Ch'an Master Yin-feng decided to take his leave of Ch'an Master Ma-tsu Tao-i. The latter asked, "Where are you going?"

Yin-feng answered, "I am going to study under the guidance of Master Shih-tou Hsi-chien of Nan-yueh."

Ma-tsu remarked, "The stone path is slippery."

Then Yin-feng said, "The bamboo pole and wooden stick are with me, and I will play them by ear."

Ma-tsu gave Yin-feng permission to leave, and Yin-feng went from Kiangsi to Hunan to pay his respects to Master Shih-tou.

Yin-feng walked around the Ch'an platform once, shook his monk's staff, and asked, "What is your teaching?"

Master Shih-tou ignored him. After a long time, Shih-tou said, "Good heavens! Good heavens!"

Yin-feng could not understand his meaning and had nothing to say in reply.

Having no other alternatives, Yin-feng returned to Master Ma-tsu and told him what had happened at his meeting with Master Shih-tou.

Master Ma-tsu told him, "Go back, and when Master Shih-tou says, 'Good heavens! Good heavens!' you should reply, 'Hiss, hiss.'"

Yin-feng went to Nan-yueh once more and again asked, "What is your teaching?"

Without any hesitation, Master Shih-tou exclaimed, "Hiss, hiss!"

Yin-feng was again at a loss for words and returned to report to Master Ma-tsu.

Master Ma-tsu consoled him by saying, "I told you that the stone path is slippery!"


Ch'an is not something that can be imitated. It is something that we have to understand through our own minds. When Shih-tou said, "Good heavens! Good heavens!" he was pointing out that the teaching of Ch'an cannot be verbally described. When Yin-feng asked him again, Master Shih-tou replied by hissing to show that Ch'an is something that cannot be explained by the mere use of language. Ch'an is realized through practice and not just by mere speech.

(Source: Hsing Yun's Ch'an Talk, Book 2)