Symbolically, this is the situation of everyone. You live in fire and you die in fire. Your heart is always on fire, burning with all kinds of jealousies and anger and greed – a psychological fire that goes on creating new anxieties, new wounds, and it never heals on its own. Joshu’s effort, his first effort in the commune of Nansen, was to create a great fire and close all the doors of the kitchen. And when there was only smoke, and there was danger of his being burned, he shouted, “Fire! Fire! Come to my rescue!”
A seeker, whether he says it or not, really feels it: “Fire! Fire! Come to my rescue!”
When the whole community had flocked to the door, he said…This is how he shows his tremendous insight in Zen. In childhood he became a priest, at the age of seventeen he became almost enlightened, and meeting Nansen he became fully enlightened.
When the whole community had flocked to the door, he said, “I will not open the door unless you can say the right word.”
Now, how can you say the right word? What can be the right word? And his life is at stake! Soon the flames will grow bigger, the wooden temple will be on fire, and the man is asking about the right word!
That has also to be understood. There are thousands of cases on record when masters have asked, “Say the right word! If you say it I will hit you. If you don’t say it I will hit you anyway.” What is asked for is a response, spontaneous. The master has not asked an examination question. He has created a situation in which you cannot say a word from your past memory. If you say it, he will hit; if you don’t say anything, anyway you are going to be hit. Don’t think that not saying anything means silence.
Now it depends on different disciples, how they react. Sometimes the situation becomes very crucial. In one monastery there were two wings, a right wing and a left wing, and one thousand sannyasins were living there.
The master had a cat. Because it was the master’s, a tremendous respect and love was shown to the cat and both sides wanted to take it to their wing. There was a continuous fight between monks about the cat.
Finally one day the master gathered the whole assembly. Only one monk was missing; he had gone for some work, down to the plains. So nine hundred ninety-nine monks were present. And the master took a sword at the cat and he said, “Say the right word! If you don’t say it, I will cut the cat in two parts and divide it for you, so this fight, this continuous fight, is finished! Say the right word quickly; otherwise the cat will lose her life.”