The Z Files – Case 12 – Zuigan Calls Himself “Master”

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Zuigan called to himself every day:
“Master!” and answered,
“Yes, sir!” then he would say,
“Be wide awake!” and answer,
“Yes, sir!”
“Henceforward, never be deceived by others!”
“No, I won’t!”
Mumon’s Comment
Old Zuigan buys and sells himself. He takes out a lot of god-masks and devil-masks and puts them on and plays with them. What for, eh?
One calling and the other answering; one wide awake, the other saying he will never be deceived.
If you stick to any of them, you will be a failure.
If you imitate Zuigan, you will play the fox.
Mumon’s Verse
   Clinging to the deluded way of consciousness,
   Students of the Way do not realize truth.
   The seed of birth and death through endless eons:
   The fool calls it the true original self.

Master Zuigan Shigen (chin. Jui-yen Shih-yen or Ruiyan Shiyan, China 830-900) is the Dharma-heir of Ganto (Yantou Quanho), but he also studied with Kassan (Jiashan Shanhui). He appears in Records of Serenity, in The Gateless Gate, and Sanbyakusoku Shobogenzo.

We have his dates of birth and death, but we don’t know much about his life. He was active at the end of the ninth century, during the Song Dynasty, forty years after Lin-chi (Rinzai). We know that he was the spiritual son of Ganto, and was a cousin in the Dharma of a large number of other T’ang period luminaries.

In the Book of Serenity, we can find a dialogue between Zuigan and his teacher, Ganto:

What’s the original and ever lasting truth?
Ganto said: It moved.
Zuigan said, What about when it moves?
Ganto answered: You don’t see the original and everlasting truth.


At the first impression, it seems that Mumon sets before us a man who, far from forgetting or denying himself, keeps on thinking of himself, dividing the already illusory, non-existing self into two people, and eventually using his pride and ambition as a tool to give birth to his noble mind.

But with this practice of calling, his intention is to continuously drop away his body and mind. Zuigan, by calling himself, was not indulging in a self-correction or he was just talking to himself. Because, already being a Master, an enlightened being, he knew that there is no such a thing we can call a ”self”. For the Buddhists, there is no self and no soul as an enduring entity.

When Zuigan calls himself, there is simply the statement that one should be awake. What is being said is not to awaken, but to continuously dwell in the enlightened state, and that means being in connection with one’s true self, being in the place of the Buddha Mind, being in the place of the absolute that is contained and penetrated by the relative.

While calling himself Master, Zuigan continued to practice, because, as Dogen said, the practice does not stop with enlightenment. That’s because there is no goal in practice. The Practice itself is the Enlightened state. In other words, Zuigan calls himself, asking himself: Are you practicing? Are you in the state of practice? Are you practicing the Dharma?

These two states, enlightenment and practice, indicate that there has to be a continuum. That he should renew his practice each moment of his life. That each moment should contain the Original Enlightenment! That each moment his original face has to be the face of the Buddha. Of the awakened one.

Zuigan manifests both a form of internal difference, in his dialogue with himself, and a form of pure repetition. Zuigan’s message is that deception comes from without. Repetition must, therefore, be of that which comes from within, as opposed to an imitation. The original self which must be repeated, however, according to the anatta principle, is imperceptible.

Zuigen’s responses are always a clear: “Yes!” Usually, the last answer is translated by all scholars ”No, I will not!” But Thomas Cleary, in his interpretation and translation, use a double affirmation: “Yes, yes!” For the “Yes,” itself, in each case, is a statement of complete affirmation. “Yes,” allows all things to happen. “Yes,” is complete and positive openness. “Yes,” means no opinions, no views, no thoughts, no prejudices. No enlightenment. Yes!

The point of this koan is: “Who is the one who is calling? Who is the one who is answering? Who is the one who is hearing?”

Photo credit: gibertjeune

Text source: sacred-texts



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