One night Isan was in attendance on Hyakujo, sitting till late in the quietness of the mountain temple.
“Who are you?” Hyakujo asked.
“Reiyu,” replied Isan.
“Rake in the fireplace,” instructed Hyakujo.
Isan did as he was told and said, “I find no embers left.” Hyakujo took up the tongs and, raking deep down, brought up a tiny burning ember, which he showed to Isan, and said, “Just this, you see!”
Isan was suddenly enlightened. He bowed deeply and related his point of realization to Hyakujo, who said, “You have reached a crossroads on the buddha nature; you should observe time and causation. When the time comes, you will realize it, just like remembering something you have forgotten. It is not obtained from others. Therefore, when you are enlightened, your original nature manifests itself. Now you have attained it – carefully cultivate it.”
Maneesha, today we start a new series of talks on Zen, particularly on Master Isan. The name of the series will give you an indication what kind of man Isan was. The title of the series is Isan: No Footprints in the Blue Sky. He was as great a master as one can be, but has left behind him neither great scriptures nor great commentaries. Isan functioned exactly as Buddha had said an authentic master would – to disappear in the blue sky like a bird, leaving no footprints.
Why this idea of leaving no footprints? It has great implications in it. It means a great master does not create a following; he does not make a path for everybody to follow. He flies in the sky, he gives you a longing for flying, and disappears into the blueness of the sky – creating an urge in you to discover what it is like to disappear into the ultimate.
Isan followed exactly what Buddha had said. He is a great master, but almost forgotten. Who remembers people who have not created great followings, who have not made organized religions, who have not chosen their successors, who have not made their religion a politics, a power in the material world? Isan did none of that. He simply lived silently. Of course thousands of disciples were attracted towards him, but it was not his fault. You cannot blame him for it – it was just the magnetic force that he had become by disappearing into enlightenment. The light shone to faraway lands and those who had eyes started moving towards a small place hidden in the forest where Isan lived. Slowly slowly, thousands of disciples were living in the forest – and Isan had not called a single one. They had come on their own.
And remember the difference: when you come on your own, you come totally. When you are called, there is a reluctance, a fear: perhaps you will be dominated. But when you come on your own, you have lived your life, you have known the meaninglessness of it. You are coming out of a great understanding that life has nothing to offer. You are coming with your wholeness and totality – and with an urgency, because nobody knows: tomorrow you may be here on the earth or not. Death can knock on your doors any moment, it is unpredictable. It rarely comes to warn the person, “I am coming.” Once in a while it has happened, in stories….
The next moment is not certain. All that you have is this moment. So don’t disperse your consciousness; concentrate it on this moment. If you want really to know the ultimate source of being and the tremendous blessings of it, this single moment is enough.
Don’t follow anybody’s footprints. Truth cannot be borrowed, neither can the path that somebody else has trodden. You have to enter into a virgin land of your own inner space, where nobody can enter in any way.