Chan master Lin-ch’i (Linji, d.867) displayed a famously fiery approach with students—involving iconoclasm, paradoxical dialogue, explosive shouting (the famous kwatz!) and even slapping/striking. He inspired the influential Lin-ch’i Chan school in China (later Rinzai Zen in Japan). Among the transcribed talks we have from Lin-ch’i, here are excerpts on how he chided students (and certain fellow teachers!) for their obtuseness in not awakening to the Buddha-nature “right before/behind your eyes” as he called it:
“O you, followers of Truth… do not be deceived by others. Inwardly or outwardly, if you encounter any obstacles, lay them low right away. If you encounter the Buddha [as merely a mind object], slay him; if you encounter the Patriarch, slay him; if you encounter the parent or the relative, slay them all without hesitation, for this is the only way to deliverance. Do not get yourself entangled with any object, but stand above, pass on, and be free. As I see those so-called followers of Truth all over the country, there are none who come to me free and independent of objects. In dealing with them, I strike them down any way they come…. There are indeed so far none who have presented themselves before me all alone, all free, all unique. They are inevitably found caught by the idle tricks of the old masters! … They are all ghostly existences, ignominious gnomes haunting the woods, elf-spirits of the wilderness. They are madly biting into all heaps of filth. O you, why are you wasting all the pious donations of the devout [who give to the monastery]! Do you think you deserve the name of ‘monk’ when you are still entertaining mistaken ideas of Zen? You are putting another head over your own! What do you lack in yourselves? O you, followers of Truth, what you are making use of at this very moment is none other than what makes a Patriarch or a Buddha. But you do not believe me, and stupidly seek it outwardly…. There are no realities outside, nor is there anything [any “thing”] inside you may lay your hands on!”
And elsewhere Lin-ch’i said: “Students nowadays do not know the Dharma. They are like goats, nuzzling and nibbling at everything they come across. They cannot distinguish the servant from the master, nor the guest from the host.”
Other sayings from Lin-ch’i: “What is the frantic hurry to deck yourselves in a lion’s skin when all the while you are yapping like wild foxes? A real man has no need to give himself the airs of a real man!”
“Monks,… I spent twenty years with my late master, Huang-po. Three times I asked him on the essence of Buddhism, and three times he beat me. It was as if he had caressed me with a branch of fragrant sage. Now I feel like tasting a sound beating again; who can give it to me?” A monk stepped forward and said, “I can.” The master took up his stick and handed it to him. The monk hesitated to take hold of it. So the master hit him.
“A student wearing chains presents himself before the [mediocre or false] teacher. The teacher then puts another set of chains on him. The student is overjoyed. Neither the one nor the other are capable of discernment…. Followers of the Way, the true sentiment is very difficult, the Buddha-Dharma is a profound mystery. But if you understand, you smile. … Even if there is no form, the brightness shines of itself. But students have not enough faith. So they cling to names and phrases and try to find the meaning of these names. For fifty years and more they run about carrying their corpses, their staffs and bundles.”
More about the venerable Master Lin-ji :