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Staving off scholarship

. . . where there is no place to put one's hands and feet is really a good situation.

Although Dahui was a strong advocate of the koan, he was staunchly against its being used in a literary sense. Whenever a student starts analyzing koans intellectually, comparing one against another, trying to understand rationally how they affect his non-rational intelligence, he misses the whole point. The only way it can work is if it is fresh. Only then does it elicit a response from our spontaneous intelligence, our intuitive mind.

But the Sung trend toward intellectualism was almost irresistible. The prestige of the Chinese "gentleman"—who could quote the ancient poets, compose verse himself, and analyze enlightenment—was the great nemesis of Chan.

Gentlemen of affairs who study the path often understand rationally without getting to the reality. Without discussion and thought they are at a loss, with no place to put their hands and feet—they won't believe that where there is no place to put one's hands and feet is really a good situation. They want to get there in their minds by thinking and in their mouths to understand by" talking—they scarcely realize they've already gone wrong.

Equally bad was the Chan student who memorized koans rather than trying to understand them intuitively.

A gentleman reads widely in many books basically in order to augment his innate knowledge. Instead, you have taken to memorizing the words of the ancients, accumulating them in your breast, making this your task, depending on them for something to take hold of in conversation. You are far from knowing the intent-of the sages in expounding the teachings. This is what is called counting the treasure of others all day long without having half a cent of your own.

Dahui rightly recognized in such scholarship an impending destruction of Chan's innate vigor. At one point, in desperation, he even destroyed the original printing blocks for the best-known koan collection of the time, the Blue Cliff Record compiled by his master, Yuanwu. But the trend continued nonetheless.