Two monks roll up the blinds

Early on in these postings I wrote about the smile. I have continued to work with the smile for this past year. A good deal of the time it was impossible, sometimes it was possible. But eventually I have come to see more clearly what it says about awakening.   This smile is not confined to happiness as we normally think of happiness, nor to pleasure or joy or amusement.   It expresses one thing: openness. Openness to everything: fundamentally everything, everything, is OK. In the following teisho it is pointed out that Oneness is not simply good, it is good and evil, beautiful and ugly, high and low. This is what that smile is expressing. Openness. Just being present to what is. Awakening.

Many of you have mentioned Albert’s smile and this is because in your heart you recognised what it was saying: whatever you are going through, fundamentally everything is OK. From the beginning all beings are Buddha.



The world is one mind     (teisho 689/1999)

Koan: – Hogen pointed at the two blinds. Two monks simultaneously went and rolled them up. He said, ‘one has it, the other doesn’t.’

Who had it and who didn’t? If your eye is single you will see where Hogen failed. However, I warn you against discriminating between has and has not.

There is another koan which this one is often linked with: Joshu investigates the two hermits. Both of these koans are dealing with something fundamental in terms of awakening; what it means when it is said that the world is one mind.

The two monks roll up the blinds simultaneously, in other words they do it exactly the same. And yet Hogen points out a difference.

There are four wisdoms, two of them are the wisdom of equality and the wisdom of differentiation.   Joshu challenging the two hermits is dealing with equality. Hogen and the two monks is dealing with differentiation. We should keep in mind that differentiation is quite different from discrimination, judgement.

The three worlds return to mind only, things to consciousness only. Is this stone inside or outside your mind? The monk says it is in his mind. This is Solipsism – everything is a product of my consciousness. Is this room inside or outside your mind? Are you in the room or is the room in you? Speaking from the point of view of Buddhism, everything directly presents itself. The room is the mind appearing. There is no mind which contains the room. The mind is not a box that things can be inside or out of – there is no inside or outside.

There is the saying:

Before I practiced Zen, mountains were mountains, trees were trees.
When I had practiced Zen for a while, mountains were no longer mountains and trees no longer trees.
Now that I have practiced for a long time, mountains are again mountains and trees are again trees.

With the first awakening, which is usually seeing into emptiness, there is something of the vedantic view – everything is one, mind is one, everything is mind. This is encouraged when we say it is like a mirror with reflections, that you are the mirror and all is reflected in you. This is the view of equality, that oneness is not simply good, it is good and evil, beautiful and ugly, high and low.   Seeing it like this, that form is emptiness, enables us to let go of the grasping quality that we have. We start off seeing mountains as mountains, in other words everything is something in the world of somethings: houses, cars, trees, hills. When one sees with the eye of equality, everything is equal, everything is a reflection, everything is Buddha nature.

But then the problem is that there are things. There is you and there is me. How do we deal with multiplicity? If it is One, how is it multiple? One means one, an apple for example is one, and if you add another apple you have two; in other words, you add one to one. That is one way of looking at one. But this one apple can be looked at in another way: it is whole, it is complete. In this way we can say that the world is One. But if it is One, what about you? How does one understand multiplicity while maintaining the truth that all is One? How does one understand differentiation, understand things while at the same time maintaining the truth that all is One?

If all returns to the One, what does the One return to?   The one returns to this stick, to this stone, to this shirt. Everything directly presents itself.

Hogen in an exponent of the Hui-Yen philosophy. A demonstration was given to the Empress of China. When preparations had been made the teacher went to her and asked her to go with him to the place where the demonstration would be given. He leads her to a room lined with mirrors, on the ceiling, floor and all four walls, all facing one another. Then he placed an image of Buddha in the middle of the room.  The Empress gazed at this panorama of infinite inter reflections. This is a demonstration of one in all and all in one. In order to appreciate what is going on, one has to be one of the mirrors. Otherwise one is going to take an outside viewpoint of the whole thing. This is the viewpoint of God, the objective viewpoint that we refer to when we are thinking about the question of One and many. When one asks ‘Who am I?’ one must become one of the mirrors. But most often one takes a viewpoint outside the mirrors. It is said ‘you create the world’, and then people say, ‘but my wife is not here at the moment, I am not creating her world, there is a world there that I am not creating.’ They are taking a viewpoint outside the experience of being. It is this outside viewpoint that is the problem and which reduces everything to a shadow of the living, real experience. It is taking this viewpoint which makes it impossible for us to understand or to answer the above question. This is the fixed viewpoint we need to free ourselves from; this pretense that we are not one of the mirrors, that it is possible to take an outside viewpoint which we regard as the truth.

A single viewpoint which is objective and outside is God’s viewpoint. Now it has been taken over by the scientists and we all subscribe to it; it is a kind of invasion into reality and we are all supporting it constantly. When we are working on ‘Who am I?’ it is necessary to see into the all pervasiveness of this static and objective outside viewpoint – it is a viewpoint constructed by language. It is the pretense that we can observe without participating. It is necessary to let go of that exterior, pseudo viewpoint. If we look as one of the mirrors, the whole world and all other mirrors are reflected in me. There is only one world because there is only one mirror. But each of the mirrors is saying that, each is the only mirror. If one mirror has it, the other mirror looses: one has it, the other does not. To say which has it and which one does not is trying again to get that objective viewpoint, trying to say which is the real mirror, and there is no real mirror, each one is the mirror.   We cannot see the world, we can only see a world.

In the demonstration a figure of Buddha was put in the middle of the room, and so one Buddha was reflected in all the mirrors, the one reflected in the many and the many reflected in the One. There is just one Buddha, each one of us is that one Buddha. We are not part of a whole, each one of us is the whole.

You and me arise simultaneously, there is never a me without you or a you without me.   But we rarely encounter you, that is the problem. We encounter it, or her, or him.   The immediate encounter with you is love. When me and you encounter, we are one, we are one love, we are one Buddha. But at the same time we are two, one has it the other doesn’t.

If your eye is single you will see where Hogen failed. But I warn you against discriminating has and has not.   He is saying one must not forget equality. Everything is reflected in me as the mirror.   But then, after one has practiced for a long time, the Buddha is reflected in everything, everything returns to the one, and the one returns to the stone, or the table in front of me. One sees everything as the appearance of Buddha. Everything is the appearance of Mind.   Everything directly presents itself. Mountains are mountains and trees are trees.

We tend to practice in the zendo, but what is being said here will only have meaning for you if you work with this question ‘Who am I?’ in the here and now, in the concrete situation that you are living now.   When we practice in the zendo it is quite possible for mountains to be no longer mountains and trees no longer trees; we can lose ourselves in the Samadhi of the moment. But in the world, when someone treads on my toes, mountains are mountains and trees are trees. How do we cope with life as it is being lived and still remain within the understanding of our practice?   Once one can see into this, with the eye of equality and then the eye of differentiation, and move freely between them and within them, it is possible to live a life full of life. To see that fundamentally, everything is OK.











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3 Responses to Two monks roll up the blinds

  1. matt says:

    This one is a little over my head but thank you for these postings. I read them as they come out and always find something helpful. They bring motivation and energy to my practice, so again. Thank you.

  2. Jean Low says:

    Dogen said, ‘Think the unthinkable’ – Albert is expressing the unthinkable, that is why you feel it is ‘over your head.’ When the unthinkable is expressed is sounds like nonsense, contradictory, – look at what Jung had to say about koans. It would be as well to read what it says here several times and, if possible, listen to the teisho itself several times – just letting it sink in, just being open to it.

  3. Georgetta says:

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