...the Wanderling


A monk asked Ummon, "What is Buddha?" Ummon answered, "A dried stick of dung."

Mumon's Comments:
We must say that being so poor, Ummon cannot appreciate plain food, or he is so busy that he cannot even scribble properly. He is disposed to support his school with dry dung. Look at how devastated the Buddhist teaching has been!

Lightning flashes,
Sparks of striking flint.
In a blink of your eyes,
You have passed by (and missed it).

CASE 21: Mumnonkan


Chinese Philosophy and Intellectual History (Volume 2)
Chapter 22, Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism In China: Its History and Method (pp 235-254) (see)


When the master Wen-yen (Ummon, 864-949), founder of the Yun-men School, was asked by a novice monk "What is Buddha?" he answered: "A dried stick of dung." Such an answer is not nonsensical. It harkens back to the iconoclastic teachings of Wen-yen's lineage and spiritual grandfather, Hsuan-chien, that is, Te Shan (781-867), known for burning all his books and commentaries on Zen following his Awakening, who had actually said: "The Buddha is a dried piece of dung of the barbarians, and sainthood is only an empty name."[1]

Since, in all probability he would not understand Ummon's response "A dried stick of dung," the novice retires to the kitchen and washes the dishes. He is puzzled and feels ashamed of his failure to understand. After some time, he is told to leave, and try his luck elsewhere. Here he begins the most important phase of his Zen education, hsing-chiao, becoming a Wanderling, "traveling on foot."[2]

Those critics who call the Ch'an method irrational and mystical and, therefore, "absolutely beyond the ken of human understanding," are men who fail to appreciate the great educational value of this Third Phase, which consists of sending the learner traveling from one hill to another, from one school to another, studying under one master and then another. Many of the famous Ch'an masters spent fifteen or twenty or thirty years wandering and studying under many well known masters.

Let me cite what Chu Hsi (1130-1200) said in deep appreciation of the value of "traveling on foot" in the Ch'an schools. The great leader of the Neo-Confucianist movement was sick in bed and was approaching his death, which came only a few months later. One of his favorite mature disciples, Ch'en Ch'un (1159-1223) had come to visit him and spend a few days at his school. One evening, Chu Hsi in his sickbed said to the visitor: "Now you must emulate the monk's method of hsing-chiao (traveling on foot). That will enable you to meet the best minds of the empire, to observe the affairs and conditions of the country, to see the scenery and topography of the mountains and rivers, and to study the historical traces of the rise and fall, peace and war, right and wrong, of the past and present governments. Only in that way may you see the truth in all its varied respects.... There was never a sage who knew nothing of the affairs of the world. There was never a sage who could not deal with novel and changing situations. There was never a sage who sat alone in meditation behind closed doors...."

Let us return to our traveling novice, who, as a monk, travels always on foot, carrying only a stick, a bowl, and a pair of straw sandals. He begs all the way for his food and lodging, often having to seek shelter in ruined temples, caves, or deserted houses by the roadside. He suffers the severities of nature and sometimes has to bear the unkindness of man.

He sees the world and meets all kinds of people. He studies under the great minds of the age and learns to ask better questions and have real doubts of his own. He befriends kindred souls with whom he discusses problems and exchanges views. In this way, his experience is widened and deepened, and his understanding grows. Then, one day, he hears a chance remark of a charwoman, or a frivolous song of a dancing girl, or smells the quiet fragrance of a nameless flower—and he suddenly understands! How true, the Buddha WAS "like a piece of dung!"(see) And how true, "he is also like three pounds of flax"! All is so evident now. As what happened through the moon-driven events of Japan's first female Zen master, Chiyono, "The bottom of the bucket dropped out."

And he travels long distances back to his old master, and, with tears and with gladness at heart, he gives thanks and worships at the feet of his good teacher, who never made things easy for him.

(Philosophy East and West pg 22)

At the above link on Te Shan I talk about my younger brother, who, while cleaning out his attic one day discovered a long forgotten carton of stuff stashed away that at one time belonged to me. Among the contents of the box was a beat up copy of D.T. Suzuki's ZEN BUDDHISM: Selected Writings of D.T, Suzuki (New York: Anchor Books, 1956), a book that had not seen the light of day in at least 20 years. The pages were faded and worn. Corner after corner of pages folded down. Pencil notes all over the margins and inside the covers. Sentences were underlined in ink. Whole paragraphs were highlighted in a now barely discernible yellow.

My brother reminded me of how I, not unlike Te Shan, used to carry that book around like a bible my last two years of high school and several years afterward. Anytime anybody said anything about anything out would come my book...always ready with a "Zen answer."

As I turned those crumbling pages for the first time in over 20 years, the notes, the underlining, the highlights, all seemed so odd. Going back I remembered how I met my Mentor. He had studied under the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi at his ashram between the wars. When I saw him the first time I was set aback by the calm serenity he seemed to abide in. I begged him to "make me like him." Time after time he brushed me off. Finally, thinking he would never get rid of me he began to make a few suggestions. He told me about Vihangam Marg, the bird's way; he urged me to buy and read Suzuki's book; he sent me to study under Yasutani Hakuun Roshi. But nothing. I spent months and months half a world away nearly on the roof of the world Doing Hard Time in a Zen monastery. Still not the breakthrough he expected. Back in the states he arranged for me to study-practice under the mysterious and anonymous American Zen master Alfred Pulyan. Close, very close.

One day we were leaning on the the heavily encrusted rusted pipe railing overlooking the Pacific along the clfff edge of Veteran's Park not far from where where we both lived. The park was located about half-way between where to the north, years before in the middle of the night, a giant unknown flying object as big as a Zeppelin turned inland off the ocean only to overfly barely above my house. The other half of the distance down the beach to the south, in Hollywood Riveria, guns of a World War II anti-aircraft emplacement no longer there opened up on the object, strewing the whole northside of the city with shrapnel. The event became known as THE BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES: 1942 UFO. Briefly thinking about that night I didn't care about the Buddha, what Enlightenment is, how much flax was something or not. But I did want to know was how I, that is, me specifically, could reach, attain, do, or become Enlightenment. So I asked:

"What is Enlightenment?"

My mentor, turning and pointing slightly inward beyond the edge of the park lawn behind us, replied, "Dog poop turns white in the sun."

Sure enough it seemed a dog had left his calling card on the grass, but, having enough of the Zen answers I asked, "How can I be Enlightened?"

He said, "The grass grows in a circle much taller and darker green than the surrounding grass."

Speaking to case number 36, GOSO'S NO WORDS, NO SILENCE in the Mumonkan, Phillip Goodchild writes that the questions posed to the masters show language operating as a manifestation of the beliefs and desires of the questioner. These beliefs correlate with concepts which are NOT fully formed, and hence questions arise concerning these concepts. The active mind of the questioner remains upon the level of subjective desires and abstract concepts, whereas the response relinquishes such matters and returns to the surface of everyday life.(source) Like the Curandera Maria Sabina says "Wisdom comes from the place where the sand is born."

Now you now have a fairly good feel on the Zen tradition of hising-chiao, traveling on foot. The question is now, how about traveling in other ways? Throughout history spiritual adepts on both the Indian and Chinese side of things have invoked the supernormal perceptual states known as Siddhis that inturn have allowed travel by methods and means considered by many as being beyond the everyday realm. Did the Wanderling ever invoke such non-traditional methods, for example and fly? For those who may be so interested, find out:








Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.





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Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism in China: Its History and Method." Philosophy East and West 3, 1: 3-24. (1953)

As found in the previously cited:


See also: HU SHIH


There are three phases or stages of training typically found common to Zen:

  • I The First Phase is shojin, the period of training in which the will and conscious effort are involved, and may take three to five years of diligent practice.

  • II The Second Phase is the period of concentration without conscious effort. The disciple is at peace. He can become an assistant to the master and later become a master himself and teach others in his turn.

  • III The Third Phase the spirit achieves true freedom, Enlightenment. Over and over it is found Zen historians citing the experience of full liberation being brought about by (but not limited to) hsing-chiao which consists of sending the learner traveling from one hill to another, from one school to another, studying under one master and then another.

The Japanese word for the First Phase, Shojin, translates as "ceaseless effort" or "constant effort." Said to be from the Sanskrit word "Virya" (in Pali: Viriya).


In Buddhism there is a special teaching and practice known as PARAMITA. The Sanskrit word "paramita" means, as found in the classic Buddhist story, Parable of the Ferryboat, "going to the other shore," or, the transcendental. And so the working with the paramitas can result in the transcendental empowerment and expression of our true selves. There are six basic paramitas, although some lists contain an additional four.

  • GIVING.The first paramita is dana paramita, the perfection of generosity. Unattached generosity, boundless openness, unconditional love. Open heart, open mind, open hand.

  • MORALITY. The second is sila paramita, virtue, morality. See Sila.

  • PATIENCE. The third is shanti paramita, patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance.

  • VIGOR. The fourth is virya paramita: energy, effort, exertion, that is, Shojin. Thus then, the Fourth Paramita is actually the First Phase of the Three Phases of Zen.

    The practice of Virya is a practice in which we exert ourselves to the fullest in whatever task we undertake. Shakyamuni Buddha advises us not be halfhearted about whatever we do, but to put everything we have into it. Do it with a full heart, and put your backs into it. Replicates number two of the Five Strengths, Energy/Effort/Persistence (viriya, virya).

  • MEDITATION. The fifth is dhyana paramita, meditation, absorption, concentration, contemplation. See Samadhi as well as Shikantaza. Number four of the Five Strengths.

  • WISDOM. The sixth is prajna-paramita: "Perfect wisdom," the wisdom that has gone beyond" -- i.e., how things are in an ultimate perspective, from the perspective of a truly Enlightened person. This is a philosophical concept developed in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, and involves a number of paradoxical doctrines that conflict radically with ordinary and commonsense understandings of things. Ordinary and commonsense understandings including opposites like Nirvana and Samsara being one (i.e., Sunyata) are said to be interpretations produced by an unenlightened ego-centric perspective. That perspective inturn creates objects for Tanha (i.e., temptation, "sensual desire," Tanha being one of the Three Daughters of Mara, aka one of The Three Poisons). In the ultimate perspective, then, Nirvana is none other than Samsara but rightly seen for what it truly is. Opposites are annihilated; Time and Eternity are two aspects of the same whole. To experience Nirvana is to be one with each moment of the live flow as it occurs, to experience the bliss of utter oneness with all things as one transcends all forms. Number five of the Five Strengths.


In her book Voice of the Silence published in 1889, Madame H. P. Blavatsky, a theosophist through and through and one of the major founders of the Theosophical Society, outlined a non-Buddhist way toward spiritual Illumination that was very similar to the Mahayana tradition. In the book Blavatsky describes the passage through "three great halls" that are necessary to reach the Ultimate State, Turiya:

  1. Hall of Ignorance

  2. Hall of Learning

  3. Hall of Wisdom

The Hall of Ignorance, the Hall of Learning, and the Hall of Wisdom parallel very closely with the three phases of Zen training. How she arrived at those conclusions is not clear, however, noted Zen Buddhist scholar D. T. Suzuki, mentioned above, writes in The Eastern Buddhist (old series, 5:377)

"Undoubtedly Madame Blavatsky had in some way been initiated into the deeper side of Mahayana teaching and then gave out what she deemed wise to the Western world..."


HU SHIU 1891–1962, Chinese philosopher and essayist, leading liberal intellectual in the May Fourth Movement (1917–23). He studied under John Dewey at Columbia Univ., becoming a lifelong advocate of pragmatic evolutionary change. While professor of philosophy at Beijing Univ., he wrote for the iconoclastic journal New Youth (see Chen Duxiu). His most important contribution was promotion of vernacular literature to replace writing in the classical style. Hu Shih was also a leading critic and analyst of traditional Chinese culture and thought. He was ambassador to the United States (1938–42), chancellor of Beijing Univ. (1946–48), and after 1958 president of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

See J. B. Grieder, Hu Shih and the Chinese Renaissance (1970).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright © 2002 Columbia University Press


Although Neo-Confucianism can be seen in a reactionary context against the various precepts as advocated by Buddhists, Neo-Confucians also recognize that because morality is an innate quality of the individual, one must seek to cultivate principle internally. Ch'en Ch'un, a student of Chu Hsi, claims that the quest for the ultimate goal of sagehood depends on two things, the "extension of knowledge" and "earnest practice." He says:

"The extension of knowledge is the way to understand the ten thousand things in one's mind so that there will be no more doubt. . .To practice earnestly is to recover the the ten thousand goodnesses in oneself so none will be missing. If knowledge is not extended, what is truly right and wrong cannot be distinguished"

Ch'en Ch'un, "Neo-Confucian Terms Explained," translated by Wing-tsit Chan.


In regards to the above version of Yun-men's response to a monk's question, "What is Buddha?" with "dried dung" being the master's reply (or "dried turd" sometimes), it has been said the Koan should be answered ONLY using the word kanshiketsu because of it's "true" meaning. Kanshiketsu has been interpreted legitimately either as a dried shit-stick, a standard implement that was used as we now use toilet paper OR simply as a dried turd (dung), an interpretation that has been derived from Chuang-tzu's usage below.

Some people just love to use the "shit-stick" answer because of the sort of shock value it carries and how much fun it is to say or print shit in what is conceived to be somewhat religious circles. True, it does come across much more hard edged and specific, however to get caught up in the semantics of it all and argue on-and-on-and-on for hours-and-hours over the subtle nuances over any given word when what is really wanted is an innate grasping of the overall concept, is nothing short of wasting a lot of time and artificially creating unnecessary roadblocks along one's path toward Enlightenment.

the Wanderling


Master Tung Kwo asked Chuang:
"Show me where the Tao is found."
Chuang Tzu replied:
"There is nowhere it is not to be found."
The former insisted:
"Show me at least some definite place
where Tao is found."
"It is in the ant." said Chuang.
"Is it in some lesser being?"
"It is in the weeds."
"Can you go further down the scale of things?"
"It is in this piece of tile."
"It is in this turd."




In the year I was born a very well received novel that would ultimately receive a Pulitzer Prize titled The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, was published.

In the previously mentioned website titled THE BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES: 1942 UFO, wherein an incident about a giant object of unknown origin that overflew the city of Los Angeles is described, in a section subtitled A QUICK PERSONAL NOTE, the following is found:

"My uncle (i.e., the Wanderling's uncle in the original text) told me the first time he ever saw me I was basically not much more than a walk-around one or two year old toddler. According to how he remembered it he came by the house one day to see my mother and father while on a trip through Southern California. After that, nearly six years went by before we were to cross paths again."

Right around the sametime my uncle and I crossed paths again, a movie of The Yearling was released. Years before, when my uncle first saw me as a walk-around toddler, my mother was reading The Yearling as it was just published. He called me a "Yearling" then. When we met again the movie just came out, and he was reminded of what he called me as a toddler. By then, of course, my mother was long gone, my father married my Stepmother and I was no longer remotely close to being anything that resembled a Yearling. Knowing I had been to India and returned in a somewhat can't quite put your finger on it altered state where I seemed to "wander" in and out, my uncle, in an interesting twist of fate, began calling me "the Wanderling" --- a sort of play on the words of the term "the Yearling."

In later years, when my mentor, who, as mentioned previously above, had studied under Sri Ramana, came across me and heard that my uncle had called me a "wanderling," he immediately took to it --- primarily because of a very important aspect regarding the historical background of Ramana's life as presented in the following quote from Ramana's biography:

"There was a curse on Venkataraman's family - in truth, it was a blessing - that one out of every generation should turn out to be a mendicant. This curse was administered by a wanderling, an ascetic who, it is said, begged alms at the house of one of Venkataraman's forbears, and was refused. A paternal uncle of Sundaram Aiyar's became a sannyasin; so did Sundaram Aiyar's elder brother. Now, it was the turn of Venkataraman, although no one could have foreseen that the curse would work out in this manner." (source)

Extraterrestrials, ray guns, UFOs, curmudgeon old desert southwest types...the following quote comes from the source so cited:

"I have read quite a bit of The Wanderling's writings and found it very intriguing. Much of what he has to say about Zen and Buddhism was helpful, but at the sametime I was skeptical about his apparent fascination with esoteric, 'new age' type topics like Carlos Castaneda, shamanism, UFOs, etc."(source)

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the Wanderling