Maneesha, this is the last talk on Hyakujo, and the piece that you have chosen is the strangest – a beautiful ending, showing Hyakujo at his peak.
On one occasion, Isan, Goho and Ungan, were all standing together in attendance on Hyakujo.
These three were the most intimate disciples. One of the three was going to be the successor – so was the rumor. In the thousands of disciples these three were possible successors. And every master, before choosing, asks a question which is in fact a koan which cannot be answered.
Hyakujo said to Isan . . .
This was the evening of his life, time to depart from the world. He was in search now for whom to transmit the light that he had carried his whole life. He asked Isan, “With your mouth and lips closed, how would you say it?”
Two things: first, the “it” is the ultimate experience. Zen is very particular. There have been gods which are male gods, created by male chauvinists: “How can a god be a woman?” And there have been women goddesses in the primitive tribes, far closer to the idea of the father god than the mother goddess, because the mother gives birth to life. God can be conceived as the whole womb of universe. He creates the world. It seems to be more human to conceive of God as a woman, but the male chauvinist mind won’t allow it. So only in very primitive tribes is there still some idea of mother goddesses. But all over the world, in the so-called civilized societies, the male chauvinist has replaced the mother goddesses and has put father gods.
To avoid this stupid controversy about whether God is a man or a woman, Zen calls the ultimate experience, it – neither he nor she. That comes very close to the point of how God can be male, or God can be female. It can only be a neutral life principle which can express itself in thousands of ways in men, in women, in trees, in mountains. Those are all just his expressions. In reality, hidden behind all these expressions, is a pure life principle. It can only be called it.
So when Hyakujo asked, “With your mouth and lips closed, how would you say it?”
Those who are not acquainted with the world of Zen, will be simply surprised, “What are you asking, what is it! In the first place you are asking an impossible thing: ‘With your mouth and lips closed,’ and in the second place you are asking, ‘How would you say it?’ – two mysteries in one question.”
Isan said, “I would ask you to say it.” He challenged his masters: “It is impossible, but I will give you a chance. If I cannot say it, I want you to say it. With your lips closed, with your mouth shut, say it.”
Hyakujo said, “I could say it, but if I did so, I fear I should have no successors.”
What he is saying is, “If I have to say it, then you are not capable of being my successor. I can say it. Neither the lips are needed nor the mouth. Just a good hit and you will know it that I have said it.” Ordinarily Hyakujo was not very much into hitting people. Perhaps this was the first time he had gone so far: “My hit is going to be so great that perhaps you will fall dead. I won’t have any successors. And even if you survive my hit, you would have disqualified yourself. You have not answered. Rather than answering my question, you have questioned me – and this is a test to choose a successor.”
Hyakujo turned to Goho. “With your mouth and lips closed, how would you say it?” He asked his second disciple.
Goho said, “Osho! You should shut up!”
It is a little better than the first answer from Isan: “I would ask you to say it.” He is simply accepting his defeat but hiding it in a circular way rather than saying, “I cannot say it.” Even if he had remained silent without saying it, that would have been far better. But very stupidly he said, “I would ask you . . .” He was not a master, and he was not going to be chosen to be his successor. Hyakujo was the master almost on the verge of death.
The second disciple Goho did a little better. Goho said, “Osho!” Osho is a very honorable word. There are many respectful words, but the sweetness of Osho, the love, the respect, the gratitude, all are together in it. It is just like Christians using ‘reverend’, but that is no comparison to it. Just the very sound of Osho – even if we don’t understand Japanese, the very sound is very sweet. He said, “Osho! You should shut up!”
It looks very contradictory, on the one hand addressing him with the most honorable word in Japanese, and on the other hand telling him “You should shut up!” but that is how Zen is. It is as sharp as a sword – it cuts hard and straight to the heart – and it is as soft as a lotus leaf. It is both together. It is not right for the disciple to say to the master, “You should shut up!” To avoid the disrespectfulness of his answer, he first addresses the master, Osho! Don’t misunderstand me. I have great respect and love for you, but you are asking nonsense. You should shut up. At the moment of death, have you gone a little senile? Just shut up!
Hyakujo said, “In the distant land where no one stirs, I shall shade my eyes with my hand and watch for you.”
Beautifully, he has rejected. He is not accepted as a successor because he has not answered the question. But yet he has been very careful. Although he has not answered, he has been very loving, honoring, grateful. Out of this gratitude and love he has earned a special virtue. Hyakujo says, “In the distand land . . .” Somewhere in the universe, if we meet sometime, where no one stirs – where everything is silent, utterly quiet – I shall shade my eyes with my hand and watch for you. He is saying, “You can be my companion, but you cannot be my successor. Somewhere faraway in the distant future at some corner of the universe I will watch for you. You will reach to the goal. Of that I am certain.” But saying this he has rejected him as a successor. His answer was better than Isan’s answer.
Then Hyakujo asked Ungan, “With your mouth and lips closed, how would you say it?”
Ungan said, “Osho, do you have them or not” It is a little better. With tremendous respect he says, “Osho, what are you asking, do you have it already or not. If you have it, then what is the point of asking. And if you don’t have it, you will not understand it.” But this too is not the answer. Although the second answer is better than the other, Hyakujo sadly said, “My successors will be missing.” I will not have any successor, it seems. You are all well versed, you are all great scholars, you have tremendous love and respect for me, but that is not enough for the successor.
What is enough, what is needed is that the successor should be able to say it. His whole life will be devoted to teaching people, to provoking people, to challenging people to get it. If he cannot say it, how can he be a successor?
A successor has to be a master. You are all mystics but none of you is capable of being a successor, a master. This will help you to understand. The mystic is one who can experience, but is not articulate enough that through some gestures, some device he can manage to convey it to others.
Out of a hundred mystics perhaps one is a master, because the task is immensely difficult. To say it perhaps is the most impossible thing in the world. You can go roundabout, you can bring the person to the experience by creating false devices, but you cannot say it. Those false devices need a very articulate craftsman – a master who knows that even lies can be used to indicate the truth. Hyakujo said, “Perhaps I will not have any successors.”
A little biographical note:
All that is known about Hyakujo’s last days is that once, when he was getting rather old and feeble, his monks tried to persuade him not to work, but their words had no effect on him.
Fearing for his health, they finally resorted to hiding his working tools from him. But Hyakujo refused to eat, following his own precept of: “A day without work is a day without food.” Finally, his monks returned his tools. Hyakujo died in 814 at the age of 90.
He did not choose anyone as a successor. He left it to the assembly to find out a successor. So the assembly of the sannyasins nominated a successor. This nomination is just like nominating a pope; he is not authentically a successor.
From Hyakujo: The Everest of Zen, Discourse #9
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