View Full Version : How Grass and Trees Become Enlightened

31 May 12, 23:11
Hi forum friends,

A Zen story:

During the Kamakura period, Shinkan studied Tendai six years and then studied Zen seven years; then he went to China and completed Zen for thirteen years more.

When he returned to Japan many desired to interview him and asked obscure questions. But when Shinkan received visitors, which was infrequently, he seldom answered their questions.

One day a fifty year old student of enlightenment said to Shinkan: "I have studied the Tendai school of thought since I was a little boy, but one thing in it I cannot understand. Tendai claims that even the grass and trees will become enlightened. To me this seems very strange."

"Of what use is to discuss how grass and trees become enlightened?" asked Shinkan. The question is how you yourself can become so. Did you even consider that?"

"I never thought of it in that way," marveled the old man.

"Then go home and think it over," finished Shinkan.

Zen flesh, Zen bones

Any thoughts about it?


01 Jun 12, 16:29
First thought- ???

Upon reflection, second thought- a lesson on how we get caught up in the things that aren't strictly relevant to our lives. Yes it's an interesting philosophical and intellectual question to wonder if grass and trees become enlightened. But for most of us, we need to concentrate on how we ourselves become enlightened. I have fallen into this trap countless times myself, thinking about things that are interesting but not necessarily helpful to my practice.

I take the second to last line as a gentle reminder to focus our studies on what is relevant to us. The last, to perhaps mean that there are levels of understanding: thoughts about how to enlighten oneself are the 'bones' or deepest, support level of enlightenment; thoughts about how other things achieve enlightenment are the 'flesh' or extra material that only has support once the bones are in place.

The Thinker
01 Jun 12, 21:25
Its a difficult question, but from my own understanding its only people who get the chance to be enlightened and if a animal should have that chance it has to be reborn as a human being in next life. i also believe that a human being will use more then one lifetime to become enlightened. and from cultivate buddhism you will remember the teachings from pasts life, and this way become enlightened :)

02 Jun 12, 02:02
I guess that question could be rooted in a genuine interest for other people to become enlightened. Asking how grass and trees become enlightened could be seeking to understand how other people can become enlightened.

The question to counter this spirit of interpretation ultimately is to say that when we think other people need to become enlightened we are becoming focused on how we personally perceive others and interpret another person's path. This spirit ultimately is in error and it's corrective measure is ultimately saying the question is irrelevant - ask how you will become enlightened and stick only to that.

The classic zen koan of mu.

I find that a lot the questions I concoct in my mind after serious inquiry are met with the answer of mu.

We can never walk another's path, or ride another's horse, or drive another's car - etc. etc.

Our path is what should be focused on.

02 Jun 12, 13:54
To me, this koan is a reminder not to get carried away with intellectual pursuits.

When I sit outside in the grass amidst the trees, I feel more alive than I ever have. Inspired by nature, we needn't become obsessed with it. Making such an undefiled aspect of the world into an object of philosophical inquiry defeats the purpose of Zen practice.

Shinkan's advice is indispensable.

07 Jun 12, 22:58
The focus of all 'discourse' in these Zen stories is to get you to attend to your direct experience, to what is actually happening moment to moment,right now, instead of drifting about in thought-content. Questions about grass and trees becoming enlightened, and intellectual discussion about buddhanature, etc, are all just clouds floating through the mind. So much of our time is spent grasping after such clouds, trying to gain something, know something, control something. This grasping activity itself is delusion, based on delusion, and perpetuates delusion.

“One day Shih-T’ou’s disciple Dao-Wu asked, ‘What is the essential meaning of buddhadharma?’
“Shih-T’ou replied, ‘No gaining, no knowing.’
“Dao-Wu then asked, ‘Can you say anything further?’
“Shih-T’ou answered, ‘The vast sky does not obstruct the floating white clouds.’”