Blue Cliff Records - Sun Faced Buddhas Moon Faced Buddhas

Nansen’s “Men In a Dream”

Prefatory word by Shaw

Rikko lived from 764 to 834.  He was a high official of the Tang government in China.  He was  disciple of Nansen Fugen.  Sojo was a disciple of the famous Kumarajiva who came to Changan in 401 and translated many of the Vaipulya1 Scriptures.  Sojo was one of the Four Philosophers mentioned in connection with Kumarajiva.  Nansen Fugar (748-834) was a disciple of Baso.

Introductory word by Engo presented by Roshi

Engo, introducing the subject said, “When complete liberation from the cord of desire takes place, and when there is a perfect cessation of effort motivated by wrong desires, then even from an iron tree, blossoms might open out.  Is it so?  Is it so?  Even a very artful or clever boy may make a mistake because of his cleverness.  Even if one’s skill is tactful enough for free activity in seven verticals and eight horizontals2, one will still be led by the nose.  Think where is the fault?  Ponder the following.

Main subject by Setcho presented by RoshiNansen Buddha

Attention!  The official, Rikko while conversing with Nansen said, “Sojo said, ‘Heaven and earth and I are of the same root.  All things and I are one.’  This is a wonderful statement.”  Nansen called the official to him, pointed to a flower in the front garden, and said, “The people of this time who see this one flower are like men in a dream.”

Appreciatory word by Setcho presented by Roshi

Seeing, hearing and knowing3 are not the same.  Mountains and rivers do not see a mirror even though they are in a mirror4.  The frosty sky, the setting moon and the middle of the night:  With whom shall I share the coldness of the clear depths of the reflected shadows?

Commentary by Roshi

Sojo’s famous statement in his last work the “Heaven and earth and I are of the same root.  All things and I are of one substance.” Is wonderful when it is not applied to Rikko’s own attached view of the oneness of all things being in the realm of the explicable.  As long as Rikko clings to the idea of oneness, he is said to still be making an erroneous effort motivated by wrong desires or craving.  This attachment will lead to disappointment, even though the idea of oneness is not wrong.

Rikko should try to know why he clung to a particular idea and he should try to follow the way to attaining single mindedness free from points of view.  This effort is necessary if he is to have full appreciation of Reality.  Because people and Rikko seek for temporal satisfactions from a worldly viewpoint, cling to their own standpoints, and do not follow the right way practicing zazen with perseverance, they cannot see things as they are.  So Nansen pointed at a flower and said, “People of this time who see this flower are like men in a dream.”

Setcho, in his Appreciatory Word, brings each phenomenal existence into the realm of Reality and stresses the independent meaning of things.   He said, “Seeing, hearing (smelling, tasting, etc.) and knowing do not take place in the same realm.  Mountains and rivers do not see (depend on) a mirror (a mountain is a mountain, a river is a river, and a mirror is a mirror.)  Late at night when frost is everywhere, the moon is setting, everything is sleeping, with whom shall I share the severe coldness of the reflected shadows (each phenomenal existence) in the clear water (in the realm of Reality)?”


1 Vaipulya: generally refers to the Mahayana Sutras of universalism, that is the Lotus Sutra and Avatamsoka Sutra.

2 The Seven Verticals and Eight Horizontals is used to signify the Buddha’s direct operation on the heart with no intermediary.  The Horizontal energy is that which spreads throughout the universe towards all horizons of life, and therefore includes accommodated truths and other methods of teaching.

3 Hearing, seeing, knowing:  To these must be added tasting, smelling and touching. These are the six Roots or senses.  The corresponding objects of sense are:  Sound or voice, color or form, objects of mind, flavors, scent, and material things.

4 The mountains, rivers and other objects which we see reflected in a mirror do not have their real existence inside the mirror – they exist outside it, outside their own reflections.  So too, the objects reflected in the mirror of my mind exist outside, apart from my sinuses.  What is seen in the mirror is not the actual objects themselves.

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