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What is the Nature of the Path?

A teaching from Master Nansen to Master Jōshū

Thursday 28 October 2010

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All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

What is the Nature of the Path?

That is the question Jōshū asked to Master Nansen

Zhàozhōu Cōngshěn, 778–897 ; Japanese Jōshū Jūshin disciple of Master Nansen : Nanquan Pǔyuàn, 748-835; Japanese : Nansen Fugan ; disciple et successor of Mǎzǔ Daoyi, 709 - 788; Japanese : Baso Do-ITSU.

A monk asked this question to Master Nansen:

‒ Reverent, will you please tell me if there are lessons that no teacher has ever given?

Answer of Master Nansen: "Yes, there is"

The monk continuing:

‒ Would you tell me what it is?

‒ There is no Buddha. It is not the things. It is not the thought

Jōshū is famous for his unusual and surprising action. Historians consider him the greatest master of the China Chan Tang Dynasty. He trained disciples, but his line has not survived the China many wars and various attempts of annihilation of Buddhism. His memory is lost beyond the year 1000 because monks are massacred or become illegal. However, the indestructibility of the Dharma will restore intact the flavour of their dialogues. Dharma weaves a weft thread which is much stronger than all weavings horrors of the Five Poisons.

History says he is 18 years old when he had this dialogue with Nansen. He received his first awakening, but stays with Nansen to serve him until his death in 788. Jōshū was 62 years (some say 60) and travel through China another twenty years to receive teachings from other Masters of Zen before staying to Guānyīnyuàn.

Is a day or a night that Jōshū requests a private meeting to Master Nansen, as usual, and him raises the big question:

‒ What is the Nature of the Path?

‒ Everyday life is the Path, is the response of Master Nansen.

Jōshū continuing:

‒ Is it possible to study it?

‒ If you begin to study it, the whole universe you separates.

‒ If I am not educated, how to know the Nature of the Path?

Master Nansen was kind enough to say:

‒ The Path is incomprehensible to the ordinary consciousness, nobody can understand it, and neither guesses. The true idea of knowledge or unknowing is similar to the clouds activity in a night sky where the moon is hidden and revealed. If your desire is to achieve genuine path where all doubts are disintegrating: be like a sky. From this sky, impossible to ask what is the Nature of the Path.

And the flower of his awakening has emerged, but only years later that she opened her petals to give fragrance. Master Jōshū has 80 years when he settled in Guānyīnyuàn in a ruined temple in northern China. During the forty years before he died almost 120 years, he will give his teachings to the monks who wished to receive it.

At the big question that a monk asked him : "Is that the dog has the Buddha nature? Or: "Is that the dog did not the Buddha nature? Master Jōshū gave same answer: "MU".
About "MU", books were written ... .. Ask Master Jōshū what is the subject of these works: he will say: "MU" which is translated by NOTHING.

Another day, Master Jōshū asked a monk who had first heard his teachings:

‒ I’ve seen you here already?

The monk replied:

‒ No, sir, you have not already seen, I have only just arrived.

‒ So take a cup of tea.

And he turned to another monk to ask him:

‒ I’ve seen you here already?

The second monk replied:

‒ Yes, sir, you have already seen here.

‒ So, take a cup of tea.

Later in the evening, the monk who was responsible for managing the monastery asked Master Jōshū:

‒ How is it possible to say: "So take a cup of tea", whatever the answer the question?

Jōshū bellowed: "Regent, you’re still here?"

‒ Yes I am, Reverent!

‒ So, take a cup of tea.


A novice approached Master Jōshū eager to ask his question:

‒ I’ve just arrived: Reverent would you please tell me the first principle of Zen?

Response Master Jōshū:

‒ Have you eaten your soup?

‒ Yes Reverent, I have eaten.

‒ Now go wash your bowl.


Another day a monk asked the old Master Jōshū:

‒ You are teaching that we must empty our minds. As I have nothing in my mind, now what do I do? ?

Master Jōshū erupt:

‒ Throw it!

‒ But I have nothing. How to throw it?

‒ If you can not throw it: bear it! Get it out! Empty it! But do not stay in front of me that nothing in your head!

To illustrate a Calligraphy from Master Shaman Joska Soós, he named: We are somewhere else (2003).

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