma Tsu; do you think Ma Tsu will come, or not?" No one replied; the master (Dong Shan) came forth and answered, "If he has a companion, he'll come." Ch'uan said, "Though this lad is young, he is quite suitable for carving and polishing." The master said, "Teacher, don't oppress a freeman (Liang, Dong Shan's personal name) and make him a slave." (The Tsu T'ang Chi says that after this he began to be known as an adept.)

Next he called on Kuei Shan and asked, "I recently have heard that the National Teacher Chung of Nan Yang had a saying about inanimate objects expounding the Dharma, but I have not thoroughly comprehended its subtlety." Kuei Shan said, "Do you not remember it?" The master said, "I remember." Kuei Shan said, "Try to recite it for me." The master then recited, "A monk asked, 'What is the mind of an ancient Buddha?' The National Teacher said, 'Walls, tiles, and pebbles.' The monk said, 'Aren't walls, tiles, and pebbles inanimate?' the National Teacher said, 'That's right.' The monk said, 'And can they expound the Dharma, or not?' The National Teacher said, 'They are always expounding it clearly, without interruption.' The monk said, 'Why don't I hear it?' The National Teacher said, 'You yourself don't hear it, but you shouldn't hinder the one who does hear it.' The monk said, 'Who can hear it?' The National Teacher said, 'All the saints can hear it.' The monk said, 'Can you hear it too, Master?' The National Teacher said, 'I don't hear it.' The monk said, 'Since you don't hear it, how do you know that inanimate objects can expound the Dharma?' The National Teacher said, 'It's lucky I don't hear it; if I heard it, then I'd be equal to the saints and you wouldn't hear me expound the Dharma.' The monk said, 'Then sentient beings have no part in it.' The National Teacher said, 'I explain for sentient beings, not for the saints.' The monk said, 'How are sentient beings after they have heard it?' The National Teacher said, 'Then they are not sentient beings.' The monk said, 'What scripture is the "inanimate expounding the Dharma" based on?' The National Teacher said, 'Obviously if the words do not accord with the classics, it is not the talk of a gentleman: you have not read how the Avatamsaka Sutra says, "Lands expound it, sentient beings expound it, everything in the three times expound it'?"

When the master had finished reciting, Kuei Shan said, "I too have something here, but a suitable man is hard to come across." The master said, "I'm still not clear; please point it out to me." Kuei Shan raised his whisk and said, "Do you understand?" The master said, "I don't understand. Please explain." Kuei Shan said, "The mouth born of my father and mother will never explain it to you." The master said, "Is there another who sought the Way in the same time as you?" Kuei Shan said, "From here go to Yu district in Li Leng, to where there is a row of stone grottoes; there is a man of the Way there, Yun Yen; if you can pull out the weeds to find his way, he will be of value to you." The master said, "How is this man?" Kuei Shan said, "He once asked me, 'When I want to serve you, how can I do so?' I told him, 'You must just absolutely cut off all leakage before you can.' He said, "And would I be able to not go against your teaching or not?' I said, 'Above all, don't say that I'm here.'"

Dong Shan took leave of Kuei Shan and went right to Yun Yen; having quoted the preceding incident, he asked;

"Who can hear inanimate objects expounding the Dharma?"

"The inanimate can hear it," Yun Yen said.

"Can you hear it, teacher?" Dong Shan asked.

"If I heard, you would not hear my expounding of the Dharma."

"Why wouldn't I hear?" Dong Shan queried.

Yen raised his whisk and said, "Do you hear?"

"No," Dong Shan responded.

"You do not even hear my expounding of the Dharma; how could you hear the inanimate expounding the Dharma?" Yen replied

"What scripture contains the inanimate expounding the Dharma?" asked Dong Shan.

"Haven't you read how the Amitabha Sutra says, 'Rivers, birds, trees, and forests all commemorate Buddha and Dharma,'" Yun Yen said.

At this the master had insight; thereupon he uttered a verse:

"How wonderful! How wonderful!
The inanimate expounding of Dharma is inconceivable;
If you use your ears to listen, you'll never understand--
Only when you hear in your eyes will you know.

Dong Shan asked Yun Ye, "I have leftover habits which are not yet exhausted." Yun Yen said, "What have you ever done?" Dong Shan said, "I have not even practiced the holy truths." Yen said, "And do you rejoice, or not?" Dong Shan said, "I am not without joy; it is like finding a bright jewel in a dung-heap."

When he was about to go, he asked Yun Yen, "After your death, if someone should suddenly ask me if I can depict your true likeness, how shall I answer?" Yen remained silent for a good while, then said, "Just this is it." The master was sunk in contemplation; Yen said, "Reverend Chieh, now that you have taken up this matter, you must be very careful and thorough-going."

Dong Shan still had some doubt; later, as he was crossing a river, he saw his reflection and was greatly Awakened to the inner meaning of what had happened before. He made a verse which said:

"Just avoid seeking from others,
Or you will be far estranged from yourself.
I now go on alone; I meet Him everywhere--
He is now just I, but I now am not He:
One must understand in this way
In order to unite with Thusness.

From the end of the Ta Chung era (847-859) of Tang, the master received and guided students at Hsin Feng Mountain; after this, he caused the teaching to flourish at Dong Mountain (Dong Shan) in Yi-Fong, Jiangxi Province. He provisionally opened up the Five Ranks, and skillfully handled the three potentials (high, middling, low); he greatly opened up the One Sound, and widely spread it through the myriad classes. He drew his precious sword sideways and cut off the forest of various views: his wondrous harmony spread widely, cutting off myriad rationalizations.

He also found Ts'ao Shan Pen-Chi (840-901), who was deeply Enlightened into the real essence, and wonderfully extolled the felicitous way, the harmony of the ways of lord and vassal, biased and true interdepending. Because of this the mystic breeze of the Dong succession spread throughout the land. Therefore, the masters of Ch'an everywhere all esteemed it and called it the Ts'ao Dong Ch'an Lineage. Dong Shan had twenty-six successors; among them, Yun Chu Tao Ying (835-902) was one of the greatest masters of the time, who led a community of fifteen hundred people and produced twenty-eight Enlightened disciples (source). Su Shan Kuang Jen (837-909) was another distinguished successor to Dong Shan, with twenty Enlightened disciples. The most enduring line of the Dong succession was that which came down through Yun Chu; he and Hsueh Feng, who is said to have called on Dong Shan nine times, were the foremost masters of their age in southeastern and southern China. The Ts'ao Dong lineage trickled down in China until the seventeenth century; it was transmitted to Japan in the thirteenth century, through 13th Patriarch of Ts'ao Dong Ch'an lineage holder, Ju-Ching (1163-1228) to Dogen Zenji (1200-1253) from Japan, over three hundred years after the founders, and still continues there in a modified form until present time.

Soto Zen Lineage: The Zen Lineage founded by Masters Tozan Ryokai (Chinese Dong Shan Liang Chieh, 806-869), and Sozan Honjaku (Chinese Ts'ao Shan Pen Chi, 840-901); the Japanese branch of this lineage was founded by Masters Dogen Zenji (1200-1253) and Keizan Jokin (1268-1325).







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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Bodhidharma, Hui'ko, Hui Shen, Hui Neng, Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien, Zhaozhou, Moshan Liaoran,
Mugai Nyodai, Nagarjuna, Ganapati Muni, Kuan Yin, Tung-Shan, Te Shan, Dogen

Information drawn from The Blue Cliff Record, translated by Thomas Cleary & J. C. Cleary. Published by Shambhala 1992.