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We would rather be ruined than changed — even though change is who we are. We would rather die in our anxiety, our fear, our loneliness, than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die. And the cross is also the crossroads, the choice. We are here to make that choice.

– Joko Beck

This Week’s Koan

Blue Cliff Record #38: Fengxue’s “Heart Seal”

When he was staying at the government office of the Province Eishu, Fengxue entered the hall [to preach] and said: “The heart seal [i.e., “stamp” and also “the form of the heart-mind”] of the patriarch [i.e., Bodhidharma] resembles the activity of the iron ox [a massive construction along the Yellow River that protected the area from floods]. When it goes away, the [impression of the] seal remains; when it stays there, the [impression of the] seal is brought to naught. If it neither goes away nor stays, would it be right to give a seal [of approval] or not?”

Then Elder Rohi came up and said, “I have the activities of the iron ox. [However,] I ask you, Master, not to give me the seal.”

Fengxue said, “I am accustomed to leveling the great ocean through fishing whales. But, alas, now I find instead a frog wriggling about in the mud.”

Rohi stood there considering.

Fengxue shouted, “Kaatz!” He then said, “Why don’t you say anything else, Elder?”

Rohi was perplexed.

Fengxue hit him with his whisk and said, “Do you remember what you said? Say something, I’ll check it for you.”

Rohi tried to say something. Fuketsu hit him again with his whisk.

The Magistrate said, “Buddha’s law and the King’s law are of the same nature.”

Fengxue said, “What principle do you see in them?”

The Magistrate said, “If you do not make a decision where a decision should be made, you are inviting disorder.”

Fengxue descended from the rostrum.


This is our second koan featuring Fengxue (b. 896; Japanese: “Fuketsu”), who began Zen study under Jingqing on the Caodong (Soto) side of our lineage. Then he studied under Nanyuan on the Linji (Rinzai) side and became Linji’s dharma great-grandson.

“If the seal is removed, the impression is left; if it is not removed, the impression does not appear.” If the object is removed, subjective impression remains. If the object is all there is (i.e., is not removed), then there is no subjectivity (impression). ┬áTo “neither go nor stay” would be to transcend subjectivity and objectivity.

Rohi claims to have realized the heart seal, and that he does not need Fengxue’s approval, so he asks Fengxue not to give him the heart seal. Fengxue rebukes Rohi, calling him “a frog wriggling about in the mud.” This is Fengxue’s test to see if Rohi’s attainment is genuine. Rohi seems to be stumped, and Fengxue urges him on, then strikes him to signal his disapproval.

The government official, watching this exchange between Zen teacher and student, compares Rohi’s indecision to disorder that arises when government is indecisive.

Xuedou’s Verse:

Holding Rohi to let him ride the iron ox
He used the armor of Linji’s three mysteries.
The stream that ran to greet the lord’s palace —
With one shout he made it flow backward.

This Week’s Reading

Charlotte Joko Beck, Nothing Special, “Experiences and Experiencing,” p. 118.

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About mgarmon

b. 1959; grew up VA, NC, AL, GA; also lived in TX, TN, MN, and now in FL; m. 1979; 1 daughter, b 1980; 1 son, b. 1982; div. 1997; m. 2000; Honduran son, b. 1987, adopted 2004; schooled: U West Ga, Emory, Baylor, UVa; UTS; MLTS. Former philosophy professor, now a UU minister and zen student.

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