There is a reality even prior to heaven and earth;
Indeed, it has no form, much less a name;
Eyes fail to see it; It has no voice for ears to detect;
To call it Mind or Buddha violates its nature,
For it then becomes like a visionary flower in the air;
It is not Mind, nor Buddha;
Absolutely quiet, and yet illuminating in a mysterious way,
It allows itself to be perceived only by the clear-eyed.
It is Dharma truly beyond form and sound;
It is Tao having nothing to do with words.
Wishing to entice the blind,
The Buddha has playfully let words escape his golden mouth;
Heaven and earth are ever since filled with entangling briars.
O my good worthy friends gathered here,
If you desire to listen to the thunderous voice of the Dharma,
Exhaust your words, empty your thoughts,
For then you may come to recognize this One Essence.
Says Hui the Brother, “The Buddha’s Dharma
Is not to be given up to mere human sentiments.
The author of this poem is Daio Kokushi, a Japanese Zen monk who lived from 1235-1309. Traveling to China for much of his early training, Daio returned to Japan (Kamakura and Kyoto) with a traditional – almost puritanical – style of Rinzai Zen. In many modern Rinzai Zen temples there is a lineage tradition of Otokan consisting of Nanpo Jomyo (usually known as Daio Kokushi); his student Shuho Myocho (usually known as Daito Kokushi) and Shuho’s student Kanzan Egen; thus O-To-Kan.
I enjoy these verses so much. In describing the formless we attempt to give it a form and, in the end, trip over our own feet. Even the beautiful verses provided by Daio Kokushi, so pleasant on the ear, ring slightly hollow. The smell of tears echoing off a roof. The sound of smoke drifting through a window. The shimering touch of moonlight. We are grasping with our senses for an understanding that transcends them, was never meant for them.