A monk asked Tosu, “Is
there a dragon howl in a dead tree?”
Comments by Thomas Cleary
Tosu said, “I say there’s a
lion roar in a skull. ”
dragon howl & lion roar:
‘the great life following the great death.’ Rediscovery & reawakening of the
whole potential after liberation from bondage to conditioning. Seeing the truth
dead tree & skull:
nirvana, the great death.
Is there life after the
great death of awakening? What does the dragon say?
about the dead tree and dead ashes is originally a deviate teaching. However
the dead tree spoken of by deviants and the dead tree spoken of by the
enlightened ones are very different.
dead tree/dead ashes:
nirvana, liberation. ‘Deviant’ insofar as they are present or interpreted
in nihilistic or quietistic terms as escapism or detachement for its own
sake. ‘Detachment’ is a means, not an end. Enlightened ones know the
A dragon does not stay in
stagnant water. The still pond cannot contain the dragon’s coils.
Although deviants talk about the dead tree, they don’t know the dead tree, much
less hear the dragon howl. Deviants think the dead tree is dead wood, and
practice as if for it there is no more spring.
Emptiness wrongly practiced does
not actually uproot compulsive mental habit energies, but only keeps them in
temporary and partial abeyance; therefore this is not really the “dead tree”.
This also inhibits the lively potential of mind, so it is thus impossible to
“hear the dragon howl”. This onesided emptiness is death without life,
“as if there were no more spring.”
dead tree spoken of by the enlightened is the study of the drying up of the
ocean. The ocean drying up is the death of the tree, the death of the tree is
meeting the spring. The nonmoving of the tree is dying.
drying up of the ocean:
stilling the waves of the ocean of birth and death, of automatic or compulsive,
craving behaviour. Suffering ceases when the desire to possess particular
conditions ‘dries up’. The ocean drying up is the death of the tree.
the death of the tree is
meeting the spring: after enlightenment, one is free of cravings and
The nonmoving of the tree is
dying: when the waves of desire (consciousness) cease, the moon is
“You will get it if your feelings
do not stick to things; if feelings do not stick to things, how can things
present mountain trees, ocean trees and the sky trees are dead trees. And
sprouts are the dragon howl of the dead tree. Even one with a circumference in
the billions is a descendent of the dead tree. The characteristics, essence,
substance and power of the dead tree is the deadwood post spoken of by the
enlightened; it is a not-dead post.
the physical body of the Buddha; the physical environment
ocean: sambhogakaya, body
of consumate enjoyment; consiousness & knowledge.
sky: dharmakaya, the body
of reality; empiness.
All three bodies are empty because
they cannot be objectively grasped as self-existent entities at large. All are
sprouts: regrowth of the
primal energy after the great death. Life after awakening.
Even one with a circumference
in the billions is a descendent of the dead tree. Everything comes from
emptiness. Potentiality within emptiness: the relative within the absolute.
The characteristics, essence,
substance and power of the dead tree : kinds of ‘suchness’ or ‘thusness’ (tathata)
is the deadwood post:
Total suchness is ‘a deadwood post’ in that it is in reality not as or what it
is made out to be by mundane consiousness observing superficial appearances and
it is a not-dead post:
because stopping (death) introduces seeing (dragon howl/meeting the spring), it
is not conventially dead, so it is a not-dead post.
There are mountain and valley trees, there are field and hamlet trees. The
mountain and valley trees are conventionally called pine and cypress; the field
and hamlet trees are conventionally called human and celestial. The leaves
spread based on the roots---this is called the enlightened ones. Roots and
branches must return to the source---this is participative study. Being like
this is the long reality body of the dead tree, is the short reality body of the
mountain and valley:
field and hamlet:
pine and cypress:
human and celestial:
This shows two aspects of
emptiness: empty and nonempty. The Middle Way is between these two.
The leaves spread based on the
roots: enlightened beings have knowledge of true reality
Roots and branches must return
to the source---this is participative study: both enlightenment and
its manifestations derive from reality; Zen study involves getting back to this
the long reality body of the
dead tree: jnana (knowledge) & karuna (compassion)
the short reality body of the dead
tree.: prajna (insight/wisdom) Wisdom cuts through directly to
the source; knowledge & compassion connect the root and the branches.
long as it is not a dead tree, it does not make a dragon howl. If it is not a
dead tree, it does not lose the dragon howl. How many times meeting the spring
without changing the mind is the dragon howl of total death. Though it is not
among the notes of the musical scale, the notes of the musical scale are earlier
and later two or three children of the dragon howl.
As long as it is not a dead tree,
it does not make a dragon howl:
without true enlightenment, true seeing and understanding do not occur
If it is not a dead tree, it does
not lose the dragon howl:
however, there is true potential in everyone.
How many times meeting the spring
without changing the mind is the dragon
howl of total death:
being unaffected by mental and emotional disturbances is the great nirvana in
the midst of life
the notes of the musical scale:
conventional structures, organizations---the relative world of order. Limited
products deriving from an unlimited source.
OR---stages of meditation
two or three children of the
dragon howl: no state of
meditation can be the real goal, thus all mental states are “two or three
children of the dragon howl”.
However, this monk’s statement---is there a dragon howl in a dead tree---has
become manifest for the first time in a question in measureless eons. It is the
manifestation of a saying.
The answer is always there but the question
needs to be asked for the answer to be brought out. The question itself is the
Tosu’s statement---I say there is a lion roar in a skull---is a case of what is
hidden, is a case of restraining oneself and putting another first, is a case of
skulls littering the fields.
The dragon howl, the lion roar,
are never completely hidden. What is hidden is ‘Who is hiding it?’
a case of restraining oneself and
putting another first: “It’s not
that I don’t want to answer you, but I’m afraid if I did I’d be bereft of
skulls littering the fields:
absolute within the relative (?); enlightenment (truth) is all around
monk asked Kyogen, “What is the Way?”
Kyogen said, “A dragon howl in a dead tree.”
monk said, “I don’t understand.”
Kyogen said, “Eyes in a skull.”
Eyes in a skull: seeing
after enlightenment; understanding, but not in (of) the ordinary
Later a monk asked Sekiso, “What is a dragon howl in a dead tree?”
Sekiso said, “Still joyful.”
monk asked, “What are eyes in a skull?”
Sekiso said, “Still conscious.”
Still joyful: joy without
consiousness but without clinging. You can move in the world but not be of the world. Skin and flesh falling away entirely.
monk also asked Sozan, “What is a dragon howl in a dead tree?”
Sozan said, “The blood line is not ended.”
monk asked, “What are eyes in a skull?”
Sozan said, “Not entirely dry.”
monk asked, “Does anyone hear?”
Sozan said, “There is no one in the world who does not hear.”
monk asked, “What writing does the expression dragon howl come from?”
Sozan said, “I don’t know what writing the expression comes from, but those who
hear it all die.”
The blood line is not ended:
teaching goes on forever but one is not ‘turned around’ by words
Not entirely dry: the ocean drying up but not reaching the bottom nothing is left but nothing is
removed. (the tail of the ox can’t get through?)
There is no one in the world
who does not hear: Buddha-nature is everywhere. Who does not have it?
hearer and howler of which an attempt is being made here to speak are not equal
to the howler of the dragon howl. This tune is the dragon howl. In a dead tree
and in a skull are not inside or outside, not self or other; they are present
and past. Still joyful is moreover the horn on the head growing. Still
conscious is skin and flesh falling away entirely.
The hearer and howler of which an
attempt is being made here to speak are not equal to the howler of the dragon
howl. “Hearing the name is not
as good as seeing the face”. Realizing this, seeing the face is This tune is
the dragon howl
they are present and past:
they are all time. “all beings are always in nirvana and do not enter nirvana
at a given time.”
Still joyful is moreover the
horn on the head growing: care should be taken so that ‘joy’ doesn’t become
greed. True joy is without clinging.
Saying too much causes horns to grow.
Sozan’s saying the blood line is not ended is a case of speaking without
avoidance, is a case of turning around in the stream of words. Not entirely dry
is the ocean drying up but not reaching the bottom. Because not entirely is
dry, it is dryness upon dryness.
speaking without avoidance:
Sozan doesn’t begrudge body and life.
a case of turning around in the
stream of words: knowing when to kill and when to give life with words
not entirely is dry: it is dryness upon dryness:
‘wisdom that has gone utterly beyond’ the distinction between life in the world
say does anyone hear is like saying does anyone not attain (or, does anyone not
hear). As for there is no one in the world who does not hear, one should yet
ask, leaving aside there is no one who does not hear, when there is no world,
where is the dragon howl? Speak quickly!
does anyone not attain:
nonattainment is most difficult!
for what writing does the expression ‘dragon howl’ come from, it should be made
a question. The dragon howl is of itself making a sound holding forth that is
in the mind, it is breathing out that is in the nostrils.
it should be made a question:
the answer is in the question. The question is “What is the question?” The
dragon howl is expressed according to mind; it comes to live according to
for I don’t know what writing the expression comes from, this is there is a
dragon in written expression. As for those who hear it all die, it is pitiable.
I don’t know what writing:
All sounds are the voice of the Buddha
As for those who hear it all
die, it is pitiable: kill the living, raise the dead
the dragon howling of Kyogen, Sekiso, and Sozan make clouds and water. I do not
say this is speaking, I do not say eyes or skull---this is a thousand melodies,
ten thousand melodies of just a dragon howl. Still joyful---a clam howl; still
conscious---a worm howl. Due to this the blood line is not ended, and gourds
are heir to gourds. Because not entirely dry, the pillars are pregnant, the
lamps face the lamps.