Bring Me The Rhinoceros Fan1

Monday, July 22, 1968
Tassajara

People say Zen is very difficult to understand. Yes, it is difficult, but the difficulty is not the kind of difficulty you have in understanding many things. Even though the way of thinking we have is not familiar to you, it is possible to understand intellectually. But we should know what you have understood intellectually is not the thing itself. Everyone talks about this point, you know. Our words are not perfect.

But I told you last night why intellectual understanding is not the thing itself. Whatever you say, that is not perfect. And if you cling to some idea, that is already imperfect intellectual understanding.

There are many interesting stories about this. I think you must have heard about what is a true dragon. This evening I visited Chino Sensei's room, and there were many dragons [laughs, laughter]. He said, this year I have many, many dragons. I thought about many, many dragons. So, I thought that he was born in a year of the dragon. But he said he was born in a year of the tiger, and I am a dragon, and he— [laughs] he is a tiger [laughter]. And so, he is my big enemy [laughs, laughter]. And I saw many of my enemies in his room. No, many of my friends in his room, so I felt very good [laughs]. To visit is good, because he’s surrounded by my friends [laughs] this year, but I don't know what will happen next year [laughter, laughs].  Don’t give him any tigers [laughter].

Nyoko—or some people may say Seppo Sensei—liked dragons very much. Whatever you say, that is not true dragons. Recently people in the whole world like dragons very much. This is Zen, Zen cosmetics, Zen food [laughs, laughter] and Zen diet [laughs]. Everything is Zen right now, you know. Those are all painted dragons or antique dragons. If you go to an antiques shop, you will see many dragons: bronze dragons, [laughs] China dragons, and flames of dragons. You will see many, many dragons. But this year if a real dragon comes [laughs], what will you do? [Laughs.] Be like Nyoko.

And in The Blue Cliff Record there are interesting stories. Seian Kokushi, the National Zen Master of China, called his jisha and said, bring me the rhinoceros fan. It is very hot today [laughs], bring me the rhinoceros fan.

And his attendant replied, it was broken a long time ago.

Then, he said, you should bring me the bone of the fan [laughs].

His attendant did not know what he meant by rhinoceros fan.

Whatever you do, whatever you observe, whatever the teaching may be, that is like a rhinoceros fan. What is true, or like a rhinoceros fan, is very difficult to understand. Whatever the understanding may be, that is not true understanding. That is just a picture of a rhinoceros fan.

On this point there are many answers by many teachers. The attendant said that the fan has been broken. Enkan said—Enkan is Seian Kokushi, the National Teacher of the Tang Dynasty—if the fan has been broken, bring me the rhinoceros and put it in front of me [laughs]. If the fan is broken, bring me a large rhinoceros. The jisha made no reply here [laughs]. He couldn’t answer. Sorry, couldn’t answer [laughs, laughter]. Discussing this at a later time after Enkan's death, Tosu said that the jisha did not refuse to bring the fan, but that the fan had been destroyed. At any rate he brought a picture, but if a spoiled picture—of its skin and bones—had been satisfactory to the old patriarch, the jisha might have fixed it—washed it.

Anyway, whatever it is, it is not real. It is not reality itself. Whatever it is, it is not reality. Whatever you say, it does not work. So, whatever it is, it is better to bring it to him.

And this point I already explained. “Whatever you say, it is right,” means whatever you say, it is wrong [laughs]. The same thing. So, Dogen Zenji said there is Right Buddha and Wrong Buddha [laughs]. There is Yes Buddha and No Buddha. Anyway, yes or no—Buddha is Buddha. People may say, there are two kinds of Buddha. Or Yes Buddha is the only Buddha; No Buddha is not true Buddha. But according to Dogen Zenji there are Yes Buddha and No Buddha. Whatever you say, he is good with it.

There are many such stories. When it was very hot, a teacher met a monk, and the monk asked the teacher: It is very hot; is there any place where there is no hot or no cold? And that master said, when it is cold, it is Cold Buddha. When it is hot, it is Hot Buddha. Anyway, it is Buddha [laughs]. So, there is no need to try to go to any other place. And this is a very important point. And this is the point we should sit with.

I talked about Sekiso the other night. Sekiso’s seven through and through.2 After Sekiso passed away, they had to pick a successor, a new teacher for themselves. And the monks wanted to appoint their Shuso. You know Shuso? The head of the monks. In the training period there is a Shuso. They wanted to appoint their Shuso as his successor. But Kyuho, he’s also a famous Zen master, he alone did not agree with this. So, that Shuso said, if you don’t agree with me, I will show you my practice. He said, bring me incense right now. And he sat in front of the incense, and he almost passed away [laughs] without saying a word. When he started to sit, his breathing stopped, and he almost died. His practice was so powerful, but Kyuho still did not agree with it [laughs, laughter]. Kyuho said, you sat, that is why I don’t agree [laughs]. You are still sticking to your practice—the power of practice. You should forget all about your practice, and you should be like one of the monks, and you should practice the same way as we do. Forget all about your attainment, Kyuho said, and he didn’t take over Sekiso’s place. Whatever you do, if you think that is the true dragon, or the true rhinoceros fan, that is wrong.

How you attain this kind of freedom is the point. It is not actually attainment even. To take that freedom in sitting or to attain that freedom in standing, this kind of practice—powerful as it is—but if you stick to this kind of power that is not true practice. So Sekiso’s last through and through is to be pure white cloth.

In those times in China or in Japan, if you went to a tailor shop, they had pure white, long cloth, about thirty feet long, long enough to make our kimonos. Sometimes we say very, very long, one thousand miles long. It means that our human life reaches continuously from beginningless beginning to endless end. This is pure cloth. But we shouldn’t even to stick to it [laughs]. How you attain—how you understand this point is the point of study.

Actually, in this monastery everyone has their own position. We should be very faithful to the work which was given to us. But we should not compare our position to another’s position. And we should not say my position is good or bad. And we should do our best in our work, but at the same time, we should not be attached to our position. In the next training period, we don’t know who will have what kind of position. But we should take over willingly someone’s position, and we should do our best, without any problems in our minds, without having any feelings of good or bad [laughs]. This kind of thing is what we are talking about actually. Not how to, you know. For instance, if I was told to work in the kitchen [laughs], I don’t know how I would feel, but we should willingly work in whatever the position may be. If you can do that, then you may say, whatever you do, that is Buddha’s activity.

Even if I give a wonderful lecture from an old book, if I am involved in the idea of a good lecture or bad lecture, then the lecture I’m giving you is not a true lecture. So, as long as you have some discrimination about your condition or about what you think, actually you are not observing things as it is.

So, true understanding is a matter of intellectual understanding and a matter of practice. Just by intellectual understanding you cannot figure out what we mean. Only when you are touched by what you have and how you are, will the intellectual understanding—the interpretation of reality—accord with your practice. So, only by your practice, will your intellectual understanding work. As long as you are only involved in some intellectual understanding, that is not possible.

Sekiso, even if he had wanted to save that fan, it was broken and was no longer to be found. How could he take it? Even though he wanted, it is not something to hand or to give. So, even if you want to give it or if you want to take it, that is already a broken fan [laughs]. Do you understand? It is already. The real fan is not something which can be given. So, if you want to give it to him that is already true fan—broken one.

Shifuku, a disciple of Kyozan, drew a large circle in the air with a character of a cow or bull in it. [Laughs] and Setcho, who put appreciatory words to the Blue Cliff Record said, why didn’t you bring a bull sooner? [Laughs.] It is too late, he said. Before he brought it to him, it was perfect. Afterwards, because he already brought it here, and put it here like this, it was too late. “Why didn’t [laughs] you bring it sooner?” But it was not possible to bring it sooner. And if he brought it any time, sooner or later it wouldn’t matter. If he brought it to him—if he made a circle and instead of a rhinoceros drew a horse,  dog, cow or bull, it wouldn’t have mattered. Whatever it was, if he brought it to him, “But that’s too late,” you know [laughs]. Before he brought it, it was all right. Because he brought it [laughs], it was already wrong. So, [laughs] Setcho who put appreciatory words to it said, “Why didn’t you bring it sooner?” Bring it sooner [laughs, laughter]. This is very good appreciatory words: Why didn’t you bring it sooner? [Laughs.] Even if he had brought it sooner, he would still say: "It is too late [laughs]. Why [laughs] didn’t you bring it sooner?" [Laughs.] What would you do? If you bring it [laughs], you’ll be scolded, "Why didn’t you? You are too late!" [Laughter.] If you try to bring a real [laughs] rhinoceros fan, you will be scolded. If you don’t, you will be scolded. What would you do? That is the point, you should study.

And this is also how we practice zazen. These are Keizan Zenji’s instructions. [Aside] Hmm, who knows where it is? [One minute pause] Very interesting. [Laughter, laughs.] Usually, it may be better to put your mind on your left-hand side. Right hand, left hand, you put your hands like this. So, you keep your mind on here, so that your mind does not wander about. And if you sit for a long time, your mind will not wander about. And you should sometimes also, besides sitting, study sutras or stories of various patriarchs and teachers.

And explanations of this instruction by Nishiari Zenji; this is also interesting. What do we mean by to study all the scriptures? What do we mean by resting your mind? In what kind of state of mind is the mind which is completely at rest? And we say, to stop your mind, and don’t be concerned about things we are doing in usual time, but what does it actually mean?

And we say, you should not try to be friendly or try to approach influential people, like a king or minister. But what does it actually mean? Even if you do not visit them, if you want something from them, actually you are trying to be friendly with them [laughter.] If you are afraid of them, afraid of their power, actually you are visiting them [laughs]. If your mind is not in your belly, it means that you are visiting a king or a minister, and you are approving of them. What does it actually mean when we say, you should not want to be friendly with them?

And Keizan Zenji’s next instruction is: Don’t read too many books [laughs]. Don’t read too many books. Or do not listen to too many lectures [laughs, laughter]. If you listen to too many lectures, it will cause a reckless mind [laughs]. It will disturb your practice.

And do not strive to practice big, big ceremonies [laughs]. And do not try to build a big temple. Even though it is a good thing, if you are involved in it too much it will be an obstacle. [Some words missing?] …be interested in giving lectures. If you always give lectures, your mind will not be calm.

"Do not try to have too many disciples [laughs] or too many monks. If you have too many disciples or monks, your mind will not feel calm." And in the commentary of Nishiari Zenji to it, he referred to the Buddha saying, if too many birds come to a tree, the tree will die. So, don’t try to have too many disciples or too many monks.

"And you should not try to study so many things. And you should not try to know too many things. One by one, you should study carefully, spending as much time as you can. Where there is a blue mountain will be the place you practice kinhin, and by a stream and under a tree, you can practice zazen. You should always put the transiency of the world in your mind. And you should encourage true way-seeking mind."

Here also, we cannot understand this kind of instruction literally [laughs]. It is also a rhinoceros fan [laughs]. Tentatively, it suggests these kinds of things, but we should know what he actually means.

And mostly, people have some tendencies, and most tendencies we have are not good ones [laughs, laughter]. That is why [laughs] he refers to all those things, but if we follow this kind of teaching there is not much danger in our practice. This is the best way, you know [laughs].

Before someone told me, if you want to have a cup of coffee, right now is the time for you to have it [laughs, laughter]. That sounds good [laughs, laughter], not to be sorry [laughs, laughter]. So, I said, better not, you know [laughter]. And someone said, that is very good decision [laughs, laughter]. He was very much interested in what he said, very good decision. No other dialog [laughs, laughter]. Oh, no, not good. He didn’t say, a good decision. He said, very easy, this decision. Easy decision. This is very good, I thought, easy decision. It is not so difficult, you know. It is a very easy way. But I don’t mean that I cannot have a cup of coffee, if there is some [laughs]. If there is, then it may be better than to throw it away [laughs]. I could take it, you know [laughs, laughter]. But this is very difficult to win. It may be good, but not so easy way. To refuse it would be the easy way.

And out of his mercy he gave us these kinds of instructions. But if we cling to these kinds of instructions and criticize someone who built a temple, that is also wrong because it leads to this kind of teaching. To observe teachings like this is pretty difficult. How to observe this kind of teaching is the actual practice. For beginners it may be better to refuse it. No, this is not the time we monks should take a cup of coffee [laughs]. For beginners it is good, but if we always insist on our rules that way, like a horse, [laughs, laughter] like someone who is carrying a big board on his shoulder and is unable to see the other side. This is a Hinayana way [laughs, laughter]. You will take a cup of coffee—that is no good! If you don’t, that is the Hinayana way [laughter]. Now, what do we do? [Laughter.] There is something [laughter]. So, if you say something, I will hit you; if you don’t, I will hit you [laughter, laughs].

This is why people say Zen is very predictable [laughs] when the ???, very predictable. It is hard to understand, but because you try to understand it, it is hard [laughs]. If you don’t, it is not so hard. If you live in a monastery, and if you live with students, and if you are trying to figure out where to put your finger. Oh, this is not good. This way and that way, soon you can put it in the right place. I think, oh no [laughs]. Not like this. Oh [laughs, laughter]. If you try many times, you will understand how to put it. This is Zen [laughs].

If you try to describe how you put it on your finger, you must write a book about it [laughter]. How to put it. You should describe the shape of the.... [Could be a gap in tape here.]

…kotsu3 And [laughs] you should weigh it, each part of the staff. And it takes a long, long time to [laughs] find out where you should put your teeth. But without clinging to these kinds of instructions, if you try many, many times, you can do it.

No one knows if a stone is heavy or light. So, how do you know it? Do you weigh each stone [laughs] with a scale? You don’t, you pick it up. When you pick up a stone, you prepare for some certain weight. And when you pick up cotton, you don’t try to use so much power. And you can tell how much. You don’t know how you know how many pounds it weighs. But you know how much power is necessary for lifting the stone. If you see a stone, you work with appropriate power. So, if someone puts a paper basket—paper and diapers… [possible gap in tape here]

…strong power. And if it is basketball [laughs, laughter]. This is Zen… [possible gap in tape here]

…goes on about instructions. So, whether it is good or bad, this is what they left. And your friend or teacher knows what kind of experience you have in your practice, and you will get very adequate and appropriately helpful instructions. So anyway, you can do this, but it does not mean to force your way on something—actually this is the best way to study Zen every day.

Do you have some questions? We have five minutes more. Hai.

Student A: How is it possible to stand on the ground? [Suzuki laughs] and be unsupported. No support.

Suzuki: No support.

Student: And still stay on the ground?

Suzuki: Uhm hm, you can’t do that.

[Tape turned over]

SR: It isn’t very clear how to stand up from the ground. To bring him a rhinoceros fan, it is not possible. But actually, people think it is possible. Here there is a big mistake. But every one of us should give him something, even if it’s broken, or not so good, or old or new, or small or big. Anyway, if it is hard [laughs], you should help him, give him something. That is actually what we are doing. We should know that. And when you know this point through and through, actually you are standing on a, not firm, but very appropriate, place. You found your place already.

In short, we should know what we are doing, first of all—what everyone of us are doing, and we should make our best effort. That is how you stand on the—how you find the right place for you—right functions for you. Or right—not function, but how you should work. That is the most important thing. Okay? Do you understand?

[Laughs] So don’t worry [laughs]. Everyone is doing the same thing [laughter]. So, all of them are your friends, your good friends. It doesn’t look like so, but actually it is so.
_________________

1 See Blue Cliff Record, case 91.

2 The Seven Perfecta is a verse composed by Shishuang Qingzhu (石霜慶諸; Sekiso Keisho in Japanese; 807–888), and it was said to capture the ideal image of a Zen monk. The verse goes:

Have been totally ceased;
Have been totally extinguished;
Have become a cool land of desolation;
Have had only one awareness for ten thousand years;
Have become cold ashes and a withered tree;
Have become a fragrant censer in an ancient shrine;
Have become a vertical stripe of white silk.
From PDF downloaded from: www.researchgate.net/publication/318189732_Zen_and_Psychotherapy

3 Kotsu (Jap., ‘bones’). Also known as nyoi, the staff bestowed on a Zen master (roshi) on his attaining that rank. It is used in teaching. From: www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/kotsu

Source: Engage Wisdom provided audio, 2021. Verbatim transcript by Peter Ford, Shundo David Haye and Wendy Pirsig (1/2022). Minimum edit version 4/2022 by Peter Ford.