When the Chan master Daji of Jiangxi was studying with the Chan master Dahui of Nanyue, after intimately receiving the mind seal, he always practiced seated meditation. Once Nanyue went to Dajii and said, "Worthy one, what are you figuring to do, sitting there in meditation?"
We should give concentrated effort to the investigation of this question. Does it mean that there must be some "figuring" above and beyond seated meditation? Is there not yet a path to be "figured" outside the bounds of seated meditation? Should there be no "figuring" at all? Or does it ask what kind of "figuring" occurs at the very time we are practicing seated meditation? We should make concentrated effort to understand this in detail. Rather than love "the carved dragon", we should go on to love the real dragon. We should learn that both the carved and the real dragons have the ability [to produce] clouds and rain. Do not "value what is far away", and do not despise it; become completely familiar with it. Do not "despise what is near at hand", and do not value it; become completely familiar with it. Do not "take the eyes lightly", and do not give them weight. Do not "give weight to the ears", and do not take them lightly. Make your eyes and ears clear and sharp. 
Jiangxi said, "I'm figuring to make a buddha."
We should clarify and penetrate this saying. What does he mean by saying "make a buddha"? Is he saying "make a buddha" is to be made a buddha by the buddha? Is he saying "make a buddha" is to "make a buddha" of the buddha? Is he saying "make a buddha" is one or two faces of the buddha emerging? Is it that "figuring to make a buddha" is "sloughing off", and [that what is meant here is a] "figuring to make a buddha" as [the act of] sloughing off? Or is he saying by "figuring to make a buddha" that, while there are ten thousand ways to "make a buddha", they become entangled in this "figuring"? 
It should be recognized that Daji's saying means that seated meditation is inevitably "figuring to make a buddha", seated meditation is inevitably the "figuring" of "making a buddha". This "figuring" must be prior to "making a buddha"; it must be subsequent to "making a buddha"; and it must be at the very moment of "making a buddha". Now what I ask is this: How many [ways of] "making a buddha" does this one "figuring" entangle? These entanglements, moreover, must themselves "intertwine" with entanglements. At this point, entanglements, as individual instances of the entirety of "making a buddha", are always direct expressions of that entirety, are all individual instances of "figuring". We should not avoid this one "figuring". When we avoid the one "figuring", we "destroy our body and lose our life." When we destroy our body and lose our life, this is the entanglement of the one "figuring". 
At this point, Nanyue took up a tile and began to rub it on a stone. At length, Daji asked, "Master, what are you doing?" 
Who indeed could fail to see that he was "polishing a tile"? Who could see that he was "polishing a tile"? Still, "polishing a tile" has been questioned in this way: "What are you doing?" This "what are you doing?" is itself always "polishing a tile". This land and the other world may differ, but [in both] there is the essential message that "polishing a tile" never ceases. Not only should we avoid deciding that what we see is what we see, we should be firmly convinced that there is an essential message to be studied in all the ten thousand activities. We should know that, just as we may see the buddha without knowing or understanding him, so we may see water and yet not know water, may see mountains and yet not know mountains. The precipitate assumption that the phenomena before one's eyes offer no further passage is not the study of the buddha. 
Nanyue said, "I'm polishing this to make a mirror."
We should be clear about the meaning of these words. There is definitely a reason for "polishing [a tile] to make a mirror": there is the "k˘an of realization"; this is no mere empty contrivance. A "tile" may be a "tile" and a "mirror" a "mirror", but when we vigorously investigate the principle of "polishing", we shall find there are many standard models. The "old mirror" and the "bright mirror" -- these are "mirrors" made through "polishing a tile". If we do not realize that these "mirrors" come from "polishing a tile", then the buddhas and ancestors have no utterance; the buddhas and ancestors do not open their mouths, and we do not perceive the buddhas and ancestors exhaling. 
Daji said, "How can you produce a mirror by polishing a tile?"
Indeed, though [the one who is] "polishing a tile" be "a man of iron", who does not borrow another's power, "polishing a tile" is not "producing a mirror". Even if it is "producing a mirror", it must be quick about it.
Nanyue replied, "How can you make a buddha by sitting in meditation (zazen)?"
This is clearly understood: there is a reason that sitting in meditation does not await "making a buddha"; there is nothing obscure about the essential point that "making a buddha" is not connected with sitting in meditation.
Daji asked, "Then, what is right?"
Although this saying resembles a simple question about this, it is also asking about that "rightness".Consider, for example, the occasion when one friend meets another: the fact that he is my friend means that I am his friend. "What" and "right" emerge simultaneously. 
Nanyue replied, "When someone is driving a cart, if the cart doesn't go, should he beat the cart or beat the ox?" 
Now, when he says, "if the cart doesn't go", what does he mean by the cart's "going" or the cart's "not going"? For example, is water's flowing the cart's "going", or is water's not flowing the cart's going? We can say that flowing is water's "not going", and it should also be that water's "going" is not its flowing. Therefore, in investigating the saying, "if the cart doesn't go", we should approach it both in terms of "not going" and in terms of not "not going"; for it is time. The saying, "if [the cart] doesn't go" is not saying simply that it does not go. 
"Should he beat the cart or beat the ox?" Should there be "beating the cart" as well as "beating the ox"? Are "beating the cart" and "beating the ox" the same or are they not the same? In the world, there is no method of "beating the cart"; but, though commoners have no method of "beating the cart", we know that on the way of the buddha there is a method of "beating the cart"; this is the very eye of study. Even though we study that there is a method of "beating the cart", it should not be equivalent to "beating the ox"; we should make detailed, concentrated effort [on this point]. Even though the method of "beating the ox" is common in the world, we should go on to investigate and study "beating the ox" on the way of the buddha. Is this "ox-beating" the water buffalo? Or "ox-beating" the iron bull? Or "ox-beating" the clay ox? Is this beating with a whip? Is it beating with the entire world? Beating with the entire mind? Is this to beat out the marrow? Is it to beat with the fist? There should be the fist beating the fist; there should be the ox beating the ox. 
10. Chan Master Daji is the posthumous title of Mazu Daoyi (709-788); Chan Master Dahui is Nanyue Huairang (677-744). Their conversation can be found at JDCDL, T.51.240c18ff; but note that D˘gen's introduction to the conversation here (as in his SBS, DZZ.2.202) includes elements from Mazu's biography (JDCDL, T.51.245c26f) to make it appear -- as the original version does not -- that Mazu had already received his master's certification when the conversation took place. A similar version of the story appears in SBGZ koky˘.
11. "Do not 'value what is far away'": see above, note 4.
"Do not 'take the eyes lightly'": From the old Chinese saying, "To give weight to the ears and take the eyes lightly is the constant failing of the common man".
The "carved dragon" (ch˘ryű) alludes to the ancient Chinese story of the Duke of She, who loved the image of the dragon but was terrified of the real thing. For interpretation of the two dragons here, see supplemental note 5.
12. "Sloughing off" (datsuraku): no doubt an ellipsis for "sloughing off body and mind (shinjin datsuraku), D˘gen's famous term for Zen awakening.
"Entangled" here renders katt˘ su, D˘gen's verbal form of the "vines and creepers" used in Zen to express the spiritual complications of language -- including the language of Zen discourse on the basis of which the meditator "figures to make a Buddha." See Term Glossary: "katt˘".
13. "Destroy our body and lose our life" (s˘shin shitsumy˘): From the famous problem, posed by the tenth-century figure Xiangyan Zhixian, of the man hanging by his teeth over a thousand-foot cliff who is asked the meaning of Bodhidharma's arrival from the west: "If he opens his mouth to answer, he will destroy his body and lose his life". (JDCDL, T.51.284B23ff.)
The notion of entertwining entanglements here is probably from a saying of Rujing, that the bottle gourd vine intertwines with itself (Nyoj˘ goroku, T.48.128b20), a remark praised as unprecedented in SBGZ katt˘. There D˘gen interprets katt˘ as succession to the dharma (shih˘) and claims that true Buddhist practice is not merely, as is usually thought, to cut off the roots of entanglements but to interwine entanglements with entanglements.
For an interpretation of this passage, see supplemental note 6.
14. Or, "What are you making?" (sa somo).
15. D˘gen discusses the difficulty of knowing water and mountains in his SBGZ Sansuiky˘.
"This land and the other world (shido takai)": Some commentators take this to indicate all the various realms in all directions, including the various buddha lands. (See, e.g., SBGZ MG.4,101.)
16. The "old mirror" (koky˘) and "bright mirror" (meiky˘) are venerable symbols for the Buddha nature, or Buddha mind, which are by definition unproduced, and by standard Chan account quite unaffected by polishing. D˘gen seems to be saying here that, while the tile cannot become the mirror, there is no mirror apart from polishing the tile; i.e., the act of polishing is itself the mirror. Cf. his similar remarks on this line in SBGZ koky˘ (DZZ.2:43.5ff).
17. Mazu's question here (ikan sokuze) might be more naturally put, "Then, what should I do?" But (as in his earlier treatment of "how do you think" and "not thinking") D˘gen seems to be reading the question as a declarative sentence and suggesting that the interrogative term "what" (ikan; often taken here to indicate the practice of zazen) is itself what is "right" (sokuze; usually understood here as "making a buddha"), or that, like the relationship between the effort of "figuring" and the goal of "making a Buddha", the two are interdependent.
"'What' and 'right' emerge simultaneously": Literally, "'what is right' is a simultaneous appearance." The translation takes apart the expression ikan sokuze in keeping with the above interpretation.
18. "Should he beat the cart?" (tasha sokuze): The translation here loses the syntactical parallel to Mazu's question (and D˘gen's analysis of it); literally, "to beat the cart is right?"
For the metaphor of the cart, see supplemental note 7.
19. In this passage, D˘gen is doubtless playing on the Buddhist paradox of impermanence: that, while all things are changing and hence always "going" even when seemingly at rest, each dharma is momentary -- or, as is said, "abides in its own position" (jű h˘i) -- and hence does not "go" through time.
"Water's flowing (suiryű)": The notion of water's "not flowing" is best known from the line attributed to Fu Dashi (497-569): "The bridge flows and the water doesn't" (JDCDL, T.51.430b7). D˘gen explores this and other notions of water in his SBGZ sansuiky˘.
"For it is time (toki)": There are two lines of interpretation of this cryptic remark: (a) that, whether the cart is going or not going, it is [present in] time; (b) that both going and not going are present in each time. SBGZ MG (4.115): "Impermanence (muj˘) is itself permanence (uj˘)"; SBGZS (4.116): "The k˘an is realized (k˘an genj˘) in each time (ichiji) as this 'going' and 'not going'; SBGZKT (2.564): "Both 'going' and 'not going' are 'time'."
20. "Beating the cart" here is most often interpreted to refer to the physical practice of zazen, and "beating the ox" to the mental process of "making a buddha". (E.g., MG.4.115; KT.2.559.) The distinction here is perhaps akin to that made in the SBGZ shinjin gakud˘, where D˘gen speaks of "studying with the mind" (shin o mote gaku [su] and "studying with the body" (mi o mote gaku su). (1:27.8-9)
"Ox-beating" (dagyű su): This odd English expression seeks to retain something of the style of D˘gen's use here of the double accusative in such forms as suikogyű wo dagyű su.