Every religion respects scholarship, learning, knowledge, scripture. Zen is alone and unique in its approach. It wants you to burn all the burden of scriptures, to burn all the knowledge that you have borrowed so that you can come to your simple consciousness, unscratched, nothing written on it – just a pure silence, a sky without any frontiers.
Kyogen was a great scholar; although he was searching for truth, but scholarship is not the way to find it. His very learning was functioning as a barrier to relax into himself. He was clinging to words, scriptures, sutras, past buddhas. It is a hilarious situation, because the buddha is within and people are holding stone statues in their temples. The essential experience is within and people are reciting the sutras of others. It is the most hilarious situation.
One day, Isan asked Kyogen, “When you were with our teacher, Hyakujo, you were clever enough to give ten answers to a single question, and hundreds of answers to ten questions.
“Tell me this: what is your real self – the self that existed before you came out of your mother’s womb, before you knew East from West?”
At this question, Kyogen was stupefied and did not know what to say. He racked his brains and offered all sorts of answers, but Isan brushed them aside.
At last Kyogen said, “I beg you, please explain it to me.”
Isan replied “What I say belongs to my own understanding. How can that benefit your mind’s eye?
“Your consciousness? What I know is so deep within me, and it is not a commodity that can be given to you. You will have to find it on your own within yourself.”
Kyogen went through all his books and the notes he had made on authorities of every school, but could find no words to use as an answer to Isan’s question.
Kyogen must have been a very honest and sincere inquirer, otherwise thousands of books are available with all kinds of answers. But there is not a single book in the world which can give you the answer that breathes, that has a heart, that can laugh, that can dance. That answer is not going to be from any other source than your own.
Kyogen tried all the great scriptures, and notes he has taken while listening to great masters like Hyakujo, but he could not find the answer to the question Isan has raised: “Who are you? What is inside you? What is your center of being? What is the flame that keeps you alive?”
Isan is questioning your very life source. Of course you cannot find it in any book – unless you are a stupid scholar, and there are thousands of stupid scholars around the world. The universities are full of them. They are talking around and about: about truth, about love, about being. You ask and they have answers for all your questions.