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Chapter 6: The Ultimate Here

On one occasion, as Joshu was receiving new arrivals in his monastery, he asked one of them, “Have you been here before?”
“Yes,” the monk replied.
“Help yourself to a cup of tea!” Joshu said to him. Then he turned to another new arrival and said, “Have you been here before?”
“No, your reverence,” the visitor replied. “This is my first visit here.”
Joshu said to him, “Help yourself to a cup of tea!”
The prior of the monastery took Joshu aside and said, “One had been here before, and you gave him a cup of tea. The other had not been here, and you also gave him a cup of tea. What is the meaning of this?”
Joshu called out loudly, “Prior!”
“Yes?” The prior replied.
“Help yourself to a cup of tea!” instructed Joshu.

Maneesha, the way of Zen is very light, very weightless. It expresses itself in the simplest way. But just because of that, millions of people who think themselves intelligent misunderstand it. The obviousness, the simplicity, becomes a barrier to them. The mind is always interested in the impossible.

It has to be understood why mind is always interested in the impossible: because the impossible can never be achieved, and mind can go on living, gathering more and more force, taking you farther and farther away from yourself. Because the impossible cannot be achieved, it is a great victory of the mind. The mind avoids the obvious and the simple because they are not only achievable, they are already achieved.

So it is a very political strategy, a diplomatic effort on the part of the mind, not to let you see the obvious - the buddha that is you.

In this simple anecdote you laughed; you laughed as if it is just a joke. It says everything that needs to be said, it contains the whole essence of Zen. But you laughed because you did not understand its implications. Sometimes one laughs because he does not understand; sometimes one laughs because he understands; sometimes one laughs just to hide the fact that he has not understood. You laughed because it looks like a joke - but it only looks like a joke. It is the whole philosophy of Zen. Now let me read it to you with its implications..

On one occasion, as Joshu was receiving new arrivals in his monastery, he asked one of them, “Have you been here before?”

Small things to be noted: one, the master himself is at the reception desk receiving new arrivals. Zen is an effort to look into your potentialities. Why waste time? - not even a few moments. So the master is receiving new arrivals at the gate of the monastery. In the first encounter with each new arrival it will be determined whether he is worthwhile to work upon, or just to let him have a cup of tea and move on.

And the question that he asked does not mean what you think it means. “Have you been here before?” He is not talking about the ordinary “here”; he is talking about the ultimate “here.” It is not concerned with the place, the monastery, or Joshu. It is concerned with a meditative state where time ceases and only now-ness remains; where space disappears and only here-ness is left behind.

This now and here, these two words, contain the whole approach of Zen. If you can be now and here, nothing else has to be done. Every door of existential mystery will be opened unto you.

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