Before we think about Setcho’s comments, something more about Tanka has to be understood, because this dialogue is about Tanka asking a monk, “Have you had your dinner?” and “From where are you coming?”
Who is this fellow Tanka? He stands as high as any enlightened person has risen, ever – and with a uniqueness of his own.
Tanka was a contemporary of Nansen, Ryutan, Ho Koji and Yakusan…
All great masters, but none of them had the extraordinary quality of Tanka. He first studied Zen with Basho.
Just to study with Basho is enough to give you a new way of seeing things. Just to sit by his side is enough to make you unique. Basho is one of the great awakened ones. Basho stands in the history of Japan, just as in the history of India, Gautam Buddha stands; the same height, the same peak, and something more. Basho was also a mystic, a poet, a painter. The very fact that he accepted Tanka as his disciple is in itself a certificate of uniqueness. Basho was not for the masses, he was only for the chosen few.
…and then at Basho’s suggestion, Tanka went to Sekito.
Sekito was very lonely, without any disciples, a mystic living deep in the mountains. A few times Basho sent a few disciples to Sekito because he could see that they needed a different kind of nourishment. With Basho they would become enlightened, but just to be enlightened is not enough. To be enlightened and still remain unique needs a certain atmosphere, a different kind of air.
This is something to be understood about Zen. In no other religion does one master send his disciples to another master, never. In all the religions of the world every master is a competitor to other masters. They are fighting for disciples because whoever has more disciples is a greater master. It is sheer politics, politics of numbers – although their game is religion, hidden behind the word religion is pure politics.
Sekito was very averse to disciples. Just to avoid them he had gone far away deep in the forest. But Basho could see in Tanka some similarity, something that can fall in deep harmony with Sekito. There is no competition. It is not a question that you have more disciples, so you are great. Zen masters continually send people to other masters.
That is a rare phenomenon: no competition, and on the other hand, a deep understanding of the disciple. If Basho sees that “somebody else can help Tanka more than I can help, because he does not belong to the same kind of energy,” then it is better not to prevent him and waste his time but send him to the right man.