Sunday, September 18, 2011


by Scott Bradley

Kuo-shih called his attendant three times and each time the attendant came and said, "Yes Master", only to be sent away. Kuo-shih then said to his attendant, "I was about to say I was ungrateful to you. But the fact is, you are ungrateful to me."

This is the 17th case in the Mumonkan. I admit that I was completely stumped as to where it was pointing until Aitken suggested that the ingratitude shown by both is being presented as a positive thing. That indeed is a mind-opener.

The attendant comes when called neither out of obligation nor gratitude — he responds each time, freely and fresh in the moment. He is his own man, complete in himself. Had it been out of either obligation or gratitude that he came, resentment would have eventually set in.

A gift given with the strings of expected gratitude is a gift of chains. To accept such a gift and to wear that gratitude is to wear those chains.

The Zhuangzi expresses the same idea. Fish, in the distress of not enough water, spit on each other, but how much better it is when they forget each other in the depths and pools.

Elsewhere it says that the best way I can help you is to forget you, to leave you to your own way.

This also meshes with the theme of non-dependence. When one is free of opinion, one's own and that of others, this is when one "wanders free and unfettered".

This apparently extreme individualism is a constant theme in these traditions. The infant Buddha is mythologically said to have said, "I alone exist in all the universe."

Like so much that is said of this way-of-being, it grates against what we consider right and proper. But that's the whole point — it is an utterly different way-of-being. And it is one that cannot be understood without experiencing it. And then, it embraces and fulfills the heart and essence of the very 'right and proper' which seemed so abused. Kuo-shih and his attendant knew 'true friendship'; no strings of dependence or requirements of gratitude stood between them.

Somewhere it must be written: "True gratitude is no gratitude", just as it is written that "True humanity is not humanity."

Wu-men shares this insight only with those who would care to listen. He would have our minds turned about so as to see something of what that turning about in the very seat of consciousness entails. Those who would insist on being offended, who would argue for the conventional tracks of the mind — this is not for them.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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