How do you catch a slimy catfish with a slippery gourd?

At Taizō-in, a sub-temple of Myōshin-ji Temple, the "Hyōnen-zu" has been handed down through the ages. This national treasure is a hanging scroll from the Muromachi Period, painted by Josestu, an artist monk, under the orders of the Shōgun Yoshimochi Ashikaga. Hyōnen-zu is accompanied by a poem written by the 31 famous Zen monks of the Gozan Temple in Kyoto, which aims to answer the Zenmondō or Buddhist question of “how to catch a slimy catfish with a gourd.” Let's give it a shot too. Pause the guide and think about what the answer could be.

So, did you come up with anything? Let's return to this poem and see how some of the 31 monks answered.

“Hold down the catfish using the gourd and make clear soup out of it. Of course, you’d also need rice. Why not cook some of the sand instead?”

“Coat the gourd with oil and hold down the catfish when it’s swimming with the current. Trying to hold down the catfish from different places will only make one realize that it can’t be held down, and one will eventually lose their desire for it.”

“Although the gourd presses down on the catfish, in reality, the catfish presses down the gourd. The world surpasses relativity and is found in oneness. Are not man and catfish in the same world?”

So, what do you think? Some might be unique and amusing, while others leave us in awe. My own perspective is that the question requires us to overcome logic entirely.

Catching a catfish with a gourd isn’t normal at all. In fact, it’s completely unrealistic. But, this sort of logic bogs down our minds.We shouldn’t get caught up in how things “ought to be.” Perceiving one’s boundaries and being able to step in and out of them freely is also important.

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