One of the reasons I believe in jazz is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same any place in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear. — Dave Brubeck

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Hands and Eyes of Great Compassion

The Hands and Eyes of Great Compassion

Maha Shobogenzo Case 105

Book of Serenity Case 54




The Case


Yunyan asked Daowu,

“How does the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion (Avalokiteshvara) use so many hands and eyes?”1

Daowu said, “It’s just like a person in the middle of the night reaching back in search of a pillow.”2

Yunyan said, “I understand.”3

Daowu said, “How do you understand it?”4

Yunyan said, “All over the body are hands and eyes.”5

Daowu said, “What you said is roughly all right. But it’s only eighty percent of it. “6

Yunyan said, “Senior brother, how do you understand it?”7

Daowu said, “Throughout the body are hands and eyes.”8


The Commentary

If your whole body were an eye, you still wouldn’t be able to see it. If your whole body were an ear, you still wouldn’t be able to hear it. If your whole body were a mouth, you still wouldn’t be able to speak of it. If your whole body were mind, you still wouldn’t be able to perceive it. Because the activity of Bodhisattva of Great Compassion is her whole body and mind itself, it is not limited to any notions or ideas of self or other. Bringing it up in the first place is a thousand miles from the truth. Answering the question only serves to compound the error. Don’t you see? Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva has never understood what compassion is.

The Capping Verse

All over the body, throughout the body.
It just can’t be rationalized.
Deaf, dumb and blind — virtuous arms, penetrating eyes
Have always been right here.

My Comments:

Here's Wansong’s comment, "When reaching for a pillow at night, there's an eye in the hand; when eating there's an eye on the tongue, when recognizing people on hearing them speak, there's an eye in the ears."

Why is this so difficult to understand? I really want to ask Wansong why he’s making such a fuss. Has he never slept with a pillow? I think the poor old guy was just deluded. The hand doesn't need an extra eye to reach out to grab the pillow. If he’s waiting for an eye to appear on his tongue before he speaks, that’s our good luck, we won’t have to listen to his double talk. An eye in the ear won’t help him either. He’s already muddied Quan Yin’s Great Compassion song with too many notes. And about that painter guy who did the famous portrait--he had too much time on his hands and the paint in his pots must have been overflowing.

There are innumerable qualities in Great Compassion, but that doesn't mean that it’s complicated or something mere human beings shouldn't strive for, or that it’s impossible to attain. Tonight you can practice: when you’re deep in sleep, reach behind you and hold onto your pillow. Better yet, follow Issan’s example. Fluff the pillow of a friend who’s in pain and can't reach behind to do it for themselves, wipe their brow, help them hold a glass to their lips, cook them chocolate chip cookies. That will clear out some of the webs in your notions of the Great Compassion.

Keep it simple.

The Footnotes

1. Why does he ask? Is it out of curiosity or an imperative?
2. Miraculous activity; it’s not to be taken lightly.
3. That’s exactly the problem that you started with in the first place. Stop understanding.
4. It won’t do to let him get away with it.
5. Many Zen practitioners fall into this pit.
6. It’s because he understands it that he only got eighty percent of it.
7. Make it your own; don’t rely on another’s provisions to support your life.
8. No gaps! But say, did he really say it all? If you say he did — wrong! If you say he didn’t you have missed it. What do you say?

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