'Ummon-kan' | Case 15

15. HOW MANY VIRTUES

Ummon asked the head monk, “What sutra are you lecturing on?” “The Nirvana Sutra,” replied the monk. “The Nirvana Sutra contains the Four Nirvana Virtues, doesn't it?” “It does.” Picking up a cup, Ummon then asked, “How many virtues does this contain?” “None at all,” said the monk. “So why did the ancients speak as they did?” “What do you think of what they said?” asked Ummon, Ummon struck the cup and continued, “You understand?” “No,” said the monk. “Then,” said Ummon, “You'd better go on with your lectures on the sutra”

Comment: a cup is a bell by virtue of the water that trickles through your fingers when you drink those ancient virtues were always empty any- way but i want to ask which is the vessel

water sweet water is sweet and is water

Note: The Nirvana Sutra is highly praised but will reciting its virtues make you a Buddha?. Ummon puts his belief in the single virtue of existence. “The value of each thing is infinite, and therefore equal to that of every other thing.” Thus the cup contains the same four virtues as the Nirvana Sutra, as neither the cup nor the Nirvana Sutra can be separated from their essential existence.

Instead of reaching Nirvana the monk is destined to lecture on Nirvana — caught in his own intellectual pursuit. Ummon challenges this with his striking of the cup. The cup here may represent a common, ordinary virtue, accessible beyond intellectual understanding. Similarly, “The entire Buddhist canon is right on the tip of this staff.”

Addendum: “Once, when the master had finished drinking tea, he held up the cup and said: All the Buddhas of the three periods have finished listening to the teaching; they have completely pierced the bottom of this cup and are going away. Do you see?”

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