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Chapter 1: Mastered by Zen

Date-Jitoku, a fine waka poet,
wanted to master Zen.
With this in mind
he made an appointment
to see Ekkei,
Abbot of Shokokuji in Kyoto.

Jitoku went to the master full of hopes,
but as soon as he entered the room
he received a whack.

He was astonished and mortified:
no one had ever dared to strike him before,
but as it is a strict Zen rule
never to say or do anything
unless asked by the master,
he withdrew silently.

He went at once to Dokuon,
who was to succeed Ekkei as abbot
and told him that he planned
to challenge Ekkei to a duel.

“Can’t you see
that the master was being kind to you?”
said Dokuon. “Exert yourself in Zazen
and you will see for yourself
what his treatment of you means.”

For three days and nights
Jitoku engaged in desperate contemplation,
then, suddenly, he experienced an ecstatic awakening.
This satori was approved by Ekkei.

Jitoku called on Dokuon
and thanked him for his advice, saying:
“If it hadn’t been for your wisdom
I would not have had such a transfiguring experience.
And as for the master,
his blow was far from hard enough.”

There are a thousand and one poisons, but nothing like idealism - it is the most poisonous of all poisons. Of course, the most subtle: it kills you, but kills you in such a way that you never become aware of it. It kills you with a style. The ways of idealism are very cunning. Rarely a person becomes aware that he has been committing suicide through it. Once you become aware, you become religious.

Religion is not any ideology. Religion does not believe in any ideals. Religion is to become aware of the impossibility of idealism - of all idealism. Religion is to live here and now, and idealism goes on conditioning your mind to live somewhere else. And only the now exists. There is no other way to live.

The only way is to be here. You cannot be there. The tomorrow is non-existent, it never comes, and idealism believes in the tomorrow. It sacrifices the today at the altar of the tomorrow. It goes on saying to you, “Do something - improve yourself. Do something - change yourself. Do something - become perfect.” It appeals to the ego.

Idealism belongs to the world of the ego. It appeals to the ego that you can be more perfect than you are; in fact you should be more perfect than you are. But each moment is perfect, and it cannot be more perfect than it is.

To understand this is the beginning of a new life, is the beginning of life. To miss this is to commit suicide.

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