Transcend the Ordinary and the Sacred

Image from Chan Heart Chan Art

When Chan Master Nanta Guangyong first went to study with Chan Master Yangshan, Yangshan asked him, “What have you come here for?”

Guangyong answered, “I’ve come to pay my respects to the Chan Master.”

Yangshan then asked, “Have you seen the Chan Master?”

Guangyong answered, “I’ve seen him.”

Yangshan further asked, “Is the Chan Master’s appearance like a donkey or a horse?”

Guangyong said, “I think the Chan Master is also not like a Buddha!”

Yangshan would not let up and proceeded to ask, “If he’s not like a Buddha, then what is he like?”

Not wanting to be outdone, Guangyong answered, “If he’s like anything at all, then what difference is there from a horse or donkey?”

Yangshan exclaimed in great admiration, “You’ve transcended the ordinary and the sacred!  Emotions ceased, true essence revealed.  In the next twenty years, no one will surpass you.  Take good care of yourself.”

After this, whenever Chan Master Yangshan met anyone, he would say in praise, “Guangyong is a Buddha in the flesh.”

What, exactly, is the meaning contained within this gong’an? For instance, some have asked, what are people like? This is a very difficult question to answer because if there are things they are like, then there are things they are not like. If we answer that people are like ghosts, then there are also people among ghosts. If we say ghosts are like people, then there are also ghosts among people. 

The Diamond Sutra says, “All forms are illusory. If we see that the various forms are formless, then we see the Tathagata.” What is space* like? Space is without form and without formlessness. Because space has no form, it can embrace the myriad phenomena. Space has no form, so it is like the forms of all phenomena. 

Chan Master Yangshan and Chan Master Guangyong debated that he was not like a donkey and not like a Buddha. Then what exactly was he like? He was like himself. Only by seeing our own intrinsic nature can we be as one with space. What is it like? It is like the form of space without form. If we are able to transcend the ordinary and the sacred, and if essence and function are one, then that is seeing the truth of formlessness.

*In Buddhism, the term “space” refers to that which has no limits or boundaries, is permanent and eternal, and embraces everything.

More Featured Articles

The occurrence of a disease is closely related to one’s mental health, physical health, spiritual health, behavior, habits, living environment, and even the society and culture in which one lives.  Harmonizing all of these elements and engaging in specific practices can help to bring about optimum health and prevent illness.  Read more
When we can practice viewing ourselves and others through a lens of oneness, we will no longer engage in meaningless mind games that prevent us from forming positive connections with all beings. Read more
The analysis of the mind in Buddhism is both multifaceted and sophisticated. As a spiritual practice, Buddhism contains numerous descriptions of the nature and function of the mind and instructions on how to search for, abide with, and refine it. In this regard, Buddhist psychology has much to offer, as Read more
We should always try to see the good in others, not the bad. On the samsaric level of this saha world alone, back-biting and faultfinding are known by most people to be totally counter-productive. Not only does faultfinding produce nothing but anger and mistrust, but the effects of negative speech Read more
On the path of life, sometimes we need to go straight ahead, other times we have to make turns in order to reach our goals. If we do not turn around when we need to, we will not “see the other shore.” But when we need to move ahead and Read more
People suffer from a variety of diseases of the mind, such as being greedy, judgmental, or quick to anger. The Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra says, “There are four kinds of diseases of the body, which are due to excessive wind, heat, phlegm, or other causes. There are also four Read more
Do you feel inspired when you see people help each other? Not everyone is. Some people may look at a generous donation and say, “Donating such a small amount of money is nothing extraordinary for such a rich person.” When other people suffer from disasters and pain like the many Read more
One of the biggest weaknesses in today’s society is that we have developed the habit of not saying we are sorry. Once we grow up and rise in status and knowledge, apologizing becomes harder and harder. But human beings are not perfect sages and we all make mistakes. Being able Read more
It seemed that I had to do every­thing for Buddhism. For Buddhism, I have to only set the tone and not be­come the master, hand over my physi­cal body to the temple and give my life to the Dharma protectors, heav­enly beings and nagas, and making the aspiration to head Read more
What is the fastest thing in the universe? Of course, everyone knows it is light, which moves at three hundred thousand kilometers per second. However, in Buddhism, the fastest thing is not light but a person’s mind. The speed of mind is several hundred times faster than light and is Read more
If we want to understand what the Dharma teaches us about building affinity and living in harmony with others, we must first understand the four great all-embracing virtues. The Buddha teaches that for us to realize our true capacity of connecting with and serving our fellow citizens, we have to Read more
Our emotions are a very important part of our everyday life, and they star in a leading role on the stage of relationships. The ability to feel and our freedom to act upon these feelings give us both joy and sorrow, and it is imperative that we maintain our emotional Read more