A monk asked Yunmen, “What is the teaching that Shakyamuni preached throughout his life?

Yunmen answered, ‘A preaching in response’

~ Blue Cliff Record, Case 14

When we keep company with a koan, we sometimes find that our initial response is a narrow one. But with time, our understanding tends to broaden out a bit, and the answer becomes more intimate.


I started writing this note expecting to talk about the translation of the above koan, which I read in several English and Japanese versions. I wrote a couple of paragraphs on how PZI’s translation was got it right while the widely published tramslation was a bit off-point. I began to wax eloquently about various dictionaries and commentaries. To be sure, a preaching in response, but it began to sound to me like ‘yada, yada, yada’.

This morning, lighting some incense, the smoke had the exact smell of a preaching in response. As I sat, the washing machine in the next room was going through its wash cycle: swash, swash, swash (pause and change directions), swash, swash, swash. My body was listening to that preaching, going swash, swash (you might try it with your own Maytag-brand washer!). And later, when I went into the garden, a woodpecker was thrumming on the telephone pole across the street, giving its preaching in response.

If some day you see me high up a telephone pole going ‘yada, yada, yada’, you alone will understand that it is a preaching in response.