Blue Cliff Record – Case Number 56


(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

Translator’s Note: The Blue Cliff Record is a Chinese text containing one hundred examples of Ch’an gong an – public records – of enlightened dialogues between masters and their students. Each ‘case’ is quite short and to the point, but over the years, extra commentaries and verses have been added to add clarity, or push home a salient point. Below is an interesting exchange between Ch’an Master Qin Shan and the wandering ascetic Liang, concerning the attainment and function of the pure mind, discussed through an allusion to the art of archery. Although firing an arrow and hitting through the target is the issue at hand, neither master mentions the bow. ACW 11.12.14

The Ch’an wanderer named Liang once asked Qin Shan,

“How can a single arrowhead destroy three barriers?”

(Careful: This is an unusual question; but there is no harm when the willpower is fierce).

Qin Shan replied, “Release the master so that he might be seen through the centre of the target.”

(Face to face without hesitation. He wants us all to know that Mountain Zhu is high and Mount An is low).

Liang said, “Taking into account this knowledge which changes everything, I too will change.”

(As this opportunity to act allows the dropping of a head placed upon a head).

Qin Shan asked, “Why wait? Now is the perfect time.”

(As there is ensnarement, and there is release; but remember that just as the wind blows, the must grass bend).

Liang answered, “An arrow perfectly released, has no target to hit.”

(As sure enough, when empty words are ‘turned’, the second blow is not felt).

Liang was about to leave when Qin Shan secured him tightly by his robe and said, “Liang, come back!”

(Liang had no choice, as he could not move. Easy to arrive – difficult to leave. Turning the head when called is useless).

Qin Shan continued, “There are always clouds obscuring the mountain top. Why don’t you fire an arrow to destroy the three barriers? In this way Qin Shan can test your understanding.”

(Qin Shan willingly enters the jaws of the tiger which firmly hold him in a death grip. Waves go against the tide. To avoid the pursuit of justice is to displays a lack of courage).

Liang did not know what to do and appeared to think it over.

(Exploring reality in words, is unfortunately a waste of time that leads nowhere, except for being struck).

Qin Shan said, “For daring to use words to express reality, you will receive seven strikes with the stick. It has to be this way, or you will doubt for thirty years!”

(When things are so close together, why change position? Qin Shan is correct at the start, and equally correct at the. The top and the bottom are equally valid. This being so, the use of the stick should be against Qin Shan).

Comparative Translations:

Hekiganroku – Case 56: Kinzan and the “Arrow”

A Zen devotee named Ryo asked Kinzan, “What is it when one single arrow breaks through three barriers?” Kinzan said, “Drive out the master from behind the barriers, so that I may see him.”

Ryo said, “If so, I will acknowledge my failure and correct it.” Kinzan said, “Till when do you want to wait?” Ryo said, “I made a nice shot, but no one could see the arrow,” and he went out. Kinzan said, “Wait, sir.” Ryo turned his head. Kinzan grasped him and said, “Let’s put aside the story of the arrow which breaks through three barriers. Just shoot an arrow for me, so that I may see it.” Ryo hesitated. Kinzan hit him seven times with a stick and said, “I will allow this fellow to keep puzzling for thirty years.”

Extracted from: Two Zen Classics; Translated by Katsuki Sekida – Page 303

Blue Cliff Record: Ch’in Shan’s One Arrowpoint Smashes Three Barriers – Fifty Sixth Case

Ch’an traveller Liang asked Ch’in Shan, “How is it when a single arrowhead smashes three barriers?”

Shan said, “Bring out the lord within the barriers for me to see.”

Liang said, “So then knowing my fault I must change.”

Shan said, “Why wait any longer?”

Liang said, “A well-shot arrow doesn’t hit anywhere,” and started to leave. Shan said, “Come here a moment. Liang turned his head; Shan held him tight and said, “Leaving aside for the moment a single arrowhead smashing three barriers, let’s see you shoot an arrow.” Liang hesitated, so Shan hit him seven times and said, “I’ll allow as this fellow will be doubting for thirty years.”

Extracted from: Blue Cliff Record; Translated by T Cleary & JC Cleary – Page 324

©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2014.

Original Chinese Language Text:


【五六】舉。良禪客問欽山。一鏃破三關時如何(嶮不妨奇特。不妨是箇猛將)山云。放出關中主看(劈面來也。也要大家知。主山高按山低)良云。恁麼則知過必改(見機而作。已落第二頭)山云。更待何時(有擒有縱。風行草偃)良云。好箭放不著所在便出(果然。擬待翻款那。第二棒打人不痛)山云。且來闍黎(呼則易遣則難。喚得回頭。堪作什麼)良回首(果然把不住。中也)山把住云。一鏃破三關即且止。試與欽山發箭看(虎口裏橫身。逆水之波。見義不為無勇也)良擬議(果然摸索不著。打云。 可惜許)山打七棒云。且聽這漢疑三十年(令合恁麼。有始有終。頭正尾正。這箇棒合是欽山喫)。

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