Chapter 5: Why Not Shoot Yourself?
Shih-kung was a hunter before he was ordained as a Zen monk under Ma Tzu. He strongly disliked Buddhist monks, who were against his profession.
One day, while chasing a deer, he passed by the cottage where Ma Tzu resided. Ma Tzu came out and greeted him.
Shih-kung asked, “Did you see some deer pass by your door?”
“Who are you?” asked the master.
“I am a hunter.”
“How many can you shoot down with your arrow?”
“One with one arrow.”
“Then you are no hunter,” declared Ma Tzu.
“How many can you shoot with one arrow?” asked the hunter in his turn.
“The entire flock, with one arrow.”
“They are living creatures, why should you destroy the whole flock at one shooting?”
“If you know that much, why don’t you shoot yourself?”
“As to shooting myself, I do not know how to proceed.”
“This fellow,” exclaimed Ma Tzu, all of a sudden, “has put a stop today to all his past ignorance and evil passions!”
Thereupon, Shih-kung the hunter broke his bow and arrows and became Ma Tzu’s pupil.
When he became a Zen master himself, he had a bow with an arrow ready to shoot, with which his monks were threatened when they approached him with a question. San-ping was once so treated.
Shih-kung exclaimed, “Look out for the arrow!”
Ping opened his chest and said, “This is the arrow that kills; where is the one that resuscitates?”
Kung struck three times on the bowstring. Ping bowed.
Kung said, “I have been using one bow and two arrows for the past thirty years, and today I have succeeded in shooting down only half of a wise man.”
Shih-kung broke his bow and arrows once more, and never used them again.
These beautiful Zen stories belong to a totally different climate, a totally different psychology. The world has changed too much; there has arisen a gap. Man has become very much knowledgeable. These stories belong to a world, to a time, when people were simple. They were not cunning, complex; they were innocent. Hence there was a possibility of immediate awakening.
Zen has become more and more difficult for the simple reason because man has become more and more complex. Today it is almost impossible to conceive how sudden enlightenment can be possible, how in a single flash of lightning one can be transformed totally. The knowledgeable person can only understand the way of gradualness; his whole education is a process of graduation. That’s why when a scholar comes out of the university we call him a graduate - he has graduated.
Learning comes in steps; unlearning can happen in a single quantum leap. And Zen belongs to the world of unlearning. It is not knowledge; nobody can attain to knowledge suddenly because knowledge is a quantity, it is not a quality. And anything quantitative can only be attained gradually; one graduates in it, slowly, slowly one absorbs and digests it.
To emphasize this fact, Gurdjieff used to say that knowledge is a quantity, so much so that if few people have more of it then few others will have less of it. It is just a quantity like money. It is not possible to make all people knowledgeable, only few people will be knowledgeable. Don’t take it literally. Many of Gurdjieff’s followers have taken it literally. He was simply emphasizing the quantitativeness of knowledge, that there is only a certain quantity of knowledge. If few people have acquired it, of course others will not be able to acquire it any more. It is like the land: there is a certain amount of it - if few people have acquired it then others will be missing. But those who understand it literally, whether they are enemies of Gurdjieff or his friends, both are missing the point. The point simply is that knowledge is acquired gradually because it is a quantity. Year by year you graduate slowly. It takes twenty-five years for you to learn all that man has accumulated in thousands of years.