One Zen master, Bokoju, used to say to his disciples, “The day you come to something which you cannot express however hard you try – no word is sufficient, no word can justify itself, in fact every word will destroy its beauty, its joy, its aliveness – then come to me. Till then, meditate.”
In other words he used to say, “When your hands are empty and the whole sky is in your hands, come to me with absolute, inexpressible eyes, almost dumb.”
One of his great disciples used to get Bokoju’s slap every time he would go to him. In the tradition of Zen, that is not only accepted but respected. It is the master’s compassion that he slaps you. Bokoju slapped his chief disciple each time he came to say that he had found that which cannot be expressed. He would hit him hard – “If you have found that which cannot be expressed, then even in saying that it cannot be expressed you have expressed something about it!”
The disciple was at a loss. If you say something, you are in trouble. If you say, “It is inexpressible,” you are in trouble.
One day he came and without saying anything simply sat by the side of the master. The master looked into his eyes, laughed, and said, “For the last time, let me hit you once more. Because it will not be possible again. You have found it. Why are you so silent? Why don’t you speak?”
The disciple was totally silent, and the master was poking him to speak: “Let me at least for the last time have the pleasure of slapping you. Afterwards I will not be able to slap you. You have found it. This slap is a certificate.”
Zen is a very strange tradition but one of the profoundest. The disciple stood up and slapped the master! The master said, “That’s right! I have needed for a long time for somebody to slap me. My old master is dead – he used to do it. Nobody can do it that way, with such love, but you have managed. From now onwards you are allowed to slap others. You can sit here because I am getting old, and the whole day slapping people…it is becoming very tiring. You sit here and when somebody comes” – because there were hundreds of disciples and everybody had to come to report whether he has found or not. And once in a while the idea was entering into everybody’s head that “Perhaps this is it.”
Somebody would see a beautiful sunset and…utter silence. And naturally, the idea would arise, “My god, this is it – enlightenment!” And he would rush to the master. Now, the master simply used to give a hit to the disciple – slap him, hard – “A sunset, howsoever beautiful, and the silence that comes with the experience of the sunset, is not enlightenment. Just go back and come again when you have found it.”
The finding of oneself is the most mysterious experience.
You are both – the knower and the known.
This is the difficulty, this is why it cannot be expressed – who is there to express it?
You are the experience itself.