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
undreds 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 Çariputra[FN#256] and Maudgalyayana[FN#257] in your wisdom and

supernatural powers.[FN#258]

[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

supernatural powers.

[FN#258] Zen-rin-rui-sku.

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.

[FN#259] Ei-hei-ko-roku.