Learn Zen From This Old Woman: Iron Grindstone’s Old Cow From The Record of Going Easy

Learn Zen From This Old Woman: Iron Grindstone’s Old Cow From The Record of Going Easy February 27, 2023
We’re deep into winter here at the Neyaashi Zen Hermitage. Intense cold and clarity follow the big storm that swept through much of the country last week, and we’re looking at forecasts for more snow this week. What better time for the Iron Grindstone?!
Iron Grindstone Liú (9th century) was a successor of the great Guīshān. One morning, she met her teacher … and we’re still talking about what unfolded today. The incident became a kōan that is included in the Blue Cliff Record, The Record of Going Easy, and The Record of Empty Hall. Below you’ll find my fresh-off-the-translation block version from The Record of Going Easy (better known as The Book of Serenity, J. Shōyōroku), Case 60: Iron Grindstone’s Old Cow.
The introduction, capping phrases (J. jakugo), and verse highlight the strongly pro-woman stance of Hóngzhì (1091-1157), Wànsōng (1166–1246), and many in the Zen tradition, as well as the delightful play between teacher and student, both of whom rest here in the profundity of mature practice. The verse, especially, expresses the subtle and delicious mood of advanced Zen training, oh, so very well.
As with all the cases in The Record of Going Easy, the great Cáodòng master, Wànsōng, featured in Going Through the Mystery’s One Hundred Questions, wrote the introduction, indicated by the phrase, “Presenting to the assembly, saying….” Cleary sometime translates this phrase as “Pointer.” And although there is a sense that the introduction is pointing to some teaching that is about to come, it is also the presentation itself. In other words, it isn’t just an appetizer, but the whole tamale.
Following the introduction, “Presenting to the assembly, saying,” you’ll find the old case with capping phrases, again by Wànsōng. The capping phrases are indented and italicized. Finally, there is a verse written by the great Cáodòng master, Hóngzhì, who also gathered the one hundred cases. Wànsōng’s capping phrases for each line of verse are again indented and italicized.

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The Record of Going Easy

Case 60: Iron Grindstone’s Old Cow

Presenting to the assembly, saying:
Nose held high, with excellent character, stepping firm and true. Be ready to learn Zen from this old woman. Be seen through and obtain the unattainable opportunity. Only then will you have met a true master of the Way. Yet say, who exactly is this person?

Iron Grindstone Liú went to Guīshān.
We’ve already met.
Shan said, ”Old cow, you’ve come!”
Brushing away wasps, throwing off the scorpions.
Grindstone said, ”There’s going to be a great assembly at Táishān, will you go too?”
Like poison gas from a smokey fire.
Guīshān  lay down.
On the way, he frees himself.
Grindstone went out.
With one push, she changes direction.


Outstanding victories in a hundred battles, now experiencing great peace
Living calmly, working happily
Easygoing, who would be willing to struggle for power?
Forgiving people is not stupid
All day long, the jade whip and the golden war horse are idle
As if they were absent
Throughout one’s life, the cool breeze and bright moon are abundant
Receive and use them – they cannot be used up

Dōshō Port began practicing Zen in 1977 and now co-teaches with his wife, Tetsugan Zummach Sensei, with Vine of Obstacles Zen, an online training group. Dōshō received dharma transmission from Dainin Katagiri Rōshi and inka shōmei from James Myōun Ford Rōshi in the Harada-Yasutani lineage. He is also the author of Keep Me In Your Heart a While: The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri. Dōshō’s translation and commentary on The Record of Empty Hall: One Hundred Classic Koans, was published in 2021 (Shambhala). His third book, Going Through the Mystery’s One Hundred Questions, is now available. Click here to support the teaching practice of Dōshō Rōshi.

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