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How Much Heaviness

Su Dongpo, a Hanlin Academician, discussed Zen with Zen Master Zhaojue and was enlightened by the saying that sentient beings and non-sentient beings both can make life complete and attain Buddha hood. Su then expressed his gain in three Buddhist hymns—“Before Understanding Zen”, “Trying to Understand Zen”, and “After Understanding Zen”.

The state of mind before understanding Zen was like:

“It’s a range viewed in face and peaks from the side,

Assuming different shapes viewed from far and wide.

Of the Mountain Lu we cannot make out the true face,

For we are lost in the heart of the very place.”

The state of mind while trying to understand Zen was like:

“Misty rain in Mountain Lu and tide in Qiantang River are so beautiful,

That not having been there I can’t help feeling awfully regretful.

They are exactly what they should be once I visit there.

Misty rain in Mountain Lu and tide in Qiantang River are so beautiful.”

After understanding Zen, the state of mind was like:

“The sounds of stream are all Buddha’s teaching truly right.

Verdant plants are nothing but Buddha’s truth body in purified way.

Tens of thousands of teachings are given through nature over night.

Why not sharing those treasures with others some other day?”

After the realization to truth, Su Dongpo considered himself as a man with a better comprehension of Buddha Dharma. He heard that Zen Master Chenghao in Yuquan Buddhist Temple in Jingnan had acquired the wisdom of Buddha with an approach to enlightenment inaccessible to others and with Buddhist subtleties hard to comprehend by others. Unconvinced by the story, Su visited Zen Master Chenghao in disguise to test his wisdom of Buddha.

As soon as they met, Su said: “I heard that you are excellent at Zen enlightenment. So, what is Zen enlightenment?”

Zen Master Chenghao did not answer but asked back: “Venerable officer, may I have your surname?”

Answered Su: “My surname is Steelyard, the steelyard to weigh the heaviness of Buddhist elders in the world.”

Zen Master Chenghao gave a loud shout and said: “How to measure the heaviness of this shout?”

Su Dongpo couldn’t answer, so he said goodbye in polite courtesy and left.

The three stages of reaching the understanding of Zen by Su Dongpo  could be best summarized by what Zen Master Xingsi in Mountain Qingyuan had said about understating Zen. Zen Master Xingsi said: “Before understanding Zen, mountain is mountain and water is water; during the process of understanding Zen, mountain is not like mountain and water is not like water; after reaching the understanding of Zen, mountain is still mountain and water is still water.”

Zen students get enlightenment after the three stages, but it doesn't mean that they can practice the truth. Enlightenment is comprehension and practice is the course of proving the truth. So Zen students should first be enlightened and then practice so as to prove. If a Zen student without practicing and proving truth meets such a Zen Master as Chenghao that gives him a loud shout, he would be rendered speechless with stare eyes.

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