Guishan and Yunmen

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The earliest of the five houses—later called the Giuyang school—was founded by Guishan Lingyou (Kuei-shan Ling-yu) (771-853), a contemporary of Huangbo and follower of Mazu, and his disciple Yangshan Huiji (Yang-Shan Hui-Chi).

Do you think that Buddhism has anything to do with my hair and beard?

According to his biography, at the time of the Great Persecution Guishan simply put on the cap and dress of the layman when he was ordered to return to secular life. When the persecution was over and the Governor of the province invited Guishan to come out of his retirement and shave off his beard and hair, Guishan refused to shave, saying with a smile: "Do you think that Buddhism has anything to do with my hair and beard?" But when he was repeatedly urged to shave, he yielded, again with a smile. This was the way a great Chan master looked at the Great Persecution.

Guishan and Yangshan's koans

The exchanges between Guishan and Yangshan reported in The Transmission of the Lamp are among the most electric in all Chan and are the root of many Zen's koans.

Here they joust over the distinction between function of wisdom (which is revealed through action} and substance or self-nature (which is revealed through non-action}.

Once when all the monks were out picking tea leaves the Master addressed Yangshan: "All day as we were picking tea leaves I have heard your voice, but I have not seen you yourself. Show me your original self."

Yangshan thereupon shook the tea tree.

The Master: "You have attained only the function, not the substance."

Yangshan: "I do not know how you yourself would answer the question."

The Master was silent for a time.

Yangshan: "You, Master, have attained only the substance, not the function."

Master Guishan: "I absolve you from twenty blows!"

Commentators differ on who won this exchange and whether Guishan was really satisfied. Another story relates similar fast-witted but serious repartee.

Two Chan monks came from [a rival] community and said, "There is not a man here who can understand Chan,"

Later, all the monks want out to gather firewood, Seeing the two resting, Yangshan took a piece of firewood : "Can you talk (about it}?"

Both remained silent.

Yangshan: "Do not say that there is no one .here who can understand Chan,"

Yangshan, returning to the monastery and reporting to the master: "Today, two Chan monks were exposed by me."

The master: "How did you expose them?"

Yangshan related the incident.

The master: "I have now exposed you as well.''

The translator Charles Luk suggests that Guishan had "exposed" Yangshan by showing that he still distinguished between himself and the other monks.

Another story, reminiscent of Nanquan, further dramatizes the school's teaching of nondiscrimination. The report recounts a present that Guishan sent to Yangshan, now also a master and co-founder of their school:

Guishan sent Yangshan a parcel containing a mirror.

Guishan. holding up the mirror to the assembly: "Please say whether this is Guishan's or Yangshan's mirror. If someone can give a correct reply, I  will not smash it."

As no one answered, the master smashed the mirror.


Guishan gave a monk the koan "What is your original face before your parents were born?" Unable to answer this question, he begged his teacher to "explain" the answer.

If I should expound it explicitly for you, in the future you will reproach me for it. Anyway, whatever I speak still belongs to me and has nothing to do with you.

This monk, who later became the famous master Xiangyan Zhixian, subsequently burned his sutras and wandered the countryside in despair. Finally he decided his lot in life was to maintain the grave of Huineng as a shrine. One day while sweeping, he swept a pebble into a bamboo grove and the pebble hit a piece of hollow
bamboo. The sound—"tock!"—triggered his enlightenment. In elation he hurried back to his cell in the abandoned monastery where he was living and burned incense to Guishan.

One tock! and I have forgotten all I knew!

If you had broken the secret to me then, how could I have experienced the wonderful event of today.