Great Uncaused Compassion

Dharma Talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei
Book of Serenity, Case 73
"Caoshan’s Fulfillment of Filial Piety"

Featured in Mountain Record 26.1, Fall 2007


The Pointer

Lurking in the grasses, sticking to the trees, one turns into a spirit. Being constrained and unjustly punished, one becomes a ghostly curse. When calling it, you burn paper money and present a horse; when repelling it, you curse water and write charms. How can you get peace in the family?

The Main Case

A monastic asked Caoshan, “How is it when the mourning clothes are not worn?”

Caoshan said, “Today Caoshan’s filial duty is fulfilled.”

The monk said, “How about after fulfillment of filial duty?”

Caoshan said, “Caoshan likes to get falling-down drunk.”

The Capping Verse

The pure household has no neighbors:
For long years staying and sweeping, not admitting any dust.
Where the light turns tilts the moon remaining at dawn:
When the forms of the hexagrams are distinguished,
Then are established dawn and spring.
Having freshly fulfilled filial duty,
Then one meets the spring—
Walking drunk, singing crazily, turban hanging down,
Ambling with tousled hair, who cares—
In great peace, with no concerns, a man falling-down drunk.


Zen practice is a practice of direct and personal experience of the nature of mind, our true nature. When we realize we are not distinct from the universe, we gain insight into how it functions. We gain clarity into what each of us is capable of thinking, saying and doing and the effects of those actions. How do we affect—for better and for worse—each other and this planet? What we do depends on how we use our minds. How we use our minds influences how we understand and respond to different situations. In other words, how we live is a direct expression of how we understand ourselves and the world.

Today we’re celebrating Earth Day, a time to love this great body that feeds and supports us, and to re-dedicate ourselves to protecting it from harm. We’ve also recently been shaken by news of terrible violence, the killing of a group of college students at Virginia Tech by a young, lonely man with a gun. How are we to understand an act of such destructive power? It is difficult for us to make sense of what appear to be random actions. It disturbs our sense of human nature and desired order in the world. From a Buddhist perspective, there’s nothing random about it. In fact, there are no random acts in the sense that no action is independently existing or uncaused. This is what Buddhist practitioners have been studying for twenty-five centuries. It’s what Daido Roshi refers to when he says, “An unexamined mind is a dangerous thing.” It’s the unsurprising, yet unpredictable result of being lost within one’s own mind, being tethered to the three poisons: greed, anger, and ignorance. It’s a direct result of intense separation. The Buddha realized that all suffering comes from such distance—the greater the distance, the greater the danger.