Friday, September 02, 2016

“Caveats of Zen” by Wumen

Here’s my translation of the “Caveats of Zen” by Wumen.
This brief admonition for practice titled “Caveats of Zen” (禪箴, Chan Zhen, J. Zen Shin) is by Chinese Zen Master Wumen Huikai (1183-1260, J. Mumon Ekai) and is appended to his koan collection Gateless Checkpoint of the Zen Lineage (禪宗無門關 Chan Zong Wumen Guan, J. Zen Shu Mumonkan).  This is a genre of Zen writing especially popular in the 12th and 13th centuries in China and Japan, with such titles as “Caveats of Zen” or “Caveats of Sitting Meditation (Zazen).” The word (zhen, J. shin) has two primary meanings, first as “caveat,” “admonition,” “warning,” etc. and next as “needle” (either for sewing or acupuncture) or “probe” (in the sense of a “lancet”).  A similar but different genre is that of the etiquette, rules, or instructions (, yi, J. gi)  for Zen or Zazen, such as the well known example of Japanese Zen Master Dogen’s “Zazengi” (坐禅儀) and “Fukanzazengi.” (普勧坐禅儀). The “yi” texts are more in the line of prosaic “how to” instructions, while the “zhen” literature is more poetic in style and addresses the right view or frame of reference for Zen and sitting meditation (zazen). 
As we can see from the Chinese text below, Wumen's piece is constructed as eleven lines of eight characters for each caveat, followed by three lines of concluding admonition to make the effort put it into practice.


“Caveats of Zen”

            Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope. 

            Moving freely vertically and horizontally without obstruction is the nightmare army of the way of outsiders. 

            To preserve the mind and to purify it by letting impurities settle to the bottom in quiescence is the perverted Zen of silent illumination. 

            With unrestrained ideas neglecting the written records is falling into a deep pit.

            To be awake to awakening and not in the dark is to wear chains and shoulder a cangue.

            Thinking good and thinking evil are the halls of heaven and hell.  

            A view of Buddha and a view of Dharma are the two enclosing mountains of iron.

            A fellow who perceives immediately arising thoughts is playing with spectral consciousness.

            However, being on a high plateau in the habit of samadhi is the stratagem of living in the house of ghosts.

            To advance results in ignoring truth; to retreat results in contradicting the lineage.

            Neither to advance nor to retreat is being a breathing corpse.

            So just say, what steps will you take to do this?

You must now give birth to great effort to finish it.

[Zen] doesn’t teach eternal suffering or extra misfortune.


Here's the original Chinese: