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[Last updated: 26 October 1993]
"GOLDEN WIND" - a provisional title of
an originally untitled teisho.
This text addresses some of the most fundamental and delicate religious
issues. Therefore, it should be read, quoted and analysed in a mindful
All copyrights to this document belong to John Tarrant, California
Diamond Sangha, Santa Rosa, Cal., USA
Enquiries: The Editor, "Mind Moon Circle", Sydney Zen Centre, 251 Young
St., Annandale, Sydney, NSW 2038, Australia. Tel: + 61 2 660 2993
John Tarrant Roshi
January 10, 1993
I'm going to begin today with one of the jewels of our tradition, an old
koan from China spoken by a teacher called Yun-men (Jap. Unmon).
A student of the way asked Yun-men: How is it when the tree
withers and the leaves fall?
Yun-men said: The golden wind is manifesting itself.
Please sit comfortably.
The golden wind is the poetic expression, locution for autumn in the
old Chinese culture. Cleary, actually, has a very interesting, tough
translation of this he says, "Body exposed in the golden wind." It's
very much that sense of vulnerability and ruin about his translation.
The student is coming out with, I think, one of the classic questions
touching on the way everything changes in life. As soon as we think
we've got something settled, something else changes. As a child I
noticed this, when I noticed as soon as I did the dishes, they got dirty
again. But there are other losses as well that are even worse than
having to do the dishes again. We notice that our whole lives we're
actually immersed in these losses and these changes. As we get wiser
and cleverer, this immersion still remains constant so that it is the
thing that doesn't change. Shakyamuni noticed this and, in fact, the
discovery of this was a wonderful release for him when he realized. He
let go and realized that life is suffering and that was the First Noble
The student in this case when he says, "The leaves wither." There is
also that sense of somebody who has already come onto the way. He knows
that when you orient yourself, there is a kind of stripping away that
happens often in a spiritual path. There are things that we cared about
we know are no longer so important, really. Or, maybe we wish they were
so important somehow. We lose some of the things that gave us meaning
when we start pointing ourselves in a spiritual direction. Then we are
in a darkness because when you get rid of the things you are hanging
onto, something true doesn't always automatically appear. There's an
intervening period of confusion and bewilderment, familiar and beloved.
Familiar to and beloved by all of us. I think this student is talking
about that kind of state. I think we all know that place.
Before I go on to say more about that I want to tell a couple of stories
about the Yun-men. Yun-men was a very notable figure. (R. H. Blyth,
Aitken Roshi always refers to him as Mr. Blyth, who actually we owe our
doing zazen in some ways to him because he taught Aitken Roshi about zen
and poetry in prison camp in Japan during the war. All the trouble came
from that. He thought of Yun-men as being one of those great figures
like Shakespeare or Goethe in the West, an Eastern version of that only
with an enlightened eye.) He was a very notable person and he always
seemed gifted. As many of you know, the moment he was enlightened was
rather odd because he broke his leg and screamed in pain when somebody
slammed a heavy iron gate on his leg. At that moment he became
enlightened. His teacher threw him out, actually, of an interview and
he didn't get his leg out in time and the door slammed. So he always
walked with a bit of a limp. He was one of those people who was in some
way marked, I think, always.
He eventually found his teacher, but he didn't inherit his teacher's
temple. He inherited somebody else's temple, which was quite a common
thing. He inherited the temple of a teacher called Ling-shu (sp???).
For twenty years Ling-shu didn't have a head of his own temple. He
would say things like, "The head of the temple was born today." Then
he'd say, "The head of the temple is looking after the oxen in the
fields today." Things like that. "The head of the temple is playing
Nintendo in the Round Table Pizza Parlor today." He would go on like
that for twenty years and his students got to figure this was some sort
of elaborate joke or something or another. But then he would say things
like, "The head of the temple is sitting zazen today." And he would go
on like that. Then one day he said, "You must strike the big temple
bell and announce that the head of the temple will be arriving today."
Everybody after twenty years was rather dubious, of course. But along
came Yun-men limping along.
He wasn't asked any questions. He was immediately shown into the
quarters of the head of the temple. So he had that sort of graced
quality about him. The person whose temple he inherited had just been
waiting for him to come and died soon after, voluntarily, actually, just
gave up the ghost.
One thing I get from this is that you don't know what might be coming
down the road toward you always. Ling-shu did know that Yun-men was
coming toward him, but you don't always. When we want something, it's
typical for us to doubt our capacity. People always want something to do
with wisdom or love or work or something like that. When we don't have
something we want, there's a voice in almost everybody's head, I think,
that goes, "Well, it's not right," and you're not meant to do it, and
you're screwed up anyway. Another voice we know and love. But I think
this story says, don't listen to that voice. You may unawares be
walking toward your temple. Or something may be coming toward you that
you don't understand properly. What you have to do is work on your
wisdom. Prepare your heart, your inner life for what may arrive. That
is always our task. If you're ever in doubt about what your task is,
that is your task. Life is simple.
After he broke his leg, his teacher was getting a bit old, he was
getting to be about one hundred years old, he got too old to be braking
people's legs any more, so he sent Yun-men off to Hsueh-feng, who was
very different in style. He used humor a lot and didn't break anybody's
leg. Hsueh-feng's story was completely different. He was the person
who was not marked out as anything special. He was the person who was
marked out as being rather dumber than everybody else. So he makes a
wonderful contrast. I think all of us can identify, perhaps, with both
these people because there are ways in which we've been enormously
graced because we have been loved, we are alive, and we've found the
dharma. And to find the dharma in itself is just an enormous gift, the
incomparable gift dwarfing all others. Yet there are ways in which we
surely feel stupid if we have any integrity and sincerity at all, we
surely felt very foolish a lot of the time, rather like made of dense
material that's difficult for light to penetrate.
Hsueh-feng was exactly that sort of person. He had a buddy called Yen-
t'ou. They were famous friends. Yen-t'ou was actually younger. Hsueh-
feng was sort of getting along. Yen-t'ou was younger, but Yen-t'ou was
really smart and quick and was running rings around Hsueh-feng and
everybody else in the temple. But Yen-t'ou's great contribution was
actually to help Hsueh-feng along. Hsueh-feng became the great master.
They were good friends and when they were released from the temple at
various times to go out into the world and do whatever they wanted, they
were on pilgrimage together. They came to a village called Tortoise
Mountain, a familiar story to some of you. It was just nowhere, really,
some little place in the Sierras, and they got snowed in this little
hut. Day after day Hsueh-feng would sit and do zazen very earnestly and
Yen-t'ou, his friend, would sleep. So they had this perfect
relationship really. Yen-t'ou slept and every now and again he would
wake up and see his friend sitting very hard, meditating. He'd open an
eye and then he'd go back to sleep again and snooze the time through.
Then he sat up and said, "Won't you get some sleep? Every day you're
sitting on the meditation cushion. You just look like a clay buddha.
What's wrong with you?" He was getting his attention that way.
Hsueh-feng said, "Well, I don't dare deceive myself. I am not yet at
peace." So you can see that although he feels stupid and let's face it
he is stupid in his own estimation, he has an integrity and a sincerity
about him that makes you already like him. He says, "I can't fool
myself. I'm not at peace and because I'm not at peace, I must do
something about it. The only thing I know to do is meditate. Maybe it
doesn't even work, but I can't think of anything else to do. What
choice do I have?" He was in that place. So already all of the leaves
have fallen for him. You have this tree with bare twigs and nothing
green has shot out, although we don't know. Maybe the sap is moving
His friend says, "Well, that's hard to believe. You've been around the
scene a long time."
And he says, "Well, it's true."
His friend says, "Well, if you like . . ." So he asks permission. This
is always very important if we're going to help a friend, to ask
permission, I think. Friends don't always want to be helped. So he
says, "If you like, you can bring your views forth one by one and where
they're correct I'll approve them for you, and where their not I'll
prove them away." Yen-t'ou was always very confident.
Hsueh-feng said things like, "First of all, I saw my first teacher, Yen-
kuan (sp???), up in the hall and he brought up the meaning of form and
void, emptiness and somethingness and suddenly I gained an
Yen-t'ou said, "Don't mention this for thirty more years."
Then again he said, "When I saw Tung-shan's (sp???) verse about crossing
the river, (The teacher, Tung-shan, saw his reflection in the river and
was enlightened.) I had an insight then."
Yen-t'ou said, "If you go on like this, you won't be able to save
yourself at all."
Feng went on. "Later when I got to Te-shan, I asked, `Do I have part in
the affair of the vehicle of the most ancient school, or not?'" Do I
have a part in the great matter, or not? The affair of the most ancient
school, the eternal school, or not? "And Te-shan hit me with his staff
and said, `What are you saying?' At that time it was like the bottom of
a bucket dropping out for me."
Yen-t'ou thereupon shouted. Yen-t'ou was famous for his shout. He said,
"When I die, I will go with a great shout." When he died, in fact, his
shout was heard for miles and miles around. People knew he had gone. So
he shouted, but they were in this tiny little hut. They don't say
anything about how deaf Hsueh-feng was afterwards, but he said, "Haven't
you heard it said that what comes in through the gate is not the family
Hsueh-feng said, "What should I do?
Yen-t'ou said, "In future, if you want to propagate the great teaching
let each point flow out from your own breast to come out and cover
heaven and earth."
At these words Hsueh-feng was greatly enlightened and he bowed down
crying out again and again, "Today Tortoise Mountain has finally
achieved the way. Today Tortoise Mountain has finally achieved the
way." So even the mountain and the village and the hut got enlightened.
It has nothing to do with the man there.
Later he wrote a poem. He went and lived as a hermit for awhile before
he became a famous teacher, he taught Yun-men, and said:
Human life is so hectic and hurried.
It is just a brief instant.
How can you live for a long time in that fleeting world?
At first I emerged from the mountains and now I return home.
It's no use bringing up the faults of others.
Our own mistakes must be cleared away continually.
I humbly report to the nobles who fill the court;
The king of death has no awe of the golden emblems of rank that you
He later became known for his humor and, I think, there's a sort of
generosity and largeness of spirit about Hsueh-feng that anything you
read about him will indicate. This came from his sincerity and his
patience in the way. He was known as the person who was sincere and
patient. He wasn't naturally brilliant. And yet his student, of
course, was one of the great naturally brilliant people, Yun-men.
Please bear this in mind. If you're not like Yun-men, be like Hsueh-
feng. I think Yamada Roshi felt rather like this. He was roommates, as
a very young man, with Soen Nakagawa Roshi. Soen Roshi went off to sit
on Daibasatsu (sp???) Mountain and get enlightened as a very young man,
and Yamada Roshi went off to make money in the world. Later on they
came back, sort of full circle, and both became zen masters. He had
trained with a number of very good teachers and had had various
enlightenment experiences, but it wasn't enough. He was like Hsueh-
feng. For many years he would go to dokusan time after time, hours out
of his way, really to get rid of all of his doubts because getting rid
of a few doubts isn't enough. He was old by the time he got enlightened
and he didn't teach for very long, by the time he became fully
enlightened he didn't teach for very long. But all that gathering of
effort and all those years meant that then there was this strong burst
when he did teach.
One of the things I'm saying here is if you do the work sincerely from
the inside, that is really all you need to worry about. The world will
take care of itself. It will give you its gifts in whatever ways it
chooses in terms of your career path and love and all those things. But
all that is really the material of wisdom and the material of your own
transformation into somebody who herself or himself can offer the way.
Can have compassion on others. The vow we all take every time we chant
the great vows is to enlighten other beings. It's very important and
The I Ching talks about obstacles. In fact, there's a hexagram of
obstruction, (instruction I said. That's a great slip.) the hexagram
obstruction which is Number 39.
It pictures a dangerous abyss lying before and a steep inaccessible
mountain behind. (An abyss before and a cliff behind. A perfect
The image is water on the mountain. (The image of obstruction.)
Thus the superior person turns her attention to herself and molds
her own character.
(This comment was cooked up by the translator in combination with a
very early twentieth century Chinese master of this book.)
Difficulties and obstructions throw a person back on herself.
While the inferior person seeks to put blame on others bewailing
fate, the superior person seeks the error within and through this
introspection the external obstacle becomes an occasion for inner
enrichment and education.
But you see it is the same thing that is being said here. "You must
come out from your own breast and cover heaven and earth," is what Yen-
t'ou said to Hsueh-feng.
Whenever we're sitting and whenever in life we feel like we really are
unhappy, if we begin to attend, we'll notice that that action itself
begins to bring us home. The strangest thing about the way is that
turning toward the way brings us home, brings us, really, to the end of
the way. It really doesn't matter where you are when you turn home. It
is that turning itself has this marvelous value. So if you are unhappy
and you begin to attend, suddenly you will find that your unhappiness
has started to transform and open, become more spacious and cloudy, and
you can find your way around in it. This is true for the most acute and
persistent kinds of unhappiness. It is just your obstruction that in
some way you must bless with your attention for it to transform.
It is said in zen that you must keep your attention even if you are
alone in a dark room when nobody can see you, because you can see you.
That is the most important one. It really doesn't matter what your
teacher thinks of you or your friends think of you. It's nice if they
think well of you, but is not the crucial thing. The crucial thing is
to go into your own heart and make the practice truly and deeply and
utterly your own. Then, you see, sitting zazen is not an effort. It is
just a sort of natural flow of things. It's not something separate from
your ordinary life. Whether you are eating or drinking, that is all
zazen. Even if you're nodding off, that is all zazen.
I think one of the things that increases for us as we go on in time and
gathers is our integrity. So we really do become less interested in
impressing other people and we do become more interested in what is the
true path for ourselves. Our integrity even makes us uncomfortable
sometimes. The more delusion you have the more unhappy you and that is
your integrity that is making you unhappy. So you follow that and trust
that, and you immerse yourself even in that unhappiness, that
discontent. That is called raising the doubt, the massive doubt in
traditional zen. You immerse yourself in the discontent you have
because you know you are not yet fully present. You know that you have
gifts that you can give to the world, but you are not yet quite able to
give, and that is a sorrow. I think, perhaps, one of the greatest
sorrows is not to be able to give back to the world as well as we would
love to. And I think that is true for all of us. So we immerse
ourselves even in that sorrow and then we find it begins to open. When
we turn home, we find home is here. Over and over again we must turn
home, turn home, turn home. Just like that.
When we do that, we'll find that we can take joy in what is already
here. Just coming to dokusan and saying, "I really don't have a clue,"
is in itself turning home and is a great gift. To be able to do that, I
discovered, was a wonderful thing. I would come into my teacher and
say, "I just don't know," and that was perfectly all right with him. He
would just ring his bell and I would bow and leave. To accept that was
the beginning of the opening for me. I think it is for all of us. To
accept where we are and to love where we are and to take joy in it and
pleasure in it. What a wonderful thing that is.
Here we have set aside this time to sit together. We have companionship
like Hsueh-feng with Yen-t'ou up there sitting in the hut snowed in. So
we're snowed in for the afternoon and we have our companionship and we
have all the space in the world to do zazen. So let us enjoy it.
end of record