Koan of the Week – Shangu’s Sweet Olive Blossoms



One day the poet Shangu was visiting Huitang Zuxin. Huitang said, “You know the passage in which Confucius says, ‘My friends, do you think I’m hiding things from you? In fact, I am hiding nothing from you.’ It’s just the same with the Great Matter of Zen. Do you understand this?”
“I don’t understand,” Shangu replied
Later, Huitang and Shangu were walking in the mountains where the air was filled
with the scent of the sweet-olive* blossoms. Huitang asked, “Do you smell the fragrance of the blossoms?”
Shangu said, “I do.”
Huitang said, “You see, I’m hiding nothing from you.”

At that moment Shangu was enlightened. Two months later he visited Sixin Wuxin. Sixin greeted him and said, “I’ll die and you’ll die and we’ll end up burnt into two heaps of ashes. At that time, where will we meet?”

Shangu, uncertain, could not respond. Later, while on the road to Qiannan, he awoke from a nap and suddenly understood what Sixin meant. Thereafter he attained the Samadhi of perfect freedom.

*The Sweet-Olive of the koan appears to be Osmanthus fragrans a native of Asia and one of the olive family also commonly known as Tea-Olive, Fragrant-Olive or Sweet Osmanthus.

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