Koan One:
Polishing a Tile to Make a Mirror

Huai Jang stayed and taught at Po Jo monastery at Nan Yo.  His teacher, the Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Hui Neng, had predicted that he, Huai Jang, would successfully pass on the Zen Dharma to someone like a colt or young horse.  After some time passed at Nan Yo, he heard there was a very dedicated, serious young man by the name of Ma (horse) sitting constantly in a hut in the grounds of the Ch’uan Fa temple in another area of Nan Yo.  When he heard of this young “horse”, his intuition told him this could very well be his predicted successor.  Huai Jang decided to test this possibility, so he paid a visit to young master Ma to see if this young “horse” could be awakened to Buddha-nature and accept the Direct Mind Dharma beyond scriptures and practices of gradual development.


Huai Jang was told that Ma Tzu would not look at anyone who called upon him, but Huai Jang was very resourceful.  First, Huai Jang simply opened the door of the hut and observed Ma Tzu sitting there.  Ma Tzu was a big, muscular lad with an unusually serene expression.  Here was a young man obviously made for action, yet able to suppress his restless physical nature and stay quiet.  Huai Jang could feel a great potential sitting there, so he resolved to attempt to awaken Ma Tzu on the spot.  Stepping back outside, he was led to observe some tiles in a pile near the temple which were being polished and used as replacement tiles.  He saw that one of those tiles and a polishing brush would be perfect for his purpose.  So he picked up a tile and a brush, went back to Ma Tzu’s hut, stepped inside, sat down and began furiously brushing the tile. 


When a superconscious person performs an action in this manner, it is superaction for the purpose of awakening someone to superconsciousness.  If there is a great potential in the target person, it is there as a potential super-receptivity (super-essence-of-being) that can receive the superaction and become awakened into superconsciousness or Buddha-nature.


After quite a long while, Ma Tzu could not suppress his natural curiosity and alertness over this disturbing activity taking place before him, whereupon he shouted out with annoyance at the stranger working in his hut, “What are you trying to do?”  No one, after all, had ever so disrespectfully attacked and tested Ma Tzu’s serene meditation.  How dare this mad, aggressive monk come in and disturb his meditation with such ridiculous activity?  But by inquiring of the mad tile-polishing monk, his mind was already moving toward the possible enlightenment.


Huai Jang then replied, “I am polishing this tile to make a mirror for you.”


Ma Tzu was of course still asleep in his Buddha-nature or he would have immediately awakened from seeing Huai Jang’s superaction (Great Function).  The very fact that the question was asked was a display of little action, ordinary ignorant expression.  So Huai Jang had no superconscious recourse but to answer Ma Tzu with superspeech.


Ma Tzu, going along with the game, commented, “Even if I were to want a mirror produced by you, this is not going to work, because you cannot make a mirror by polishing a tile.” 


Huai Jang then said, devastatingly, “If a mirror cannot be made by polishing a tile, how can one become a Buddha by sitting in meditation?”


This statement completely blew Ma Tzu’s mind.  His entire determination and understanding about meditation and enlightenment was rapidly collapsing under the force of the blow coming from Master Huai Jang’s impeccable metaphorical logic.  Huai Jang had unleashed a superthought upon the consciousness of Ma Tzu.


Ma Tzu then rose from his seat.  This corresponds to the rising internally of his great potential for direct awakening of his Buddha-nature, which is the primary cause of his enlightenment which was being triggered by the superaction of Huai Jang as the concurrent or intervening cause.


Ma Tzu, now standing, asked Master Huai Jang, “What should one do then?”


The Master answered, “If a cart drawn by an ox does not move, is it correct to whip the ox or the cart?”


What is Huai Jang talking about here?  If the inner mind is attending to disciplining and suppressing physical and mental activity to achieve stillness of body and outer mind, is not the ignorant state of the inner mind the real problem?  How can an ignorant, but determined inner mind produce an awakened Buddha-nature?  How can a consciousness, however sincere and aspiring, produce superconsciousness?  The Indian Buddhist Adept, Tilopa, once said, “If the mind, filled with ambition, should seek a goal, it only hides the Light.”  Ma Tzu was being shown that his ambitious, goal-seeking inner mind, focused on the disciplinary and suppression of body and outer mind, was missing the point that the very status of his ambitious inner mind was the real target, the ox.


Huai Jang could see that the ambitious inner mind of Ma Tzu was not yet fully stopped in its tracks, so he made the further explanation by saying, “Do you want to go on endlessly sitting in meditation trying to become a Buddha or would you not rather be a Buddha who just happens to be sitting when it is necessary to sit?  If you want to sit in real meditative awareness, meditative awareness does not cling to sitting, lying down, standing up or walking about.  If you would rather be a Buddha who happens to be sitting, Buddha-nature is neither motionless nor forced to be always in motion, which means that motion is neither accepted nor rejected.  If you sit with determination of your non-Buddha nature to become a Buddha, you are killing Buddha in your effort to resurrect him.  If you go on clinging to your stupidly ambitious sitting practice, you will never awaken to the true Dharma.”


Upon hearing this with super-receptivity, Ma Tzu awakened within his Buddha-nature beyond all doubts, arguments and spiritual ambitions of his inner causal mind of duality.  Ma Tzu could not help but bow thankfully at the feet of Master Huai Jang, for this was indeed the supreme moment of his life that he had most deeply hoped for, which he could now recognize.  Even though he would need some further instruction from Huai Jang to avoid slipping back into his old ignorant state of wrongly centred spiritual ambition and effort, he had nonetheless been able to rise to the occasion and self-awaken with Huai Jang’s extremely resourceful actions and words.  These two Buddha-natures did their dance of teacher and student, but that dance continues in your own Buddha-nature, if you can see it and hear it with superunderstanding; otherwise you will have to patiently wait, for your potential may not be matured yet to the point of self-awakening, in which case you will have to study many things and make many experiments with yourself.