One day, Ch'an Master Tung-shan went to see a novice by the name of Te-chao who was very ill. When the Master arrived, the novice implored, "Oh, Master! Please be compassionate and save me? I've been seeking the Dharma earnestly. Can you bear to see your disciple die unenlightened?"

"Whose child are you?" asked Tung-shan.

"I'm a son of someone without the Buddha nature."

Looking at the novice intently, Tung-shan was deep in thought.

Te-chao grew impatient and asked anxiously, "Master, when mountains on all sides are pressing toward me, what should I do?"

The Master replied, "I also used to walk under other' eaves."

Te-chao asked, "Master, if you and I met under the same eaves, should we avoid each other or not?"

"We shouldn't," said the Master.

"If we shouldn't avoid each other, where do you want me to go?"

"Since the five modes of existence, the six directions of reincarnation, and the ten Dharma worlds exist, there are roads everywhere. Why do you have to worry about it? If you can't rest assured, you may go and grow rice in the cultivated fields!" Tung-shan instructed.

Upon hearing this, Te-chao said, "Master, please take care." He then sank into his chair with a blank look in his eyes and passed away.

Tung-shan shook his staff in front of the young novice three times, saying, "Although you're able to depart this way, you will not be able to return the same way."


Although Te-chao was dying, he was still searching for the Path beyond life and death. He did not know what to do when birth, old age, sickness, and death were pressing on toward him like four mountains. Master Tung-shan pointed out to him that there were paths everywhere. This does not mean that just anybody can find the right road. To cultivate the land and grow rice merits the attention of every Buddhist. Te-chao passed away peacefully, implying that he had found his way out. However, Master Tung-shan did not think that the novice could return the same way, implying that it would not be easy even for Ch'an practitioners to be reborn the way that they choose.


(Source: Hsing Yun's Ch'an Talk, Book 4)