Zen Koan Case 16: Yun-men: The sound of the Bell


Yün-men said, “See how vast and wide the world is! Why do you put on your seven-piece robe at the sound of the bell?”


All you Zen students, training in the Way, don’t be victimized by sounds; don’t follow up on forms. You may have realization on hearing a sound or enlightenment on seeing a form—that’s natural. But don’t you know that true Zen students can ride sounds and veil forms? They see all and sundry clearly; they handle each and every thing deftly.

Perhaps you are such a person. But tell me—does the sound come to the ear, or does the ear go to the sound? And if you have transcended sound and silence, what do you say at such a point? If you listen with your ear, it is hard to understand. If you hear with your eye, you are intimate at last.


“With realization, all things are one family;
without realization, all things are disconnected.

Without realization, all things are one family;
with realization, all things are disconnected.”

Case 16 is from the book:

The Gateless Barrier is generally acknowledged to be the fundamental koan collection in the literature of Zen.

Gathered together by Wu-men (Mumon), a thirteenth-century master of the Lin-chi (Rinzai) school, it is composed of forty-eight koans, or cases, each accompanied by a brief comment and poem by Wu-men.

Robert Aitken, one of the premier American Zen masters, has translated Wu-men’s text, supplementing the original with his own commentary — the first such commentary by a Western master — making the profound truths of Zen Buddhism accessible to serious contemporary students and relevant to current social concerns.

What is a KOAN?

A koan is a surprising or paradoxical word or phrase, taken from an anecdote, that is used as an object of meditation in traditions descended from Chinese Chan Buddhism, like Japanese Zen. Contemplating these words is part of the training given by a teacher to help a Buddhist student to awaken.”  Read more

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