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Hyaku-jo’s Wild Ducks

Introductory Word by Roshi

Baso Doitsu was a man of mighty physique. It is said that his eyes were like a tiger’s eyes, that he walked like a bull, and that his tongue reached his nose when he talked. He was the chief disciple of Nangaku Ejo, and the spiritual grandson of the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng. One hundred and thirty-nine disciples attained enlightenment under him. Hyaku-jo Ekai Zenji passed away. In Japan this year (1964) they held big memorial services for him in many Zen temples. Hyaku-jo was the first to establish monastic rules and a special monastery for Zen monks in China. Before him, almost all Zen monks practiced zazen at temples of the Vinaya (Precepts) school.

Hyaku-jo’s way of Buddhist life is not altogether the same as the Indian way of devotional life. In China, one of the most important practices for a Zen student was physical labor or to work on building temples. This kind of work was thought to be wrong activity for monks in India. These Chinese monks must have appreciated a cup of tea after their hard work. It was from this practice and the certain deep way in which their appreciation was expressed that the tea ceremony developed.

Buddhism became more a part of practical life and was expressed as near-at-hand truth in such was as, “have a cup of tea” or “a day of no work is a day of no eating”.

Hyaku-jo was the (Dharma) father of Obaku Kiun (Huang Po, father of Rinzai Zen) and Isan Reiyu (the founder of the Igyo school.

Introductory Word Interpreted by RoshiHyaku-jo's Wild Ducks Buddha

Introducing, Engo said, “Obtaining the sole existing independent body, the total free activity takes place” (when you become one with an object, your activity is omnipresent, the activity of one existence). “On each occasion, an enlightened mind is quite free from intercourse with the world” (this is called intuitive free activity). “Only because he has no idea of self are his words powerful enough to put an end to ordinary mind” (Baso’s powerful way in this main subject). “Think for a while. After all, from what place did the ancients get the ultimate restfulness. Ponder about the following subject.”

Main Subject by Setcho interpreted by Roshi

Attention! Once, while Baso was walking with his disciple Hyaku-jo, wild ducks were flying over them. Baso, the great teacher said, “What are they?” Hyaku-jo said, “They are wild ducks.” Baso said, “Where are they going?” Hyaku-jo said, “They are flying away.” Baso gave Hyaku-jo’s nose a great tweak. Hyaku-jo cried out with pain. Baso said, “Did they indeed fly off?”

Commentary by Roshi

Hyaku-jo had practiced Zen under Baso for 20 years. There is no break in Zen practice. Who but alert Zen Masters would know that by these wild ducks was meant Buddhatathagata (Reality)? Hayku-jo was too truthful to his teacher’s question to realize the secret point and he said, “They are wild ducks.” Baso was pleased with his disciple’s usual innocent answer but as an efficient teacher of a good student, he had to be a poison oak. So Baso said, “Where are they going?” This is a so-called “old woman’s kindness” or “to go into a donkey’s belly”. In the realm of Buddhatathagata, there is nowhere to come from for ducks but from the standpoint of the relative there are ducks flying away over their heads. For a good Zen Master like Hyaku-jo, his way should always be free, sometimes relative, sometimes absolute. But instead he always remained in the relative way of observance. Baso wanted him to get over the relative by himself. That is why Baso put to Hyaku-jo a strong relative question expecting a kind of strong absolute answer. But Hyaku-jo remained in his pure complete innocence and presented a relative answer, “They have flown away.” So, at last Baso gave Hyaku-jo’s nose a sharp tweak with his big hand and Hyaku-jo cried out with pain.

Thereupon Baso said, “Have they indeed flown off?” and enlightened Hyaku-jo (who acquired the free activity of Baso).

Baso and Hyaku-jo, a teacher and a disciple, had practiced together for 20 years. It was sincere Hyaku-jo who fulfilled the absolute request of his teacher Baso. It was kind Baso who recognized his disciples train of relative effort and helped to switch him over to the full awakening of relative and absolute. They are a good example of the relationship between a teacher and a disciple.

When we come to a thorough understanding of the oneness of the relative and the absolute, we will realize that what Baso said was right because of Hyaku-jo’s enlightenment. Or it may be said that the wild ducks did not fly away because of Hyaku-jo’s true practice. In short, Hyaku-jo completed this relative conversation provided by Baso. Here is the true sense of the oneness of practice and enlightenment.

Appreciatory Word by Setcho interpreted by Roshi

Oh Wild Ducks! How many of you understand them? Baso saw them and started the conversation with Hyaku-jo. His great tongue covers the mountains, clouds and the moon above the vast ocean with lofty sentiment. But Hyaku-jo remained unaware of his true nature and said the wild ducks were flying away. Indeed! Except for the tweak and the pain, their true nature would have flown off. What else would you say but to cry out, “Say! Say something!”

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