Joshu’s Oak Tree

oak treeI wanted share something with a seasonal theme, given that spring is almost here. I realize that the spring equinox passed several weeks ago; a day on which the season undoubtedly arrived somewhere, perhaps in Maryland or New Jersey. However those of us who have endured the last few weeks punctuated with spells of cool, damp, weather, giving us frequent downpours of frigid rain and flooding the rivers, know that here in Maine spring has not arrived; we are mired in “mud season.” So, I thought that it would be a good time to look at a koan with a pleasant taste of nature to lift our spirits.

From the Mumonkan, Case 37:
A monk asked Joshu in all earnestness. “What is the meaning of the patriarch’s coming from the west?”

Joshu said, “The oak tree there in the garden.” Continue reading

A Stalk of Grass

Caribou LookingWhen the Master was about to die, the head monk asked him, “Your Reverence, a hundred years from now where will you be?” “I shall be a water buffalo at the foot of the hill,” said the Master. “Will it be alright for me to follow you?” asked the head monk. “If you follow me, you must hold a stalk of grass in your mouth,” was Puyuan’s reply.

Puyuan is Nanquan Puyuan. This encounter appears in the Entangling Vines or the Shumon Kattoshu, in the biographical sketch on Nanquan. I find the monk’s question rather curious, why is he asking the Master where he will be a hundred years after his death? Perhaps the question is just what it appears to be, the monk simply wants to learn what the Master believes will happen after death. Nanquan’s response is even more curious. “I shall be a water buffalo at the foot of the hill.” Is he answering the monk’s question as to where he will be long after his death? Continue reading