When Nangaku first saw Ma Tzu, he recognized him by intuition as a vessel of the dharma.
He visited Ma Tzu in his cell where he was meditating, and asked him: “In practicing sitting meditation, what does your reverence aspire to attain?”
“To attain buddhahood” was Ma Tzu's reply.
Nangaku then took up a piece of brick and began to grind it against a rock in front of Ma Tzu's cell. Ma Tzu asked, “What are you grinding it for?”
“I want to grind it into a mirror,” responded Nangaku.
Amused, Ma Tzu said, “How can you hope to grind a piece of brick into a mirror?”
Nangaku retorted, “Since a piece of brick cannot be ground into a mirror, how then can you sit yourself into a buddha?”
“What must I do then?” Ma Tzu asked.
Nangaku replied, “Take the case of an ox-cart: if the cart does not move, do you whip the cart or do you whip the ox?”
Ma Tzu remained silent.
“In learning sitting meditation,” resumed Nangaku, “do you aspire to imitate the sitting Buddha or do you aspire to learn the sitting Zen? If the former, the Buddha has no fixed postures. If the latter, Zen does not consist in sitting or lying down.
“The dharma goes on forever and never abides in anything. You must not, therefore, be attached to, nor abandon, any particular phase of it. To sit yourself into Buddha is to kill the Buddha. To be attached to the sitting posture is to fail to comprehend the essential principle.”
Maneesha, we are starting a new series of talks: Ma Tzu: The Empty Mirror. Ma Tzu is also known as Baso. I am not using the name Baso, because our second series is going to be on the Japanese Basho – the great mystic poet of Zen. And the name Ma Tzu is itself more meaningful than his popular name, Baso.
Before I discuss the sutras, a biographical note on Ma Tzu is absolutely needed, because he is not known to the world. He is one of those unfortunate geniuses whom the world tries in every way to ignore, to forget that they even exist. Even the idea that they exist hurts the ego of the crowd. It has been doing harm to every genius, because the very existence of a genius reduces you to a retarded being. Every enlightened master is evidence that you are living in darkness, that you have to transform your darkness into life, into light.
It seems to be such a great task – it is not, but it appears to be a great task – to transform your blindness into clear perceptive eyes; to transform your darkness into beautiful morning light. It is a simple thing, the simplest in the world, but just because it is simple, it does not appeal to the mind. Mind is interested in doing great things. The desire behind every ambition of the mind is to be special. And you can be special only with special achievements.
The problem with Zen is that it wants you to be utterly simple, not special. It goes against the very desire of the mind, which is not a small phenomenon – it is a four-million-years-old desire, which everybody is carrying in different lives. Mind cannot understand why you should be simple when you could be special, why you should be humble when you could be powerful. And mind is heavy, it has the great weight of the past. The moment the mind sees anyone humble, simple, natural, a buddha, it immediately condemns him, because such a man goes against the whole makeup of the human mind.
And in a way the mind is right. To be a buddha you will have to drop the mind completely, you will have to become an empty mirror.
Ma Tzu was born in China in the year 709. He was the most important figure in the history of Zen after the sixth patriarch, Eno. Eno told Nangaku, who would become Ma Tzu’s master, about a prophecy that Nangaku would have “a spirited young horse” of a disciple who would “trample the whole world.” In Chinese, the ‘Ma’ of Ma Tzu means ‘horse’. As a child, Ma Tzu joined a local monastery; before he was twenty, he was already a professed monk.
He was a born genius, and even had prophecies about him by other masters – that he is not to be taken as just xyz, he has a possibility of becoming a great master – and the prophecies were fulfilled.