The first missionaries who had come to Japan to convert people to Christianity were amazed by the Zen masters. When they came across a Zen master…because others had told them, “Don’t bother us. You just transform a certain Zen master whom I have loved, and if he changes to Christianity, even if he goes to hell I am ready to go with him. But don’t bother with me. You just change that Zen master.” And the missionaries approached the Zen masters with their gospels. The Zen masters laughed; they said, “You don’t understand religion at all and you are converting people into religion. You don’t have the taste yourself.”
One missionary was very angry. He opened the Bible and read the Sermon on the Mount. It is a beautiful sermon and he was thinking, “Now, let us see what this fellow says.” After three or four lines the Zen master said, “Shut up! I can say only this much, that this guy, whoever has written these lines, will become a buddha sometime in the future. He is on the path. This much I can certainly say, that some day he will become a buddha. But don’t take it seriously, because you will also become a buddha one day. And remember, for becoming a buddha, Buddhism is not necessary.”
That was the great approach, that for becoming a buddha, Buddhism is not necessary. Nothing is necessary; the buddha is already asleep in you, just some situation is needed in which he can be awakened. All Zen monasteries were doing only one thing – creating situations so that the buddha is awake. It is not something to which you are converted, it is your own nature.
The Christian missionaries were at a loss, because these Zen masters never talked about God. They said, “What is the point? You don’t even know yourself and you are talking about God. Who has seen God? And what will you do even if you meet him?” It will be a very awkward situation. God standing before you…you will find yourself in a very weird space – what to do now?
I have told you the story of Rabindranath Tagore. In one of his best poems he wrote, “I have seen God many times but he was always far away beside a star. I followed but by the time I reached there he had moved to some other place, far away. It had been going on and on for many lives. Finally I reached the place, the house where it was written on the door: Here lives the Lord of the World, Father God.”
He was just going to knock and became suddenly aware: “Just think twice – what am I going to do if I meet him? I am not prepared at all. After meeting him there is nothing to do. Your whole life has been structured in searching for God. You know how to search, you know how to fast, you know how to pray, but you don’t know.…When you have met God, there is no point in fasting and there is no point in searching and there is no point in prayer. What are you going to do? You will be suffocated!”
Seeing the situation, he took his shoes in his hands, out of fear that when he went back down the steps God might hear the sound of the shoes. He might open the door and say, “Where are you going?” And then he ran away as fast as he could.