‘This Old Monk Doesn’t Dwell In Clarity…’

The marvelous Chan master Joshu appears in Blue Cliff Record, Case 2:

Joshu, instructing the assembly, said, “The supreme Way is not difficult; it simply dislikes choosing. But even if a word is uttered, it is already an action of ‘choosing’ or of adhering to ‘clarity’. This old monk doesn’t dwell in clarity. Do you monks want to keep a firm hold on ‘clarity’ or not?”

At that time a monk asked, “You say you do not dwell in clarity. If so, what is there to keep a firm hold on?”

Joshu said, “I don’t know, either.”

The monk said, “If you, Master, don’t know, why do you say that you don’t dwell in clarity?”

Joshu said, “You have already asked amply. Bow and withdraw.”

In his opening remarks, Joshu is referring to the Chan poem Faith in Mind, which begins:

The Ultimate Path is without difficulty;

Just avoid picking and choosing.

Just don’t love or hate,

And you’ll be lucid and clear.

Notice that Joshu, “this old monk,” doesn’t cling even to clarity. Perfectly beyond picking and choosing, liking and disliking, he’s also not grabbing a hold of some dualistic state of clarity. What exquisite deconstruction is this!

A shrewd monk presses him: “You say you do not dwell in clarity. If so, what is there to keep a firm hold on?”

Masterfully, Joshu does not say, “Nothing.” Nor does he reply: “Something.” He effectively says “beyond something and nothing” when he says, “I don’t know, either.” Supreme nondual not-knowing. Brilliantly priceless!

This is to say that Joshu nests nowhere and also that he needs no-thing to hold onto. In fact, since he’s not like a hook upon which to place a coat, how could there be some need for a hook or a rack?

Joshu doesn’t dwell in clarity, but not dwelling in clarity does not entail “setting up shop” in some other ‘place,’ with some secret knowledge.

One translation ends the case: “It is enough to ask about the matter; bow and withdraw.” This one ends thus: “You have already asked amply. Bow and withdraw.”

Charitably put, “Young monk, you’re full of mystery and wonderment. Up to a point, this is good. Now don’t go pressing on in this conceptual direction. Be humble. Be filled with doubt. Bow, withdraw, and indeed withdraw into the Great Mystery.” In other words, “Dive deep into yourself. Only in this way can you be one with the Ultimate Way.”