Twenty-second Case: Hsueh Feng’s Turtle-Nosed Snake

Hsueh Feng taught the assembly saying, “On South
Mountain there’s a turtle-nosed snake. All of you
people must take a good look.”

Ch’ang Ch’ing said, “In the hall today there certainly are people who are losing their bodies and their lives.”

A monk related this to Hsuan Sha. Hsuan Sha said, “It takes Elder Brother Leng (Ch’ang Ch’ing) to be like this. Nevertheless, I am not this way.” The monk asked, “What about you, Teacher?” Hsuan Sha said, “Why make use of ‘South Mountain’?”

Yun Men took his staff and threw it down in front of Hsueh Feng, making a gesture
of fright. (1)

Ch’ang Ch’ing’s “In the hall today there certainly are people who are losing their bodies and their lives” implies that some people in the hall might gain their bodies and their lives, were they to heed Hsueh Feng’s advice.

Hsuan Sha takes issue, not with the “turtle-nosed snake”, but with locating the snake on “South Mountain”. Yuanwu comments:

When Hsueh Feng speaks this way, ‘On South Mountain there’s a turtle-nosed snake,’ tell me, where is it? (2)

Yun Men throws his staff down in front of Hsueh Feng and pretends to be frightened. People do tend to be frightened of snakes, but to be frightened of Hsueh Feng’s “turtle-nose
snake” is to be frightened of one’s own self.

Yuanwu offers some words from his teacher:

My late teacher Wu Tsu said, “With this turtle-nosed snake, you must have the ability not to get your hands or legs bitten. Hold him tight by the back of the neck with one quick grab. Then you can join hands and walk along with me.” (3)

Where a snake can be said to have something perhaps resembling a nose, a turtle has essentially the holes in its skull with a thin covering. Awareness of the movement of breath
where the breath passes through the skull can accentuate the role of the joint between the skull and the neck in the extension and flexion of the spine, under the right circumstances.

 

☞ PDF, A Natural Mindfulness

 

1) The Blue Cliff Record, trans. Cleary Cleary, pg 144
2) Ibid, pg 149
3) Ibid, pg 151