Not Dwelling Anywhere

Dharma Talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei
Book of Serenity, Case 3
The Invitation of the Ancestor to Eastern India

Featured in Mountain Record 24.1, Fall 2005


The Pointer

The state before the beginning of time—a turtle heads for the fire. The one phrase specially transmitted outside of doctrine—the lip of a mortar bears flowers. Now tell me, is there any “accepting and upholding, reading and reciting” in this?

The Main Case

A raja of an east Indian country invited the twenty-seventh Buddhist ancestor, Prajnatara, to a feast. The raja asked him, “Why don’t you read scriptures?” The ancestor answered, “This poor wayfarer doesn’t dwell in the realms of the body or mind when breathing in, doesn’t get involved in myriad circumstances when breathing out—I always reiterate such a scripture, hundreds, thousands, millions of scrolls.”

Hongzhi's Verse

A cloud rhino gazes at the moon, its light engulfing radiance;
A wood horse romps in spring swift and unbridled.
Under the eyebrows, a pair of cold blue eyes;
How can reading scriptures reach the piercing of oxhide?
The clear mind produces vast eons,
Heroic power smashes the double enclosure.
In the subtle round mouth of the pivot, turns the spiritual works.
Hanshan forgot the road by which he came—
Shide lead him back by the hand.


Prajnatara was the twenty-seventh ancestor after Shakyamuni, as well as Bodhidharma’s teacher, so this koan takes place right at the cusp of the transmission of the dharma from west to east—from India to China. There’s not a lot known about Prajnatara, since the records we have of the Indian masters were actually put together much later, in China. One of these records is The Transmission of the Lamp, an account of the lives, stories and teachings of different Buddhist masters going back to the Buddha. In it it’s said that Prajnatara’s teacher, Punyamitra, arrived in eastern India at a kingdom headed by a ruler known as “The Resolute.” This king was a worshipper of Hinduism and his teacher was a Brahmin ascetic called Dirghanakha. When Punyamitra was about to arrive, the king and his teacher both saw a plume of white smoke heralding an auspicious event. The king asked his guru, “What omen is this?” The Brahmin had a sense that a Buddhist master was coming and was afraid that the king would favor Punyamitra over him, so he said, “This is not an auspicious omen. It’s a sign of a demon coming.” Dirghanakha then gathered his followers together and asked them to help him disempower Punyamitra in the eyes of the king. As Punyamitra came to the palace walls, he saw “a black vapor” on them and knew that there was something not quite right. When he went into the palace, the king asked him, “What did you come here for?” Punyamitra said, “I came to liberate sentient beings.” The king said, “By what method do you liberate them?” Punyamitra said, “I liberate each according to kind.” In other words, I liberate each being according to his or her individual needs.