Do you hear the waterfall?

Zen Master Su Bong
Extracted from A Dharma talk given on February 9, 1982 at the Ojai Foundation in California.

Su T’ung Po went to visit a Zen Master on a mountain in Jade Springs and said, “Zen Master, how are you?” At that time, Su T’ung was a very high official, so he wore very beautifully colored and embroidered Chinese gowns – really outstanding. And he had a big jade belt which signified his position, which said, “I am this and this and this – this is my official position.” Very high class.

When the Zen Master saw Su T’ung Po come, he said, “Oh, sir, I’m sorry to welcome you to my humble place. I have no chair for you to sit on.”

Then Su T’ung Po said to him, “Oh, that’s no problem. I’ll just sit on you.”

So the Zen Master said to him, “OK, I will make a deal with you. If you can answer me one question, you can use me for a chair. If you cannot answer this question, then you must give me your jade belt.”

Su T’ung Po thought, “I already understand everything, so why not?” He said, “OK, I’ll try that. No problem. What do you want to ask me, Zen Master?”

And the Zen Master said, “In the Heart Sutra, it says form is emptiness, emptiness is form. If you use me as a chair, you are attached to form. If you don’t use me for a chair, how do you explain this emptiness?”

Stuck. Don’t know. Couldn’t understand. So from that time on, he read a lot of books and traveled around and around and around to many teachers. And he came upon another teacher on ascending Dragon Mountain, and said, “Teacher, please open my eyes to the Dharma. Please. I know this and this and this.”

Then the Master said, “How dare you come here with the dead words of men? You must open your eyes to nature. How can I teach you, you who understand so much about Zen? How can I teach you? Get out of here! Just get out of here! I don’t want to have anything to do with you! Go away!”

And Su T’ung Po thought, “This Zen Master is supposed to be compassionate. Why is he chasing me away?” “Get out!”

So he went outside and he got on his horse. He was in a complete trance. Why? Why? Why did he throw me out? Don’t know. So he just got on his horse. It was late at night and very deep in the mountains, and he just let the horse find its way down the mountain. He just sat on the horse, bouncing along. Why? Don’t know. He was complete don’t know. Complete stuck mind.

And then, all of a sudden, he heard the sound of a waterfall.


And he got Enlightenment, understood.

And he wrote this poem:

The roaring waterfall is Buddha’s golden mouth,
The mountains in the distance are his pure and luminous body.
How many thousands of poems float through me tonight?
And tomorrow I won’t be able to repeat even one word.

Not repeat one word. Buddha said after preaching for 49 years, just before he was going to die, “I have preached for 49 years and I have not uttered a single word.”