The Diamond Trap and the Fortune Teller: Going Through the Mystery 40

The Diamond Trap and the Fortune Teller: Going Through the Mystery 40 February 23, 2023

In this dharma talk from February 19, 2023, I discuss Question 40 from Going Through the Mystery’s One Hundred Questions and along the way include an episode from “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” from 1964 as well as a story about a visit to a fortune teller and asking if I will realize awakening.

See below for the excerpt from the text.

Click here for much more about Going Through the Mystery’s One Hundred Questions.

40 Who can escape Yangqi’s diamond trap?

Yuantong asked: “Who can escape Yangqi’s diamond trap?”
Wansong replied: “Passed through.”

Linquan’s Verse

Passed through
This great barrier, twisting around the heavens
Lightning and flint sparks move slowly
Inevitably, they intimately see through


Yangqi Fanghui (Japanese, Yogi; 995-1049) was an important teacher in the Linji succession. As a young man, he was a tax collector, but got into trouble with his higher-ups, and so had to flee into obscurity. What better way to hide than become a monk?
This obscurity didn’t last, however, and he became the monastery director under Shishuang Chuyuan (also known as Ciming, 986-1039). Yangqi repeatedly asked him about the essence of the buddhadharma, and Shishuang repeatedly told him, “You are the temple director. Please take care of temple affairs.”
After knocking his teacher into the mud, Yangqi finally got the message and realized great awakening. He founded a line of teachers that continued through Hakuin in Japan and still continues today in China, Korea, Japan, and the West. Yangqi’s diamond trap is usually paired with a chestnut burr. We’ll deal with the chestnut in the next chapter.
Yangqi’s diamond trap and chestnut burr is a teaching device to help people wake up. The “diamond” here, 金剛, could also be rendered “vajra” or “adamantine.” And “trap,” 圈, could also be “ring” or “pitfall.”
The main idea is that you find yourself in an incredibly difficult jam, a diamond trap, twisting and turning through the heavens, even. How could you get free?
The Cautionary Instructions for the Dark Gate, a Chan text from the fourteenth century, written by a Yangqi lineage monk named Yongzhong, has this promise for those who pass through the diamond trap, who swallow the chestnut burr:
“In the Yangqi transmission, we use the diamond trap and chestnut burr to test mistaken and correct. You can pass through the Iron Mountain Enclosure, but not the diamond trap. You can swallow the great ocean, but not a chestnut burr. If you swallow one burr, you can swallow one hundred, ten million, one hundred million burrs without obstruction. If you can pass through the diamond trap, you can pass through one hundred, ten million, one hundred million.”
Maybe you can escape the Iron Mountain Enclosure that in ancient Indian cosmology surrounds the human world, or swallow the great ocean with some miraculous tricks or psychedelic trips. But even supernormal powers cannot free one from the diamond trap that makes flashes of lightning and sparks from a flintstone appear to move slowly.
The last line of Linguan’s verse is like comfort food after a tough sesshin: “Inevitably, they intimately see through.”
A good dharma friend might say, “It’s okay, really, it’s okay. Put your head on my shoulder and cry for a while.”
Inevitably. Sounds like it might be a while.
How to be free of the diamond trap?

Dōshō Port began practicing Zen in 1977 and now co-teaches with his wife, Tetsugan Zummach Sensei, with the 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 ofKeep 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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