Date and Place Written: 1241, Kannon-dori-kosho-horin-ji temple (Fukakusa)
Fascicle number and English title in Hubert Nearman translation: 17. On ‘The Mind Cannot Be Held Onto’ (oral  version)
Fascicle number and English title in Nishijima/Cross translation: 18. Mind Cannot Be Grasper (the former)
Fascicle number and English title in Tanahashi translation: 19. Ungraspable Mind
Fascicle number in 12, 28, 60 and 75 fascicle editions: 12 (28), 32 (75)
Commentaries: Don’t Be A Jerk chapter 23
Audio reading:


This fascicle takes as its subject a line attributed to the Buddha from the Diamond Sutra: “Past mind cannot be grasped, present mind cannot be grasped and future mind cannot be grasped” [chapter 18 of the Diamond Sutra, translated by Red Pine as “[A] past thought cannot be found.  A future thought cannot be found.  Nor can a present thought be found”]. 

Dōgen uses the story of an encounter between Tokusan Senkan and an old woman selling rice cakes to illustrate the rarity of anyone understanding this, taking particular aim at non-Mahayana practitioners: śrāvakas and pretyakabuddhas. 

Tokusan’s inability to answer the question of the old woman (see below) is seen by Dōgen as an example of the difference between someone who has met a true teacher and heard the true dharma and someone who has not (although he points out that Tokusan goes on to receive dharma transmission from Ryutan).   

Dōgen points out that just from the story we cannot tell if the old woman is a ‘true person’ (i.e. enlightened) or just asking a stupid question that hits the mark by chance.  He suggests responses that both Tokusan and the old woman might have made to have demonstrated their dharma understanding and berates them both, as the old woman, if she did understand ‘mind cannot be grasped’, could have taken the opportunity to say something for Tokusan, and Tokusan himself could have asked for elucidation from the old woman. 

Dōgen concludes by saying that “‘mind cannot be grasped’ means cheerfully buying a painted rice cake and munching it up in one mouthful” i.e. we do not avoid working with words, thoughts and ideas, but understand they are essentially without substance.  This phrase is also referring to the Gabyō (Painted Rice Cake) fascicle of Shōbōgenzō which explores these ideas in greater detail.

Kōans and Stories

Tokusan Senkan (Ch. Deshan Xuanjian; 780-865) is on the way to study with Master Ryutan (Ch. Longtan Chongxin; 760-840) when he meets a woman selling rice cakes.  She asks what is in his bundle and he explains that it is full of commentaries on the Diamond Sutra, and he is the foremost scholar of the sutra.  He asks if he can buy a rice cake to ‘refresh his mind’.
The old woman says that she has heard that past mind cannot be grasped, present mind cannot be grasped and future mind cannot be grasped so asks which mind is he wishing to refresh with the rice cakes? 
Tokusan cannot answer so she refuses to sell him rice cakes. 

Important passages

“The present thinking and discrimination is mind cannot be grasped.  The whole body utilizing the twelve hours is just mind cannot be grasped.”

“After entering the room of a Buddhist patriarch, we understand mind cannot be grasped.  Before entering the room of a Buddhist patriarch, we are without questions about, and we are without assertions about, and we do not see and hear mind cannot be grasped.  Teachers of sutras and teachers of commentaries, śrāvakas and pretyakabuddhas, have not seen it even in a dream.”

“[M]onks who are learning in practice must always be diligent in practice.  Those who have taken it easy are not right.  Those who were diligent in practice are Buddhist patriarchs.”

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