Chapter 10: The Song of All Songs
It was the turn of the abbot to laugh. He said, “You are certainly mad. A wooden Buddha has no relics.” Tennen asked. “Are you certain?” The abbot said, “Yes, I am certain. How can a wooden Buddha have relics?” Then Tennen said. “Bring other Buddhas too. Your temple has many, you need not have so many. And the night is cold and I am shivering. See the living Buddha is shivering and the wooden Buddhas are sitting on their pedestals. Bring them.”
The abbot could not do it but Tennen brought another two Buddhas and threw them in the fire. At that moment the abbot became a little doubtful about his own saying that a wooden Buddha has no relics. Now he started feeling guilty. If he had not said that, at least two Buddhas would have been saved. Now he was guilty. This man was mad but what was he doing here and why didn’t he stop him? But he couldn’t. He himself had said that a wooden Buddha had no relics so how could he stop Tennen?
A great doubt arose in him and therefore, the story says, the abbot tell into hell.
But not Tennen. He had burned the Buddha but he never fell into any hell - he reached nirvana.
A strange story, very illogical. If Tennen had gone to the seventh hell we would have understood. It serves him right. But Tennen is in nirvana, sitting with Buddha himself, maybe taking a cup of tea, gossiping. And the abbot is suffering in the seventh hell. These Zen people are strange. What type of stories do they make?
But there is logic in it, great logic in it. The logic is that when Tennen burned the Buddha there was no doubt in his mind, not a single doubt. In fact, it was not a Buddha at all, it was just wood. What nonsense to call wood Buddha. Just because you have carved a form on it does not make it a buddha. Because he was so certain he could bring two more statues and enjoy the fire - and the night was certainly cold.
I am all in favor of what Tennen did. He did well. And Buddha must have enjoyed it in nirvana! Sitting there in his moksha he must have enjoyed it. This man was doing well, perfectly well. That’s what he had been teaching his whole life: don’t look for the formless in the form, don’t look for the message in the word. Go deeper. Enter into the formless. Don’t look for the soul in the body. Go deeper. Reach the inner emptiness.
And that’s what Tennen had done. When he poked his staff in the ashes what was he saying? He was saying that this was simply a wooden body, there were not even bones in it. So what to say about the soul? This is just wood, dead wood. He was absolutely certain; his certainty was utterly absolute.
But the abbot doubted. He became a little doubtful. “What have I said? Have I committed a crime?” He must have shivered deep in his backbone. He must have trembled. That fear, that doubt, that trembling, threw him into hell.