Thursday, February 10, 2011

Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two - 十四 南泉斬猫

The story of Nansen and the cat is case 14 in a collection of 48 koans recorded in a document named Mumonkan (or Gateless Gate)

Nansen Oshõ saw monks of the Eastern and Western halls quarreling over a cat.

He held up the cat and said, "If you can give an answer, you will save the cat. If not, I will kill it."
No one could answer, and Nansen cut the cat in two.
That evening Jõshû returned, and Nansen told him of the incident.
Jõshû took off his sandal, placed it on his head, and walked out.
"If you had been there, you would have saved the cat," Nansen remarked.

Mumon's Comment
Tell me, what did Jõshû mean when he put the sandal on his head?
If you can give a turning word on this, you will see that Nansen's decree was carried out with good reason.
If not, "Danger!"

Mumon's Verse
Had Jõshû been there,
He would have done the opposite;
When the sword is snatched away,
Even Nansen begs for his life.

Elliston Roshi in response to my post about "Unity of Body and Mind" wrote a few days ago on this matter : 

Like Nansen in "cutting the cat," we must take actions without regard to consequences to ourselves, and sometimes even without regard to the consequences to others. Otherwise we are paralyzed in the face of reality. This is "right action," but it is not necessarily right as opposed to wrong.

Now, back to Nansen and the cat... Have you ever tried to grab a cat to put medicine drops in his ears, or his mouth ? Let's not even speak of slicing him in two ? Unless the cat knows and trusts you, you are going to have a very hard time catching him to start it, and then, imagining you are able to corner him, you better have some very serious leather gloves and a good mask on your head before you can try this stunt. And a good very sharp sword. 

Actually, a Kendo Armor and a Live Wakizashi would very likely be the perfect combination to try that. 

Was Nansen some sort of Ninja ?

I must say I am puzzled by this story, (actually by most of the Mumonkan's stories...) I can relate to Elliston Roshi's post, for it is important to me not to be paralyzed by the fear of doing wrong, and trying to realize Unity of Mind and Body through my practice should help me not screw up too much when acting. 
Still, I don't really get Nansen's point in killing the cat. 

I'll keep trying
Elliston Roshi honors us with his insights on  Zen related posts in this blog. Please do not hesitate to comment and ask for his input.
in Gassho - Thank you Sensei.

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