Chapter 5: Master of the New Monastery
Hyakujo called his monks together as he wished to send one of them to open a new monastery.
Placing a filled water jar on the ground he said,
“Who can say what this is without using its name?”
The chief monk, who expected to get the position, said,
“No one can call it a wooden shoe.”
Another monk said, “It’s not a pond because it can be carried.”
The cooking monk, who was standing nearby, walked out, kicked the jar over, and then walked away.
Hyakujo smiled and said, “The cooking monk becomes the master
of the new monastery.”
Reality cannot be known through thinking, but it can be known through action. Thinking is just a dream phenomenon. The moment you act you have become part of the reality. Reality is activity, action. Thinking is just a fragment. When you act you are total; whatsoever the action your whole being is involved in it. Thinking goes on in a part of the mind, your whole being is not involved; without you thinking can continue as an automatic process.
This has to be understood deeply. This is one of the most basic things for those who are in search of truth and not in search of anything else. Religion and philosophy are distinct in this sense: religion is action, philosophy is thinking.
This story has many implications. The master wanted one monk, one disciple, to become the chief of the new monastery that was going to be opened. Who should be sent? Who should be made the guide there - a man who has much philosophy in his mind, a man who can talk, discuss, argue, a man who is bookish, a man who is knowledgeable, or a man who can act spontaneously? He may not know much, he may be simple; may not be intellectual, but he will be total.
The chief disciple must have started dreaming and thinking he was going to be chosen. Mind is always ambitious. He must have planned how to behave, what to do, so that he would be chosen as the chief of the new monastery. He must not have slept for many days; the mind must have been revolving around and around.
The ego plans and whatsoever you plan will miss reality, because reality can only be encountered spontaneously. If you think about it beforehand you may be ready but you will miss. A ready person will miss; this is the contradiction. A person who is not ready, who has not planned anything, acts spontaneously, reaches the very heart of reality.
The chief disciple must have theorized, many alternatives must have come to his mind. The master is going to choose; there is going to be some sort of test. He must have consulted the scriptures, because in the old days too, masters had been choosing disciples to be sent to new monasteries. How have they chosen? What sort of examination has to be passed? How could he succeed?
There are many stories from the ancient days. Almost always this has been one of the basic tests Zen masters have put before their disciples - they ask them to express something without using language. They say, “Say something about this thing but don’t use any name - because the name is not the thing.”
The chair is here, I am sitting on it. A Zen master can say, “Say something about this chair but don’t use the name, because the word chair is not the chair. So don’t use any verbal expression, don’t use language, and say something.”