These simple questions have a very different meaning in Zen. When a Zen master asks, “From where are you coming?” he does not mean the place, the village from where you are coming. He means “From what source have you attained your consciousness? From where are you coming, and where are you going?”
These questions are not at all concerned with your outer coming and going. When Jizo asked:
“Where are you going?”
Hogen replied, “Just wandering from master to master in search of enlightenment.”
At that age, perhaps very few people in the world have even thought about the word enlightenment.
“What does that mean?” asked Jizo.
“I don’t know,” said Hogen.
This purity and this innocence and this exposure: “I don’t know. I don’t even know why I am trying to find something about which I cannot even say a word. And I am wandering from one master to another master – I don’t know.”
“’Don’t know’ is the most intimate,” said Jizo.
A tremendous statement: “Don’t know” is the most intimate. All knowledge is far away from you. Only innocence is at the very center of your being. It is the most intimate.
The statement of Hogen, “I don’t know,” is of tremendous value in Zen. It does not mean that he is ignorant, it simply means he is perfectly aware that he is still not at the center of his being. All that he knows is not worth mentioning.
Socrates reached the same statement at the age of seventy: “I don’t know.” Hogen, at his age, has the same genius – no ordinary thing. Even a man of the quality of Socrates realized it only at the very end of his life – that he knows nothing, and all that he knows is futile.
He knows about things, a thousand and one things, but he does not know about himself. Death will take all that knowledge and will leave him alone. And in his whole life he has not tried to know that aloneness which will be left ultimately in his hands. That must have been his first concern, because death can come any moment.
At his last moment he recognized this. Although he was known as a great teacher – he was a great teacher – because of his teachings he was being poisoned. But in the eyes of Zen his knowledge and his logic are just useless. They poisoned him unnecessarily – an innocent person who does not know himself, who has not yet come home, who has been wandering into words, linguistics, grammar, philosophy.