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Gutei’s Lifting Up One Finger

Introduction by Roshi

Gutei was a disciple of Zen Master Tenryu.  He lived in a small hermitage to be free from the fierce persecution of the first part of the ninth century, AD in China.  One day a nun named Jissai came to visit him, entering with her hat on her head and her pilgrim staff in her hand.  She looked around the seat where Gutei was sitting and said, “I will take off my pilgrimage hat if you give me a satisfactory statement.”  When he could say nothing, she started to leave.  He tried to stop her, because it was late and dark out.  Then she said, “If you can offer one word good enough to stop me, I will be happy to stay.”

When he could not, he became quite ashamed of himself and decided to leave his hermitage on a pilgrimage in order to study Buddhism some more. That night he dreamed a Bodhisattva visited him and said that an incarnate Bodhisattva was coming to teach him.

The next day the famous Zen Master Tenyru came.  Gutei told him about Jissai’s visit and about the dream.  Tenryu, in answer, lifted up one finger.  Gutei was enlightened at that moment, and he said, “I have acquired Tenryu’s ‘one finger Zen’ as an inexhaustible treasure for the rest of my life.”  From that time on, he answered innumerable questions by lifting up one finger.

Later, to his surprise, he found one of his disciples using the same gesture as an answer to questions.  So Gutei asked him a question and when his disciple answered by lifting one finger, Gutei reached out and cut his finger off.  As the poor man rushed away, Gutei called him back and held up one finger.  The disciple was enlightened.

Introductory Word by Engo

Introducing, he said:  If one grain of dust is lifted up, the great universe is involved.  If one blossom opens, the world vibrates.  But when the dust has not been lifted up, when the blossom has not yet opened, what do we see?  With reference to this it has been said: If one dyes a spot in a reel the dye in one place will color the whole reel.  So also, if one cuts away the ‘complications’ (external expressions of the truth) and brings out one’s ‘home treasure’, then height and depth are undiscriminated, front and rear are undifferentiated.  Each and all are in themselves, in actuality, complete.  Perhaps this does not seem so to you, but ponder the following.

Main Subject by Setcho

Attention!  The monk Gutei, whenever he was asked a question, only lifted up one finger.

Commentary by Roshi

One gains a good understanding by approaching this statement from a scientific viewpoint.  Everything in the universe is closely related to every other thing and to the whole, and the whole is involved in each separate part.

Yet Engo from another standpoint raised a new problem.  What happens before the speck of dust is picked up, or before the flower opens?  Here he is talking about the necessity of practice, if one is to realize the oneness of the subjective and the objective.  Even though you say nothing happened and accept the way it happened, still the whole world vibrates.

If one does not practice, he is driven by various impetuses to repeat wrong activity.  Ignorance causes illusive ideas which encourage wrong intellectualization and discourage right observations.  It is impossible to attain Reality without being one with the objective world.  When perfect acceptance takes place, there is no subjective or objective world.

In the realm of Reality there is nothing that disturbs perfect acceptance.  There are no illusive ideas which are usually mistaken for the true nature of things.  We cut of complications removing self-centered desires in order to allow our “home treasure” to reveal itself.

Engo refers to an ancient saying, “If one snips off one place, the whole reel of thread will be cut through.”

Yet there will be another problem.  We are apt to stick to the idea of enlightenment.  We should cut off the complications moment after moment, one after another, big or small – including attachment to enlightenment.  How to cut off is how to replace small mind with Big Mind.  This is Shikan Taza (just sitting).
Gutei’s one finger always tells us when and where the thread of complication should be cut off.

Now the chance is right here – in this moment!  There is not time for anyone to use his mouth or tongue.  Tremendous numbers of blind tortoises in the dark sea are landing on Gutei’s one small finger, one after another.  There is not time for anybody to lift up another finger. 1

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1. There was once a tortoise living in the deep sea.  It had no eyes in its head, but only one in the middle of its belly underneath.  So the poor creature could not look up to see and worship the sun, and it was greatly distressed.   But one day, by great good fortune, a single board with a hole in it came floating by.  The tortoise managed with considerable difficulty to cling onto it from underneath in an upside down position.  Thus he was able to put his eye to the hole in the board and look upwards and so see and worship the sun.  This old legend of the blind tortoise is found in the Parinirvana Sutra, the Agamas and other scriptures.


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