What is the True Last Word?
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One day the offering was late so Chan Master Teshan carried his bowls to the Dharma Hall. The Venerable Xuefeng, who was in charge of meals, saw this and said, “The bell has not been rung and the drum has not been struck; where on earth is that old man going?” Upon hearing these words, Master Teshan bowed his head and returned directly to his room.
When Ven. Yantou heard of this from Ven. Xuefeng, he added, “ That worthless Teshan doesn’t even know the last word.”
When Master Teshan heard of this conversation, he called for Ven. Yantou and asked, “Do you not approve of your elders?”, upon which Ven. Yantou whispered to Master Teshan what he had meant.
The next day, when Master Teshan took the Dharma seat to give his teaching, it was very different from before. Seeing this, Ven. Yantou clapped his hands and, laughing loudly, said, “The Old Master now finally understands the last word. From now on, no person in the world can touch him. However, it will only be for three years.”
There are four difficult parts in this Hwadu of “Master Teshan holds his Bowls”.
First, at the words of his student Xuefeng, he bowed his head and returned to his room. Was he truly unable to answer, or was there some deeper meaning?
Second, can we indeed say that Master Teshan did not know the last word? If he didn’t understand the last word, it is doubtful that he could be called one of the great masters of his day.
Third, Ven. Yantou whispered what he knew to the Master, so what was it that he said?
Fourth, Master Teshan understood the last word through the teaching of Ven. Yantou. If that is the case, Ven. Yantou could be said to have developed more penetrating insight that is teacher Teshan.
Accordingly, regardless of how we look at this Hwadu, it is like poison that destroys our body and takes our life. Through useless intellectual knowledge, we can only speculate and can not know the Master’s true intention. Although we may carefully examine this Hwadu with mindful discrimination in a state of penetrating tranquil detachment, it is difficult to ascertain the true meaning. It is only when, having destroyed the final, formidable barrier and definitively attained great awakening, that we can properly understand the fundamental ground of the ancient masters.
Furthermore, if we completely attain understanding of this Hwadu, at the same time we triumph over the Hwadus of all the Buddhas and Masters, and thereby become a supreme hero who holds high the diamond sword and is free throughout all directions in life and death. So how can you say this is not the most extraordinary task?
You, community of practitioners!
Investigating from the perspective of a humble mountain monk, knowing the first word is also knowing the last word. However, neither the final word, nor the first word, nor all the ultimate words are the actual last word. There are various general discussions about the parts of the Hwadu, however they do not address the whole. In these exchanges between Master Teshan and his students, what is really the last word? During the term of this summer retreat, I entreat you to genuinely search for this, the true last word.
Cut down the moon’s cassia tree
And the bright rays become more numerous
The fox and the lynx cover their tracks
The lion boasts of his golden fur.
First day of the Summer Retreat, 2550(2006)
Ven. Dorim Beopjeon, Patriarch of the Jogye Order