A student said to Master Ichu, “Please write for me something of great wisdom.” Master Ichu picked up his brush and wrote one word: “Attention.” The student said, “Is that all?” The master wrote, “Attention. Attention.” The student became irritable. “That doesn’t seem profound or subtle to me.” In response, Master Ichu wrote simply, “Attention. Attention. Attention.” In frustration, the student demanded, “What does this word ‘attention’ mean?” Master Ichu replied, “Attention means attention.”
– Old Zen Story
This Week’s Koan
Book of Serenity, #46: Deshan’s “Study Accomplished”
Great Master Deshan Yuanming instructed his assembly and said, “If you have exhausted to the end, you will realize right away that all buddhas in the three worlds have stuck their mouths to the wall [i.e., they are unable to open their mouths]. Yet there is still one person who is giving a great laugh. If you can recognize that person, you have accomplished your study.”
Deshan Yuanming (“Tokusan Emmyo” in Japanese), b. 909
Lineage: Shitou > Tianhuang > Longtan > Deshan > Xuefeng > Yunmen > Deshan Yuanming
Dharma Siblings: Baling, Xianglin, Dongshan Shouchu
Appears also in: No other koans in Gateless Gate, Blue Cliff Record, or Book of Serenity
On the radio a couple days ago I heard an interview with Teller (of Penn and Teller). Teller said that when people laugh, for an instant the critical, judging mind is turned off. So if a certain magician’s trick is likely to arouse a skepticism from an audience, then do or say something to make them laugh immediately afterward.
Words, words, words inherently tend to arouse our critical, evaluative mind. That’s OK. We need that mind — it’s got important work to do. Yet we also want to be in touch with the beauty of nonjudgmental awareness. That awareness is beyond all words — including even the Buddha’s words. At the end of our “study,” not even the Buddha can have anything to say anymore. There is only the nonlinguistic awareness — which, for example, laughter represents.
Verse by Roberta Werdinger:
Over a spangled shoulder the sambista crooks her mouth:
Deshan! no flowers on this wall.
At the end of the line, a bright response twitters above rustling forms, dips down for a drink.
The sea is the street: the whole city pours through.
A thousand scampering feet, fingers pointing to just one moon.
When a foot meets earth with no hesitation, eons of toil are wiped away.
Only brocade? More fish to hook? Deshan!
Yemaya’s watery hands nagged the fat pink one flapping on your face.
This Week’s Reading
Charlotte Joko Beck, Nothing Special, “Attention Means Attention,” p. 168.