One foot, two feet

There are several accounts of Chinese jesters mocking religion, or at least its representatives.  A handful concern the 6th century jester Shi Dongtong 石動筩 (Moving Bucket) whose irreverence was allowed and even encouraged by the emperor, Gaozu of the Northern Qi 北齊高祖 (r. 550-59).

On one occasion, the Great Virtue Dharma Master began to propound on the doctrine of `There is neither one nor two, there is neither right nor wrong’, and Moving Bucket turned the whole thing into a joke, at first mocking him light-heartedly. 

Quote - Hou Bai - Qiyan Lu

The jester asked Gaozu’s permission to argue, promising he could tie the Dharma Master in knots.  The emperor, perhaps bored by all the intricate wisdom being thrown at him, was delighted and encouraged him.  The jester approached the pulpit, raised his robe and stood squarely, asking the monk:

`How many feet does your disciple have?’  The monk said `Two feet’.  Moving Bucket then raised a foot behind and stood on one leg, asking, `Now how many feet does your disciple have?’ `One foot.’ Moving Bucket said, `Before I had two feet, now I have one foot, is this what you mean by “neither one nor two”?’  The monk replied, `If it is true that there are two, there can’t be just one, and if there is one, it’s clear that there can’t be two’.

The jester could see that the monk was full of endless argument and so he tried a different approach, putting the monk in the awkward position of having to give in or appear to be insulting the emperor, running rings around him so that in the end, `the monk had nothing to say and Gaozu clapped his hands and burst out laughing’.

高祖又嘗作內道場,時有一大德法師,先立「無一無二、無是無非」義。… 動筩即請難此僧,必令結舌無語。高祖大悅,即令動筩往難。動筩即於高座前,褰衣闊立,問僧曰:「看弟子有幾個腳?」僧曰:「兩腳。」動筩又翹一腳向後,一腳獨立,問僧曰:「更看弟子有幾個腳?」僧曰:「一腳。」動筩云:「向有兩腳,今有一腳,若為得無一無二?」僧即答云:「若其二是真,不應有一腳,腳既得有一,明二即非真。」動筩既以僧義不窮,無難得之理,乃謂僧曰:「向者劇問法師,未是好義,法師既云:『無一無二,無是無非。』今問法師此義,不得不答。弟子聞:『天無二日,土無二王。』今者天子一人,臨御四海,法師豈更得云『無一』?卦有乾,坤,天有日,月,皇后配於天子,即是二人,法師豈更得云『無二』?今者帝德廣臨,無幽不照,昆蟲草木,皆得其生,法師豈更得云『無是』?今既四海為家,萬方歸順,唯有宇文黑獺,獨阻皇風,法師豈更得云『無非』?」於是僧遂嘿然無以應,高祖撫掌大笑。

Source: Qiyan lu 啓顏錄, by Hou Bai 侯白 (fl. ca. 581), in Taiping Guangji 太平廣記, comp. Li Fang 李昉 (925-96), fol. 247, in Lidai xiaohua ji 歷代笑話集, Wang Liqi 王利器, ed. (Hong Kong: Xinyue Chubanshe, c. 1958), pp. 10-11.

Image credit: Two clay-baked feet, Roman votive offering; Wellcome Images



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