Chapter 3: The Abbot of Nansen
Nansen, the famous Chinese Zen master,
was in the woods one day, near the temple,
cutting down trees with a huge ax.
A monk, who had come from a distance to pay homage to the master, passed through the woods and came close to the woodcutter. “Is the abbot of Nansen at home?” he asked the woodcutter.
The woodcutter replied to the monk, “I bought this ax for two pieces of copper.” And lifting the ax above the astonished monk’s head he added,
“It is very sharp.” The monk fled in dismay - to discover later that the woodcutter was Nansen himself.
The first thing to be understood, and understood as deeply as possible, is that Zen is nothing special. It is nothing extraordinary. The people who are in search of religion are always, almost always, very egoistic. Their very search starts because their egos are not satisfied with this world. They would like something more precious, to be more of the divine - something extraordinary. Egoists are attracted towards religion more easily - and this is the problem, because religion says that if the ego is there, there can be no growth. And egoists are easily attracted towards religion, but religion starts only when you drop the ego.
But this world is temporary; nothing is permanent here, and the ego would like something permanent, eternal. Everything in this world is made of the same stuff as dreams, and the ego is not content. The ego would like things made of solid rock. So the ego condemns this world and starts a journey towards the eternal. But the eternal has its own conditions, and this is the first condition: if you don’t drop the ego you cannot enter the gate.
Religion basically is the understanding that all the trips of the ego are materialistic. Even the trip towards God is materialistic. It is not a question of what you seek, it is a question of who the seeker is. If the ego is the seeker then whatsoever you seek is material, is of this world. You may call it God, you may call it moksha, you may call it anything you like: the truth, the absolute, the Brahman - it doesn’t matter. If the ego is the seeker, then whatsoever you seek is of this world. When the ego is not the seeker then everything, everything, I say, is of that world.
Even if you chop wood, even if you are a small shopkeeper, a clerk, a sweeper, nobody in particular, just ordinary - nobody knows about you, nobody ever thinks that you are a chosen one, nobody will ever hear about you - that doesn’t matter. If the ego has dropped within, whatsoever you do is divine. Otherwise the ego poisons everything, and whatsoever you do is of the devil and not of the divine.
Zen is just being ordinary. And Zen is the essence of all religion, just to be ordinary. Realizing the fact that ego creates a hell around it, that ego is the source of all hell, that it has all the seeds of misery, anguish, one simply drops it without a second thought. Once one simply realizes the fact that one is suffering because of the ego, one simply drops it - but not in search of something.