Maneesha, one of the most important things to be remembered all along is that the Zen master is not a philosopher. He is not rational. Basically he is very irrational and absurd, but miraculously he manages – from his absurdity, from his contradictory statements – to make the message clear to you. Today he may say something and tomorrow something else. If you bring your logical mind into it, you will think that you are being confused. But there are different ways of saying the same thing. In fact even in contradictions the same message can be given.
This is one of the great contributions of Zen, that there are no contradictions. Everything is expressing the same truth, the same reality. The smallest piece of grass and the biggest star are not in any way giving you a different message. Nobody is lower and nobody is higher in existence. There is no hierarchy. And as far as truth is concerned, fundamentally it is inexpressible. But if you want to express the inexpressible, then you can use even contradictory terms to indicate the same thing.
Two different fingers, coming from two different angles, can point to the same moon. The mind may find it difficult. In fact the Zen master’s whole work is to make things so difficult for the mind that you become tired of the mind, tired of thinking, and you put it aside. And that moment of restfulness, when you have put the mind aside, brings you to the door of existence.
This small anecdote is very significant.
Ma Tzu stayed with his master, Nagaku, for more than ten years. On leaving him, he became abbot of the Kai Yuan Temple at Chiang-si.
In his sermons, Ma Tzu followed closely the basic insights of the Sixth Patriarch, Eno – particularly, that there is no buddha outside of one’s own mind.
This word ‘mind’ can be understood as the ordinary mind, full of thoughts, emotions, sentiments and attachments. And this same mind can also be thought of as empty. You can empty it of all thoughts, of all emotions. And the moment this mind is empty, there is no difference between mind and no-mind. So there is no need to be confused.
A few masters will use: “The present mind contains everything, even the buddha.” But the condition is that the mind should be empty. Then it, itself, is the buddha.
Buddha’s own statement is significant. He says, “This very body, the buddha; this very mind, the lotus paradise.” But continuously he is saying that you are not the body, you are not the mind. Then what does he mean with this contradiction? He is simply saying that if you are not identified with the body, this very body is as much a buddha as anything in the world. If you are not filled with thoughts, this very mind is as spacious as the whole sky. He is not contradicting himself, he is simply using contradictory ways to indicate the truth.
Eno was the man who had introduced Ma Tzu to Nangaku. Eno was getting old and Ma Tzu was very young, so he did not take the responsibility of guiding Ma Tzu into meditation. He gave the responsibility to Nangaku who was going to be his successor when he died. But the way Eno introduced Ma Tzu to Nangaku was so insightful: “Be very careful with this young man. He is going to be a buddha, and he is going to be your successor, just as you are my successor. Be very reverent, grateful, that you have got a man who is on the verge of becoming a buddha in your hands.”
Ma Tzu remained closer to Eno’s teachings although Eno was not his master, but Eno had seen his potentiality – the possibility, the invisible future. And at the same time he had seen that his death was coming closer, so taking on the responsibility of a disciple at this moment would be wrong, an particularly of a disciple who needs tremendous care because he is on the very verge of exploding. Being very old he thought it would be better that Ma Tzu should be given into the hands of his successor, Nangaku.
Nangaku was a master in his own right. His teaching was not just a following of Eno. In the world of Zen it is not necessary that a disciple should follow the master in details. All that is necessary is that the disciple should understand the master’s presence, his fundamental realization. It should not remain a belief to the disciple, it should become an actual taste. Doctrines and beliefs don’t matter at all. What matters is the master’s presence and his realization, and the splendor that the realization brings with it.
Eno never asked Nangaku to follow him – Nangaku had his own approach – but he had chosen Nangaku to be his successor. This is very strange. It does not happen in any other place in the whole world. People choose successors to follow them in detail. But Zen is unique in every way. It is not a question of following, it is that this man is also realized. His methods may be different, his devices may be different, his approaches may be different, but he is a realized man, he can be a successor.
But strangely, although Eno had given the responsibility of his initiation to Nangaku, Ma Tzu remained fundamentally close to Eno’s teaching, to Eno’s method of indicating the truth. Eno had caught a glimpse of his future. Nangaku took every care and helped him to become an enlightened master. But he was always more grateful towards Eno for this very reason: that he had refused to initiate him, because his death was very close; and he had put him in the hands of the right person, who would take care of him, because his spring was coming soon. He would be blossoming, and Eno would not be there.
Certainly, Ma Tzu and Eno, without any relationship of master and disciple, came very close in their hearts. Their hearts started beating in the same rhythm. His master’s teaching was in many ways different, particularly from Eno’s teaching that there is no buddha outside of one’s own mind.
But remember it, when Eno says ‘mind’, you can translate it as ‘no-mind’. What he means is ‘empty mind’ which is equivalent to ‘no-mind’. What is left in an empty mind? – just a pure space. It depends on you whether you prefer to call it the empty mind or no-mind. But both are equivalent, not in the dictionaries, but in the existential experience.
One day, when Ma Tzu was on his way home from Chiang-si, he stopped to visit his old master, Nangaku.
He is a master now in his own right. He had gone to Chiang-si and was returning home from there, and he stopped to visit his hold master, Nangaku. When Ma Tzu had burned incense and made bows to Nangaku, Nangaku gave him this verse . . .
This too has to be understood. Even when a disciple becomes enlightened, it does not matter, his gratefulness becomes even fuller. It is not that now there is no need of the master. It is not that “Now I am equal to the master, now I am experiencing the same buddhahood as the master.” No, it is not thought of in that way, because that is the way of the ego. The ego has been lost long ago. The way of gratitude, the way of humbleness is that “Though I may have become a buddha, my master was the indicator towards the right path, and I will remain forever and forever in deep gratitude towards him.”
Sariputta, one of Buddha’s chief disciples, became enlightened. With tears in his eyes he came to Buddha and he said, “I was avoiding enlightenment, but you went on insisting. Now I am enlightened and my eyes are full of tears because I know you will send me away from you, just to spread the fire. And I understand your compassion, that you are continuously aware of the many who can become buddhas; just a little support is needed. Those who have not gone very far away from themselves can be called back very easily.”
Buddha said, “Then why are you crying?”
He said, “I am crying because I will not be able to touch your feet every day as I have been doing for these twenty years.”
Buddha said, “Do one thing. Keep a map with you, and remember in what direction I am dwelling. Just bow down in that direction. Touch the feet symbolically, touch the earth – because after all this body is made of earth, and one day it will go back to the earth. So touching the earth is not only touching my feet, but touching the feet of all the buddhas who have ever happened. They have all dissolved their bodies in the earth. So there is no need, and it does not look right, that an enlightened person should weep and cry.”
Sariputta said, “I don’t care what people think, but the reality is that tears are coming. And according to your teachings, I should be spontaneous and authentic. Even if you say, ‘Don’t weep,’ I am not going to listen. Tears are coming, what can I do? I cannot be a hypocrite, smiling though the eyes are full of tears.”
It is said that Sariputta, wherever he was, in the morning would look at the map, to find exactly where
Buddha was, and in that direction he would bow down and touch the feet of Buddha. He came to have thousands of disciples of his own and they said, “It does not look right. You need not do such a gesture. You are a buddha yourself.”
He said, “It is true, I am a buddha myself, but I would not have been a buddha if I had not met Gautam the Buddha. It is the meeting with this man that triggered something in me, burned all that was false and brought all that was true in its pristine purity and clarity. I owe so much to this man that there is no way to pay him. All that I can do is touch his feet from miles away.”
He continued to his very last breath. Before he died – he died before Gautam Buddha – the last thing he said to his disciples was, “Forgive me because you cannot see those invisible feet. Let me touch the feet of my master for the last time.” And he bowed down, tears flowing from his eyes, and he died in that posture. He did not get up again. This is true humanity – humbleness, devotion, love, trust.
Ma Tzu, visiting his old master, burned incense in front of him as you burn incense before a buddha statue and made bows to Nangaku. Nangaku gave him this gatha, this verse:
“I advise you not to go home.
If you do, the Tao is immovable.
And an old woman next door to you
Will talk of your infant name.”
Ma Tzu respectfully accepted it and swore to himself never to go home, however often he might be reborn. Staying only in Chiang-si, he had disciples come to him from all parts of China.
Very strange but meaningful advice. Nangaku told him not to go home. It implies many things. It implies that now you are homeless. The moment you become enlightened you don’t have a home, not even your body is your home. Now the whole existence is your home, so stop this old habit of going home once in a while. There is no home for you anymore. You are a homeless cloud floating in the sky, in total freedom, unattached to anything.
If you do, the Tao is immovable.
Nangaku is saying, “If you don’t listen to my advice and still go home, remember that your Tao, your empty buddha inside, never goes anywhere. So you are just acting; just a dead body, a corpse is going. Your real being is immovable; it never goes anywhere; it is always now and here.” And he said, “and an old woman next door to you will talk of your infant name.”
Ma Tzu’s childhood name was Baso. Nangaku is making a joke about his name, that the old woman next door to his home will call him Baso. They will not recognize that he is no more Baso, that he is Ma Tzu, that he is a great master. In their eyes he will be just the same; they have seen him born, and they have seen him growing up. It is very difficult for them to recognize that he has become a buddha, and they will think it very insulting to the Buddha.
Ma Tzu respectfully accepted it and swore to himself never to go home, however often he might be reborn.
He is saying that even if he is born again – although an enlightened person is never born again – he is giving his promise that even if he is born again and again, he will never go home. He has understood his homelessness, his aloneness.
Staying only in Chiang-si, he had disciples come to him from all parts of China.
One day a monk called Ta-mei joined a training assembly of Ma Tzu. Ta-mei asked the master: “What is buddha?”
Ma-Tzu replied: “It is the present mind” – the teaching of Eno that he followed all his life.
But remember that the mind is never in the present; it is either in the past or in the future. In the present is empty mind. You can call it the present mind if you are interested in using the positive words or you can call it no-mind, if you want to use the negative. The truth can be expressed both ways, negatively or positively. The present mind in fact means no-mind. For those who understand the presentness, all mind disappears. Mind can be in the past, mind can be in the future, but never in the present. Hence being in the present simply means being out of the grip of the mind.
Ma Tzu replied: “It is the present mind.”
On hearing this, Ta-mei attained his full enlightenment. He took himself off into the mountains, and over the years hardly noticed the passing of time; he only saw the mountains around him turn green or yellow.
One day, Ma Tzu sent a monk specially to test him. The monk asked Ta-mei, “When you once saw Ma Tzu, by what word did you become enlightened?”
Ta-mei replied, “By Ma Tzu’s saying, ‘The present mind is the buddha.’”
“Now his way is another,” The monk told Ta-mei.
“What is it then?” Asked Ta-mei.
“Ma Tzu now says that this very mind which is buddha is neither mind nor buddha,” replied the monk.
This very mind is neither the buddha nor the mind. Now Ma Tzu is teaching this way.
“That old fellow!” said Ta-mei. “When will he cease to confuse the minds of men? Let him go on with his ‘neither mind nor buddha.’ I will stick to this present mind itself is buddha.’”
He has understood clearly that Ma Tzu has changed his expression from positive to the negative. He can confuse an ordinary man, but he cannot confuse an enlightened man anymore.
“That old fellow!” said Ta-mei. “When will he cease to confuse the minds of men?”
There was no need to change, the old expression was perfect.
“Let him go on with his ‘neither mind nor buddha.’ I will stick to this present mind itself is buddha.’”
You may think that he is not agreeing with his master, Ma Tzu, but then you will not have understood it. He is agreeing perfectly well. He understands that it means the same. He has just changed the expression from positive to negative. Only the expression is changed, not the expressed. So he says, “Let the old fellow do whatever he wants, but I am going to insist that this present mind itself is the buddha.”
When the messenger told Ma Tzu of this exchange, Ma Tzu commented: “The fruit of a plum has ripened.”
Ma Tzu understood perfectly well that Ta-mei had become enlightened. Any unenlightened man would have been confused because the unenlightened mind can never think that positive and negative can be of the same significance and have the same meaning. There is a place where yes and no are not contradictory.
Ma Tzu said, “The fruit of a plum has ripened.”
Ta-mei’s name, in Chinese, means ‘big plum’.
The moon has no intent to cast
Its shadow anywhere,
Nor does the pond design to
Lodge the moon.
How serene the water of Hirosawa!
Takuan’s monastery was near the lake Hirosawa. In this small poem is contained the whole essence of Zen. The moon has no intent to cast its shadow anywhere . . .
Do you think the moon has any intention to cast its shadow and reflection into thousands of seas and lakes and ponds? It has no intent at all.
And on the other side, Nor does the pond design to lodge the moon.
Neither the pond, the lake or the ocean are desiring to lodge the moon, or are interested to reflect the moon.
How serene the water of Hirosawa!
It is not even disturbed by the reflection of the moon. It does not care. His poem is saying to you to live without intentions, without any goals, without any desire of achievement, any ambition. Just live spontaneously, moment to moment. Whatever happens, accept it joyfully, rejoicingly, without any complaint or grudge.
Even if death comes, let it be welcomed. Dance, sing a song. That has been the tradition in Zen. Each master is expected – and they all have done it – that before dying they should write a small haiku containing their whole teaching.
It shows two things: that they are perfectly aware of death, and that even in death they are not in any sadness. Their haiku says their joy, their fulfillment. Without your asking for anything, existence has given everything to you.
A man who lives with intentions is bound to feel frustration. A man who lives with expectations is bound to feel frustrated because existence has no obligation to you. But if you live without intentions, without expectations, then miraculously you find that everything that you ever dreamed of is being fulfilled. The moon is reflected in the lake – the lake never asked it, the moon never intended it. Existence goes on spontaneously. Don’t bring your desire, your ambition and your expectation; they are the disturbing points. They create a chaos in your mind. But if there is no intention for anything, How serene the water of Hirosawa!
The moon is reflected but the water is not even thrilled. Such a beautiful moon and the Hirosawa lake takes the reflection naturally, spontaneously. If it was not reflected, there would not have been any frustration. Moon or no moon, nothing matters. The lake of Hirosawa is silent. And that should be your inner consciousness – just a silent lake.
Maneesha has asked:
Our beloved master,
How amazing it would be if turned up one evening in Gautam the Buddha Auditorium, and all you could see was a vast hall of empty mirrors, or rows and rows of juicy, ripe plums.
Do you really think it’s possible? Is anything happening? Or better: is nothing happening?
Maneesha, it is happening every day. The whole hall is full of mirrors and full of big plums. Look at Avirbhava, a dancing plum.
From Ma Tzu: The Empty Mirror, Discourse #3
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