All in My Abode

Dharma Talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei
Gateless Gate, Case 39
Yunmen Says “You’ve Missed It!”

Featured in Mountain Record 25.2, Winter 2006


The Main Case

A monastic once asked Master Yunmen a question: “The light serenely shines over the whole universe—”

Before the monastic could finish the first line, Yunmen suddenly interrupted and said, “Isn’t that the poem of Zhangzhuo?”

The monastic answered, “Yes, it is.

Yunmen said, “You’ve missed it.”

Later, Master Sixin took up this koan and said, “Now tell me, why has this monastic missed it?”

The Commentary

In this case, if you can grasp how lofty and unapproachable Yunmen’s Zen working is, and why the monastic missed it, then you can be a teacher in heaven and on earth. In case you are not yet clear about it, you will be unable to save yourself.

The Capping Verse

A line is dropped in a swift stream.
Greedy for the bait, he is caught.
If you open your mouth only a little, your life is lost.


Master Yunmen was one of the great 10th century teachers and a successor to Xuefeng. He taught in Southern China and had over sixteen disciples. Yunmen is well known for his short, pithy replies, a style that is often referred to as “lips and mouth Zen.” In response to a question he would often respond with just one or a few words which can seem inaccessible when we try to understand it with a rational mind.

In this case, a monastic comes to Yunmen with a question. He begins by quoting a line from a poem: “The light serenely shines over the whole universe…” It is the beginning of a poem that was well-known at that time, written by a government official named Zhangzhuo, who was himself a Zen practitioner. Zhang was his family name, and Zhuo meant “no skill.” When Zhangzhuo met his teacher for the first time and told him his name, the teacher immediately said, “Skill is unattainable by seeking. Where does ‘Zhuo’ (“no skill”) come from?” Zhangzhuo worked on this question for some time and finally came to realization. He then wrote the following poem:

The light serenely shines over the whole
            universe.

Ignorant, wise, and living creatures are all
            in my abode.

Where no thought arises the whole is fully
            revealed.

If the six organs move even a little, it is
            obstructed by clouds.

If you cut off your ignorance, your ailment
            will increase.

If you look for the truth, you’re also in the
            wrong.

Living in accordance with worldly affairs,
            you will have no obstructions.

Nirvana and life and death are like colors
            in a dream.