The great master Yunmen, thirty-ninth generation from the Buddha, said to a group in a lecture, “All people have a light, but when they look at it they do not see it, so it is obscure. What is everyone's light?” No one replied, so the master himself said in their behalf, “The communal hall, the Buddha shrine, the kitchen pantry, the mountain gate.”
Now when the great master says that everyone has a light, he does not say it is to appear later on, nor that it existed in the past, nor that it becomes apparent to a view from the side: he is stating that everyone has a light. This is exactly what is meant in the overall sense by the light of great wisdom: it should be heard and retained, enjoyed and applied, in the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow.
The light is everyone. Shakymuni and Maitreya are its servants. What is not more in Buddhas and less in ordinary beings is this spiritual light, so it is existent in all; it is the whole earth as a single mass of fire.
The master said, “What is everyone's light?” At that time the assembly made no reply. Even if there had been a hundred thousand apt statements, there still would have been “no reply.”
Yunmen answered himself in their behalf, “The communal hall, the Buddha shrine, the kitchen pantry, the mountain gate.” This answering himself in their behalf is answering himself in everyone's behalf, answering himself in behalf of the light, answering himself in behalf of obscurity, answering himself in behalf of the assembly's lack of response: it is absorption in the treasury of light awakening and bringing forth radiant light.
This being so, it does not question whether you are ordinary people or Buddhas, it does not discriminate between sentient and inanimate beings: having always been shining everywhere, the light has no beginning, no location. That is why it is “obscure,” it is “what,” it is “traveling at night,” it is “impossible to conceive of even in a billion billion million eons.”
Also, a monk asked Yunmen, “The light silently shines throughout countless worlds…” Before he had even finished posing his question, Yunmen quickly asked back, “Are these not the words of a famous poet?” The monk said, “They are.” Yunmen said, “You are trapped in words.”
Hail to the ancient Buddha Yunmen! His eyes were fast as comets, his mind swift as lightning! At this point the monk was speechless. Who would not be ashamed?
Zen master Xuefeng, instructing a group said, “The Buddhas of all times turn the great wheel of the Teaching in flames of fire.” Yunmen said, “The flames of fire expound the Teaching to the Buddhas of all times; the Buddhas of all times stand there and listen.”
So the light of flames of fire is the site of enlightenment of the Buddhas of all times; it is the teacher of the Buddhas. For this reason, all of the Enlightened Ones are always expounding the Teaching in the midst of myriad forms even as they remain at their own site of enlightenment, which is the light of complete perfect tranquility.
It is a matter of “valuing the ears without devaluing the eyes.” This mass of flames of fire is not in front, not behind: it is just total manifestation.
The exposition of the Teaching by the flames of fire indicated by Xuefeng and expressed by Yunmen is a direct approach without expedients, just expounding the unexcelled Way, bringing out the totality of the teachings of the Buddha's whole lifetime.
When Xuefeng spoke as he did, this was already being burned up in the flames of fire. Do you want to escape? Reciting scriptures, performing prostrations, raising and lowering each foot—everything is the manifestation of the great function of light.
There are those who learn to wonder whose grace this depends on, uselessly toiling to quiet thoughts without knowing this hidden essence. There are also those who doubt and dismiss the possibility, making a living in a ghost cave. There are also those who go into the ocean to count the grains of sand. There are also those who are like mosquitoes breaking through a paper window. Leaving aside for the moment getting trapped in words, what would be right?
Although there is no more leisure time to wash a clod of earth in the mud, students of Zen should first know what is being said when they pose a question. Once we are talking about silent illumination pervading the universe, why should these be the words of a famous poet? Why should they be the words of Buddha? Why should they be your words? After all, whose words would they be? “The communal hall, the Buddha shrine, the kitchen pantry, the mountain gate.” Listen clearly, hear accurately.
Great Master Changsha said to a congregation, “The whole universe is the eye of a practitioner. The whole universe is the family talk of a practitioner. The whole universe is the total body of a practitioner. The whole universe is one's own light. In the whole universe, there is no one who is not oneself.”
So penetrating study of the Way of the enlightened requires diligence to learn and faith to attain. Unless you form an alliance with the family of Buddhas lifetime after lifetime, how can you grasp what you hear in a lecture like this? Make sure that you do not become further estranged and further remote from it.
Excerpted from Minding Mind A course in Basic Meditation trans by Thomas Cleary 1995
Like the tiny green shoots bursting upward seeking the light of Spring, we too stretch to take in the light of the Dharma. If we “understand” too quickly, we can almost assuredly know our understanding is tepid, superficial, not worthy of being called “understanding.” Light is a profound metaphor, one we can tangibly feel in our everyday lives as we feel ourselves opening up to the sun in Spring and looking after the waning light in Fall, trying to hold onto the strength it bestows to all.
The physical light of our sun is one that waxes and wanes with our rotations around it; the spiritual treasure of light within/without is not subject to these vicissitudes, but it certainly can become clouded over with our delusions and chatter.
“All people have a light, but when they look at it they do not see it, so it is obscure. What is everyone's light?”
A koan not intended for an answer with words, phrases, or even images; an invitation to look inside …
” The whole universe is one's own light.In the whole universe, there is no one who is not oneself.”
Can we burst through like that tiny shoot or the butterfly emerging from its cocoon to go beyond our limited sense of self? An invitation to climb this mountain of awareness beckons.