Messing With Yasutani Roshi: The Verse for Yunmen's Two Illnesses

Messing With Yasutani Roshi: The Verse for Yunmen's Two Illnesses

Recently, in my translation work and personal practice, I've been playing again with Record of Going Easy (J., Shoyoroku), Case 11 Yunmen’s Two Illnesses. This case is so important, in my view, that in addition to the introduction, koan, capping phrases and Hongzhi's verse, I've also translated Wansong's longish and difficult commentary. I'll be offering all of that here for you, bit by bit, starting with the verse in this post, because I think the verse will give you a toehold in the topic.

In addition, this post also has a commentary for the verse by Hakuun Yasutani Roshi (1885–1973 - pictured above), a really important ancestor in our lineage. Talk about toehold! The original version of Yasutani Roshi's commentary appeared in The Hazy Moon of Enlightenment, by Taizan Maezumi and Bernard Tetsugen Glassman. But I've done something unusual with it, something that I haven't done before - I've edited the version published Hazy Moon, replacing their translation of the verse with mine and editing the original so that it flowed better (gender neutralizing it, etc) - in my opinion - without changing Yasutani Roshi's meaning. At least that was my intention.

This started out as a personal study project to see if my translation worked in light of the old master's commentary, for my eyes only, but I think the outcome might be helpful to some, so I'm sharing it here:

Hongzhi’s Verse

The limitless tangle of all things allows for the extraordinary

Freely penetrating-through-and-dropping obstructs the eye

Who has the strength to sweep out this garden?

What’s hidden in a person’s heart surely turns into feelings

A boat crossing the river sideways is soaked with the blue-green autumn

Oars enter the illuminated reed flowers, bright as snow

An old fisherman immediately takes a perch on-the-line to market

A single leaf flutters on a flowing wave

Yasutani Roshi's Commentary

“The limitless tangle of all things” - what is this “limitless tangle”? Don’t just look over there, thinking it’s the ten thousand things of heaven and earth! What is called “all things” is the sum total of phenomenal and noumenal manifestations as shapes as well as the realms of subjective and objective insight.

“The limitless tangle of all things allows for the extraordinary.” The Chinese characters translated here as ‘‘extraordinary’’ (崢嶸) mean “to have the appearance of a high mountain.”

What is ‘‘allowed’’? It is to have no short-comings. Mountains are high, rivers are long. A long thing is a long dharma body, a short thing is a short dharma body. In differences, are there any insufficiencies?

Rather than insufficiencies, don’t differences constitute “all things’” absolute value? If differences vanish, existing value also vanishes. Let’s mix sweet rice cake and flavored rice in a hodgepodge and see. Wouldn't the value of both the rice cakes and the flavored rice be negated?

I was impressed to hear of a follower of the Shin school who had experienced the compassion of Amitabha Buddha. When told that the length of the crane’s legs just as they are and the shortness of the duck’s legs just as they are - this is itself salvation - he responded, “Oh, thank you.”

To see this world of no shortcomings is a leaping, first-rate awakening. But this awakening itself can at once become a sickness, as the following line indicates: “Passing-through-and-dropping freely obstructs the eye.”

“Freely penetrating-through-and-dropping” is the exact opposite of ‘’the limitless tangle of all things.” To be thoroughly liberated is for there to be neither the three times nor the ten directions. It is “originally there is not one thing” - no delusion, no awakening, no everything, no nothing. No fringe of clouds whatsoever obstructs the eye. Compared with the line before, it is an awakening, a more profound stage. However, this awakening at once becomes a sickness and obstructs the eye.

Who has the strength to sweep out this garden? To sweep the garden is to sweep out all the rubbish in one’s head, to sweep out the sickness of awakening. This line also should be examined together with the following line:

“What’s hidden in a person’s heart surely turns into feelings.” Here “a person’’ does not refer to someone else. It is each person, each individual. “...Turns into feelings” means to make mental calculations: “That principle is thus-and-so;” “this principle is thus-and-so.’’ Such mental calculations are made even if you intend not to make them. They are ‘‘hidden.”’ This dharma attachment is exceedingly difficult to remove. In its own time such feelings just arise. That is the sickness called “the illness caused by the medicine.”

“A boat crossing the river sideways is soaked with the blue-green autumn/Oars enter the illuminated reed flowers, bright as snow.” Here at long last, Hongzhi, the author of the verse, begins to sing of a pure, refreshing state, a state of no impediments, no attachments, nothing to interfere, nothing insufficient. That is exemplified by the scenery of autumn. In the autumnal countryside, on a quiet river, rests a boat. Both the sky and water are blue. On the bank, reed-flowers glisten white as snow. The boat has been laid with its bow on the shore and just left there. It is an utterly peaceful world where nothing needs to be done. It is called “extinction manifests.” It is the realm of ‘‘great peace on earth.” It is the real state of nirvana.

But this too is a sickness. Stop even a little in this place and you will be ‘‘a dead person at the ultimate.“

“An old fisherman immediately takes a perch on-the-line to market/A single leaf flutters on a flowing wave.” The previous boat was boarded in order to save yourself, but this boat is meandering in order to save others. ‘‘An old fisherman” is a fish-catching old person in whom all inclinations have been eliminated. They search for customers with the fish they’ve caught, crying, ‘‘Come buy, come buy. I’m waiting for a bid. For a fair price I'll sell.”

Carefree, aren’t they! They aren’t insistent sales people. Nor will they discount the fish. To do either would destroy the buddhadharma.

“A single leaf” means a small boat. A reed bobs on the long river, going “squeak-thud, squeak-thud” as it rows along. Always, in this place or that, just right, just right, becoming one with it, carrying across donkeys, carrying across horses—that’s the aspect of teaching freely.

The initial line of the verse (“The limitless tangle of all things allows for the extraordinary”) is Manjusri’s wisdom. The concluding line (“A single leaf flutters on a flowing wave”) is Avalokitesvara’s compassion. United, the two become complete.