Xiangyan said,

It is as though you were up in a tree, hanging from a branch by your teeth.
Your hands and feet can’t reach any branches.
Someone appears under the
tree and asks,
“What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West?”
If you
don’t answer, you’re not responding to this person’s need.
If you do answer, you lose
your life.
What do you do?

(PZI Miscellaneous Koan)

Xiangyan knew very well what it felt like to be hanging from a branch by his teeth.

A brilliant student who could read a text once and have it memorized, yet after many years practicing with Baizhang, when Baizhang died Xiangyan still hadn’t gotten it. So he took all his books and went to Guishan’s place. Xiangyan had already sunk his teeth firmly into the branch of intellectual knowledge contained in all those books.

Guishan said to him, “I do not ask what is recorded in the scriptures and commentaries. I ask for a word from your original nature, before you left the womb and before you knew east from west.” That was Xiangyan’s experience of somebody asking him the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West, as he hung by his teeth.

When all his responses were rejected by Guishan, he came to a place which moved him to say, “A picture of a rice cake doesn’t satisfy hunger,” and he burned his books.

That was Xiangfan relaxing his grip on the branch and opening his mouth to answer the question.

This reminds me of the story of Deshan, another brilliant student. He put all his highly respected commentaries on the Diamond Sutra in a cart, and pulled them to the South to set the Chan lunatics straight. Like Xiangyan, Deshan burned his commentaries after the teacher Longtan blew out his candle.

What have you got your teeth sunk into?

Join us.

—David Weinstein, March 26th, 2024

David Weinstein Roshi



David Weinstein Roshi, Director of Rockridge Meditation Community


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