Blue Cliff Records - Sun Faced Buddhas Moon Faced Buddhas

Suibi’s Meditation Chin Rest

Introductory Remarks by Shaw

There are three persons in this subject.  Suibi, 739-819, was a disciple of the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-Neng.  Rinzai, a disciple of Obaku, was the founder of Rinzai Zen.  He died in 867.  Ryuge, 835-923, was also a disciple of Hui-Neng.

Commentary by Roshi

Zen may be said to be the practice of complete acceptance and cultivation of our mind to make it deep and open enough to accept things as they are.  When this perfect acceptance takes place, everything will be oriented by itself according to its own nature and the circumstances.  We call this activity the Great Activity.
The Great Activity has no regulations and everything is beyond dimensions.  The earth is not great nor a grain of sand small.  In the realm of Great Activity picking up a grain of sand is the same as taking up the whole universe.  To save one sentient being is to save all sentient beings.  So nothing is too long, nothing is too small.  And in whatever you do the true way is there.

For a person who wants to understand Buddhism logically, it may be difficult to understand why he should study over and over again stories such as are collected in the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Records).  Yet, when a student realizes how difficult it is to incorporate into his daily life what he learns in these stories he will acknowledge the necessity of practicing zazen and reading.  This practice and reading will in turn encourage his real study of these stories.  To do this over and over means perfect acceptance.  Finding out the significance of everyday activity is the Great Activity.

In Japan we call this era of civilized life the “instant age” because of the prevalent idea that quick solutions to problems are possible without difficulty.  This idea takes many forms – instant coffee, instant noodles, pills and drugs.  In spite of all the benefits from our civilization, it is difficult for people to remain strong enough to be happy physically and mentally.  Why?  Perhaps because a most important point is missing.

Support form without is sometimes too strong, sometimes too weak, sometimes only partial, and sometimes harmful.  The important point is to arrange ourselves from inside.  Orientation from our inmost nature is wanted.  The problem is how to make use of our civilization and not be ruined by it.  The solution to this problem is zazen.  By sitting we resume to our own nature and by Great Activity we acquire absolute freedom.

Introducing the Subject by Engo

Massive mountains piled up range after range are enlightened.  So is a thick wall built one brick upon another.

But a hesitating mind and stagnant movements make everything dead and inactive.  Is there anyone who can overturn the great sea of birth and death, kick off the stubbornness of Mt. Sumeru, disperse the indifferent easy way of the white cloud, destroy the sordid area of vacuity (voidness), and directly meet the disciple’s heart and cut off the tips of the tongues of men in the whole world?

But I suppose none of you here can (make) approach (to) such (a) Great Activity.  Consider then has there ever been one who had such a Great Activity?  See the following subject.

Main Subject by Setcho Interpreted by Roshi

Attention!  Ryuge asked Suibi, “What was Bodhidharma’s intention in coming to China?”

Suibi said, “Pass me the meditation chin-rest”1

Ryuge handed Suibi the chin-rest and Suibi struck Ryuge with it.  Ryuge said, “If you strike me, I will let you.  But, after all, that was not the intention of the Patriarch coming to China.”

Ryuge later visited Rinzai.  He asked Rinzai, “What was the intention of Bodhidharma in coming to China?”

Rinzai said, “Pass me the meditation mat.”  No sooner had Rinzai received the mat than he struck Ryuge with it.

Ryuge said, “If you strike me, I will let you do so, but that is not the Patriarch’s intention in coming to the west.”

Commentary by Roshi

There are two Appreciatory Words by Setcho.  According to one of the Appreciatory Words, Ryuge was struck because he did not understand why Suibi wanted the chin-rest and why Rinzai asked for the meditation mat.  There treatment of Ryuge was in the realm of Great Activity, and helped Ryuge understand Bodhidharma’s Zen.  A chin-rest and a meditation mat can be used for scolding slaps.

This power of Great Activity should be acquired by zazen.  There was no other intention in Bodhidharma’s coming to China.

For Ryuge, who was practicing Bodhidharma’s Zen, there was no need for outside help.  He should have understood the Great Intention of Bodhidharma, Suibi, and Rinzai, and that these intentions had nothing to do with his own Great Activity.

A long time after this event, Ryuge said in his answer to a monk, “I do recognize the Great Activities of those two Zen Masters, but that has nothing to do with Bodhidharma’s Zen.”  Each one has each one’s own Great Activity according to Circumstances.  Setcho’s other Appreciatory Word is an acknowledgement of Ryuge’s own Great Activity.

1 When a Zen monk sleeps in zazen posture, he rests his head on a wooden board called a zenpan or chin-rest.


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