Eyes Asked Eyebrows...

In sorrow we grieve together. In laughter, we find the same joy.

Eyes Asked Eyebrows...
The useless Great Function: Meow

Despite our reputation to the contrary, Zen can be as playful as a kitten. Or an old cat, at least for a few seconds.

Below is a short passage from The Record of Going Easy, "Case 20: Dìzàng’s Intimacy," (the full version will be published here soon for Vine Friends, Supporters, and Patrons) where old master Wànsōng gets playful, and really a bit weird, anthropomorphizing competing facial features to make some seriously important (and playful) points about the Zen Way, human life, facial features, and cats:

Mouth said to Nose, “Eating and drinking are possible because of me. Speaking is possible because of me. What service do you offer that gives you the right to be above me?”

Nose said, “In the midst of the sacred Five Peaks, the central peak is the most honored position.”

Nose then turned and asked Eyes, “Why are you above me?”

Eyes said, “We are the same as the sun and moon, truly shining like mirrors. Now that’s service! Dare we ask you, Eyebrows, what service do you perform that you are above us?”

Eyebrows said, “We’re really of no service and no merit. It is so embarrassing to sit in the seat of honor! If you allow us to be under you, then with Eyes above, we’ll really look! What face holes you’ll be then!”

Therefore, Zen Master Bǎoyuè Míng went up to the main hall and said, “An ancient one said, ‘In the eye it’s called seeing, in the ear it’s called hearing.’  Yet say, in the eyebrow, what is it called? [After a long pause, he continued]: In sorrow we grieve together. In laughter, we find the same joy. Everyone knows about useful functions, but don’t know about the useless Great Function. Yet say, when Arhat Piṇḍola brushed his eyebrows with both hands, what was his intent?” 

The teacher [Wànsōng] brushed his eyebrows and said, “Meow.”  


With "the sacred Five Peaks," the human face is superimposed on the sacred landscape of China ... and vice versa.

Piṇḍola [Bhāradvāja], one of the Buddha of the Pali Canon’s sixteen great arhats, was renowned for psychic powers and healing. And his very long eyebrows. Click here for more. It is notable that Baoyue Ming (and Wansong) uses Pindola’s eyebrows as an example of the useless Great Function, given that Pindola's zazen power gave him supernatural powers.

For cat lovers, Wànsōng's concluding “Meow,” 猫, could be rendered, “Cat,” because "cat" is an onomatopoeia pronounced māo in Chinese (J. neko or myō). Did you notice that the character for "cat" looks like a cat?