Zen And Supernatural Power
Yoga[FN#250] claims that various supernatural powers can be acquired
by Meditation, but Zen does not make any such absurd claims. It
rather disdains those who are believed to have acquired supernatural
powers by the practice of austerities. The following traditions
clearly show this spirit: When Fah Yung (Ho-yu) lived in Mount Niu
Teu[FN#251] (Go-zu-san) he used to receive every morning the
offerings of flowers from hundreds of birds, and was believed to have
supernatural powers. But after his Enlightenment by the instruction
of the Fourth Patriarch, the birds ceased to make offering, because
be became a being too divine to be seen by inferior animals. Hwang
Pah (O-baku), one day going up Mount Tien Tai (Ten-dai-san), which
was believed to have been inhabited by Arhats with supernatural
powers, met with a monk whose eyes emitted strange light. They went
along the pass talking with each other for a short while until they
came to a river roaring with torrent. There being no bridge, the
master bad to stop at the shore; but his companion crossed the river
walking on the water and beckoned to Hwang Pah to follow him.
Thereupon Hwang Pah said: 'If I knew thou art an Arhat, I would have
doubled you up before thou got over there!' The monk then understood
the spiritual attainment of Hwang Pah, and praised him as a true
Mahayanist. On one occasion Yang Shan (Kyo-zan) saw a stranger
monk flying through the air. When that monk came down and approached
him with a respectful salutation, he asked: 'Where art thou from?
'Early this morning,' replied the other, 'I set out from India.'
'Why,' said the teacher, 'art thou so late?' 'I stopped,' responded
the man, 'several times to look at beautiful sceneries.' Thou mayst
have supernatural powers,' exclaimed Yang Shan, 'yet thou must give
back the Spirit of Buddha to me.' Then the monk praised Yang Shan
saying: 'I have come over to China in order to worship
Manyjucri,[FN#252] and met unexpectedly with Minor Shakya,' and,
after giving the master some palm leaves he brought from India, went
back through the air.'[FN#253]
[FN#250] 'Yoga Aphorisms of Patanyjali,' chap. iii.
[FN#251] A prominent disciple of the Fourth Patriarch, the founder
of the Niu Teu School (Go-zu-zen) of Zen, who died in A.D. 675.
[FN#252] Manyjucri is a legendary Bodhisattva, who became an object
of worship of some Mahayanists. He is treated as a personification
of transcendental wisdom.
[FN#253] Hwui Yuen (E-gen) and Sho-bo-gen-zo.
It is quite reasonable that Zenists distinguish supernatural powers
from spiritual uplifting, the former an acquirement of Devas, or of
Asuras, or of Arhats, or of even animals, and the latter as a nobler
accomplishment attained only by the practisers of Mahayanism.
Moreover, they use the term supernatural power in a meaning entirely
different from the original one. Lin Tsi (Rin-zai) says, for
instance: There are six supernatural powers of Buddha: He is free
from the temptation of form, living in the world of form; He is free
from the temptation of sound, living in the world of sound; He is
free from the temptation of smell, living in the world of smell; He
is free from the temptation of taste, living in the world of taste;
He is free from the temptation of Dharma,[FN#254] living in the world
of Dharma. These are six supernatural powers.[FN#255]
[FN#254] The things or objects, not of sense, but of mind.
[FN#255] Lin Tsi Luh (Rin-zai-roku).
Sometimes Zenists use the term as if it meant what we call Zen
Activity, or the free display of Zen in action, as you see in the
following examples. Tung Shan (To-Zan) was on one occasion attending
on his teacher Yun Yen (Un-gan), who asked: What are your
supernatural powers? Tung Shan, saying nothing, clasped his hands
on his breast, and stood up before Yun Yen. How do you display your
supernatural powers? questioned the teacher again. Then Tung Shan
said farewell and went out. Wei Shan (E-san) one day was taking a
nap, and seeing his disciple Yang Shan (Kyo-zan) coming into the
room, turned his face towards the wall. You need not, Sir, said
Yang Shan, stand on ceremony, as I am your disciple. Wei Shan
seemed to try to get up, so Yang Shan went out; but Wei Shan called
him back and said: I shall tell you of a dream I dreamed. The
other inclined his head as if to listen. Now, said Wei Shan,
divine my fortune by the dream. Thereupon Yang Shan fetched a
basin of water and a towel and gave them to the master, who washed
his face thereby. By-and-by Hiang Yen (Kyo-gen) came in, to whom Wei
Shan said: We displayed supernatural powers a moment ago. It was
not such supernatural powers as are shown by Hinayanists. I know
it, Sir, replied the other, though I was down below. Say, then,
what it was, demanded the master. Then Hiang Yen made tea and gave
a cup to Wei Shan, who praised the two disciples, saying: You
surpass «ariputra[FN#256] and Maudgalyayana[FN#257] in your wisdom and
[FN#256] One of the prominent disciples of Shakya Muni, who became
famous for his wisdom.
[FN#257] One of the eminent disciples of Shakya Muni, noted for his
Again, ancient Zenists did not claim that there was any mysterious
element in their spiritual attainment, as Do-gen says[FN#259]
unequivocally respecting his Enlightenment: I recognized only that
my eyes are placed crosswise above the nose that stands lengthwise,
and that I was not deceived by others. I came home from China with
nothing in my hand. There is nothing mysterious in Buddhism. Time
passes as it is natural, the sun rising in the east, and the moon
setting into the west.
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