Su Dongpo (蘇東坡) was an avid student of Buddhist teachings and a distinguished and mischievous poet. He was quick-witted and humorous; as a Zen Buddhism follower he was very serious and self-disciplined. He often discussed Buddhism with his good friend, Zen Master Fo Yin (佛印禪師). The two lived across the river from one another.
Following is an interesting and famous story about him and Zen Master Fo Yin.
One day, Su Dongpo felt inspired and wrote the following poem :
稽首天中天，(Qǐshǒu tiān zhōng tiān),
毫光照大千；(Háo guāngzhào dàqiān);
八風吹不動，(Bā fēngchuī bùdòng),
端坐紫金蓮。(Duān zuò zǐjīn lián).
I bow my head to the heaven within heaven,
Hairline rays illuminating the universe,
The eight winds cannot move me,
Sitting still upon the purple golden lotus.
The "eight winds" (八風) in the poem referred to praise (稱), ridicule (譏), honor (譽), disgrace (毀), gain (得), loss (失), pleasure (樂) and misery (苦) – interpersonal forces of the material world that drive and influence the hearts of men. Su Dongpo was saying that he has attained a higher level of spirituality, where these forces no longer affect him.
Impressed by himself, Su Dongpo sent a servant to hand-carry this poem to Fo Yin. He was sure that his friend would be equally impressed. When Fo Yin read the poem, he immediately saw that it was both a tribute to the Buddha and a declaration of spiritual refinement. Smiling, the Zen Master wrote "fart" on the manuscript and had it returned to Su Dongpo.
Su Dongpo was expecting compliments and a seal of approval. When he saw "fart" written on the manuscript, he was shocked . He burst into anger: "How dare he insult me like this ? Why that lousy old monk ! He's got a lot of explaining to do !"
Full of indignation, he rushed out of his house and ordered a boat to ferry him to the other shore as quickly as possible. He wanted to find Fo Yin and demand an apology. However, Fo Yin’s door closed. On the door was a piece of paper, for Su Dongpo. The paper had following two lines :
The eight winds cannot move me,
One fart blows me across the river.
This stopped Su Dongpo cold. Fo Yin had anticipated this hot-headed visit. Su Dongpo's anger suddenly drained away as he understood his friend's meaning. If he really was a man of spiritual refinement, completely unaffected by the eight winds, then how could he be so easily provoked ?
With a few strokes of the pen and minimal effort, Fo Yin showed that Su Dongpo was in fact not as spiritually advanced as he claimed to be. Ashamed but wiser, Su Dongpo departed quietly.
This event proved to be a turning point in Su Dongpo's spiritual development. From that point on, he became a man of humility, and not merely someone who boasted of possessing the virtue.
Zen is a state of mind, a level of awareness, a way of life. Zen that focuses on the meaning and games of words is a formal and courtly Zen and cultic Zen. Zen like that has no correlation with the true Zen.
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