Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Zen fart

It started with this interesting Zen story featuring famous Chinese writer and poet Su DongPo (蘇東坡) in Sung Dynasty. As an outspoken intellectual Su could not win favor with the Emperor and later in life he was demoted to become an official in the far away Southern provinces. Such transfer was a blessing in disguise, good for his writing and his Zen practice. He had little to do, got leisurely environment and above all could mingle everyday with like minded intellectuals and enlightened monks and Taoists. He chose his resident next to a quiet river just opposite a famous Buddhist monastery by the name of Golden Peak. The monastery was presided by the famous Zen master Fou Yin. Taking this great opportunity, Su often engaged in Zen talks with the master and learned a lot from him.

One day during deep meditation, Su experienced something very special, and he thought he got his enlightenment. Being a famous poet, he beautifully expressed his inner experience by a little poem.


Translated as (by me)

Humbly bowed my head below all skies
Minutest lights shine through my deepest bounds
Immovable by strong winds from eight sides
Upon purplish gold lotus I seated straightly by the low mound

The poet was pleased that he had traveled a deep journey and got enlightened. He asked his servant to sail across the river to bring his poem for the perusal of the Zen master, presumably expecting a praise. Upon reading the poem, the master scribbled two characters and asked the servant to bring it back to Su.

Su was shocked by the comment: "Bull shit" (literally "fart" 放屁).

"If you don't like my poem, that's fine. I share with you because I consider you are my friend. Why called my inner experience "bull shit" ("fart")! Old monk, I am going to confront you in person."  He immediately asked his servant to sail him back to see the monk.

Knowing the poet's intention to get an answer, our master said calmly to his angry friend, "My honorable friend, you said you are 'Immovable by strong winds from eight sides', yet you are blown across the river by a simple 'fart'! ("八風吹不動, 一屁過江來) Our poet was embarrassed and said no more.

Today we read and hear so many wisdom talks by gurus and common people alike. Yet many of these wisdom talkers will be blown into flame by the slightest negative comment from their respective audiences. Not to worry, they find kindred soul with one of the greatest writers and poets in Chinese history, Mr. Su DongPo (蘇東坡).


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