Lesson
17

Nanquan and Zhaozhou

2 of 6

Many of Nanquan's finest exchanges with pupils are preserved in The Transmission of the Lamp. For maximum impact it is perhaps best to lean back and let his wordplay wash over the rational mind like a cool, cleansing surf. As with the Taoist Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu), the best way to comprehend this antilogical phenomenon is to forget about trying to grasp it intellectually.

The Governor: "There is a piece of stone in my house.
 Sometimes it stands up and sometimes it lies down. Now, can it be carved into the image of Buddha?

Nanquan: "Yes, it is possible,"

The governor (countering): "But it is impossible to do so?"

Nanquan: "It is impossible! It is impossible!"

Nanquan told Guizong and Mayu that he was going to take them with him to visit the National Teacher. Before they began their journey, Nanquan drew a circle on the road, saying: "As soon as you give a right answer we will be on our way."

Guizong sat down inside the circle and Mayu bowed in woman's fashion.

The Master: "Judging by this answer, it will not be necessary to go."

Nanquan's attitude toward conventional pieties, as well as toward the societal, rationalistic concerns of Confucianism, are perhaps best illustrated by the farewell he gave to his distinguished follower:

When Governor Lu was about to return to his office in Hsuancheng, he came to bid the Master good-bye.

Nanquan: "Governor, you are going back to the capital. How will you govern the people?"

The Governor: "I will govern them through wisdom."

The Master: "If this is true, the people will suffer for it.''