San Sheng’s Golden Fish who goes through the net to become a Dragon
Case 49 of the Blue Cliff Record (which is also Case 33 of the Book of Serenity): San Sheng’s Golden Fish who goes through the net to become a Dragon.
Yuanwu’s Introduction: Piercing, penetrating, one takes the drum and captures the flag. Fortified, entrenched, one inspects the front and oversees the rear. One who sits on the tiger’s head to take the tiger’s tail is not yet an adept. Though an ox head disappears and a horse head returns, this too is not yet extraordinary. But say, how is it when a man who has passed beyond measurements comes? To test I’m citing this old case: look!
Main Case: San Sheng asked Hsueh Feng, “I wonder, what does the golden fish who has passed through the net use for food?” Feng said, “When you come out of the net I’ll tell you.” Sheng said, “The teacher of fifteen-hundred people and you don’t even know what to say!” Feng said, “My affairs as abbot are many and complicated.”
Xueoud’s Verse: The golden fish who has passed through the net– Stop saying he tarries in the water. He shakes the heavens and sweeps the earth, He flourishes his mane and wags his tail. When a thousand-foot whale spouts, vast waves fly, At a single thunderclap, the pure wind gusts. The pure wind gusts–Among gods and humans how many know? How many?
Yuanwu’s Commentary on the Main Case: With Xuefeng and Sansheng, though there’s an exit and an entry, a thrust and a parry, there is no division into victory and defeat. But what is the eye these two adepts have? Sansheng received the secret from Linji. He traveled all over and was treated as an eminent guest. Look at him posing this question; how many cannot grasp it! He doesn’t touch on noumenon or Buddhist doctrine; instead he asks, “What does the golden fish that’s passed through the net use for food?”
What did he mean? Since the golden fish that’s passed through the net ordinarily does not eat the tasty food of others, what does it use for food? Xuefeng is an adept; he casually replies to Sansheng with only ten or twenty percent-”I’ll tell you when you come out of the net.” Fenyang would call this a question displaying one’s understanding; in the Cao-Dong line it would be called a question using things. You must be beyond categories and classifications; you must have attained use of the great function; you must have the eye on the forehead, only then can you be called a golden fish that has passed through the net. Still, being an adept, Xuefeng can’t but diminish the other’s reputation by saying, “I’ll tell you when you come out of the net.”
See how the two of them held fast to their territories, towering like gigantic walls. With this one sentence of Xuefeng’s anyone but Sansheng would have been unable to go on. But Sansheng too was an adept, so he was able to say, “The teacher of fifteen hundred people and you don’t even know what to say!” But Xuefeng said, “My affairs as abbot are many and complicated.” How obstinate this statement is! When these adepts met, there was one capture, one release, acting weak when encountering strength and acting noble when encountering meanness.
If you form your understanding in terms of victory and defeat, you haven’t seen Xuefeng even in a dream. Look at these two: initially both were solitary and strict; in the end both were dead and decrepit. But say, was there still gain and loss, victory and defeat? When the adepts harmonized with each other, it was certainly not this way. Sansheng was the temple keeper for Linji.
When Linji was about to pass on, he said, “After I’m gone, don’t destroy my treasury of vision of truth.” Sansheng came forward and said, “How dare we destroy your treasury of vision of truth?” Linji said, “What will you do when people ask questions?” Sansheng shouted. Linji said, “Who would have known that my treasury of vision of truth would die out in this blind donkey?” Sansheng bowed. Since he was a true heir of Linji, he dared to respond like this.