The Dharma of the Rat’s Ass


Credit: Fa Ming Shakya

In Memory of Venerable Ming Zhen Shakya

My teacher, more times than I can remember, would say to me at the end of a teaching, “I don’t give a rat’s ass.” It was a teaching that overshadowed whatever she had said beforehand. That’s how powerful it was. That’s how important it became. Today and every day it remains a radiant guiding light for how I live in the Dharma. Let me explain.

Delivered with zeal and at the end of an array of spiritual truths, she’d say,  “I don’t give a rat’s ass,” which remains a long remembered and potent teaching on its own. What it did and still does, is it allows the teachings to be given free of any Zen stink. The teachings are in their own right liberated from any persuasion or hook of the teacher. But a teacher can taint them. The Dharma of her punctuated saying, “I don’t give a rat’s ass,” is a clearing of taints and was given in the most direct, intimate way. Said in such a way, my teacher demonstrated and exemplified a cornerstone of Zen practice. What is that cornerstone?


Don’t get entangled.


She, her ego was not invested in me, my ego in any way. She was not trying to sell me, persuade me, engage me, convert me, flatter me, deceive me, trick me or convince me. No inveigling. It is much like the old idiom, “take it or leave it.” It gave the message that this is the Dharma and there’s nothing else to say. Leaving me free to decide, to choose to hear, to study, to continue or not. It was the Zen message of “Don’t seek from others, (not even me) because if you do, you’ll be further away from who you really are. It is the ultimate teaching of Chan Master Dongshan, “You go it alone now. You are not IT. IT is actually you.”

MIng Zhen Shakya was enormously generous both in her availability to give the teachings and in her delivery of the Zen Dharma. There was a certainty in the direction of the teachings presented but never a confining, imprisoning one. She, long ago, had gone beyond the opposites of right and wrong.


Anytime I was wobbling she’d give me a royal fleur de lis of teachings from the Buddhas and ancestors and would wrap it up with this one from her. “I don’t give a rat’s ass.” After so much generous, erudite and affable Dharma she’d wind it up with telling me she didn’t give a rat’s ass whether I took the teachings to heart or not. It may sound cold-hearted, but it wasn’t. It was an intimate way of making the teaching free. She had no hooks or claws into me of wanting me to be this or that. She neither pulled on me nor shoved me away; she was without entanglement. She lived the Dharma of the not giving a rat’s ass. All for the benefit of those who were lucky enough to make her acquaintance and seek her wisdom.


We all tend to have ideas of what a Zen teacher should be or say, such as lofty, well versed, kind, compassionate, gentle ( the list is endless); but in every case it is some deluded image we conjure up. Meeting an awakened teacher is not the same as our imagined or deluded image of a Zen teacher.

If anyone thinks or believes of her as coarse or crude, you’d be likely to hear her say, “I don’t give a rat’s ass.” That is a piercing arrow through your deluded image of how you think a Dharma heir should be.

The Dharma of the Rat’s Ass is quite a mouthful of Dharma; it pierces delusion.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

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The Basics of the Hua T’ou Method



This is an ancient method used in Chan practice. It is a question asked over and over again and in all circumstances, such as “Who am I?” The question, if done with sincerity, generates doubt and shifts the mind away from selfish mind content. Let us say, as an example, we are in a sticky situation, where the stress is on the rise and confusion is mounting. This type of scenario tends to cultivate self-protective and self-interest strategies making the mind vulnerable to various sorts of harmful errors. To move the mind to the hua t’ou provides a method of letting go of the dusky content in the mind that is gathering (making) the stress and confusion into a storm.

The method takes the mind on the path with words in the form of a question towards the Source of the situation at hand. It is a move backward towards the head of the river (the Source) and inhibits the mind from taking a leap into the rush of defilements and tendencies in the mind. In plain language, it interrupts reactions and habits leaving the mind uncertain.

It is used to generate doubt, an uncertainty of the nature of what is rising. In meditation the mind often travels along a path of self-interest and gathers steam around the particulars of self-interest where the hua t’ou acts as a detour and a return towards the Source. The doubt creates a gap which allows for the possibility of seeing beyond and through the dust of selfishness. The gap allows for a glimpse into what is the true nature of mind by clearing off the clouds of dust allowing a reflection of things as they are to rise even if it is for just a moment. This glimpse is wisdom that runs through all things which lifts up the mind heavenward.

A hua t’ou has the capacity to break up delusive thoughts and ideas about the value and tenacity of selfishness, in whatever form and by whatever name it may appear. It stops the grasping, reaching and clinging of the confusion in the mind as though the confusion is real and inhibits the tendency to make things permanent and fixed.

Humming Bird

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Remember, the Path’s two important rules: Begin and Continue.
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