Any dharma, any virtue, is as objective as anything else in the world. Only one thing is not objective in the world, and that is your very being – your witnessing self. It can never be made into an object; it is impossible to reduce it to an object. It will always remain the witness and can never become the witnessed.
Except this, you cannot say anything more about it. And because it is not attached to any dharma, any attribute, it has an eternal life, it has an immortality, and it has a reach into the very depths of the universe.
Ma Tzu was himself the man. The monk was asking Ma Tzu, “Who is the man who does not take all dharmas as his companions?”
He must be angry, because there are other Buddhist schools which say that all the dharmas belong to the self. Compassion, love, truth – all the dharmas are attributes of your being, branches of your own being, flowers of your own being. And this is a far bigger majority opinion.
Ma Tzu is unique in his understanding that only one thing – witnessing – is the nature of your being. Everything else that can be witnessed falls separate from you. It becomes the other. The moment it is objectified, it becomes the other.
The man must have been in anger when he asked this.
Ma Tzu replied, “I will tell you this after you have swallowed all the water in the West River.”
Seeing his anger, rather than answering him, Ma Tzu said, “Just go to the river, and swallow all the water of the river. Even that much water may not be able to quench your anger. Then come back, and I will answer you.”
Upon hearing this, the man suddenly must have become aware of his anger. That is the whole teaching of Zen. Whichever school one belongs to, watching is unavoidably part of the discipline.
Suddenly he must have become aware that he has asked the question not out of a quest, but out of anger. He calmed down. Suddenly a tremendous coolness came to him, as if he had already swallowed the whole river.
Upon hearing this, the monk was instantaneously awakened, and he stayed for two years at Ma Tzu’s monastery.
Enlightenment is a question of a sudden realization – that you are neither anger, nor greed, nor love, nor compassion. Anything that you can name, you are not. You are the unnameable witness, hidden deep inside you, just reflecting everything that passes by, just a mirror.