He was a disciple of Nansen, but he was always a category in himself. He never became a disciple to Nansen formally; he was never initiated by Nansen; but he lived with Nansen, loved Nansen, and Nansen loved him, showered him with his love. Everybody knew that if Nansen died, he would choose Joshu to be his successor, although he was not his follower. He was such a unique person in himself, he could not follow anybody. He was a fellow traveler.
And Nansen allowed every kind of person. Whether you agreed with him or not, you could live with him. Perhaps, by the time you came to an agreement – just a little walking by his side – you might start feeling his heart touching you, changing you. He transformed Joshu without any formal initiation when he was saying this contradictory statement, “The way is not outside things; outside things there is no way.”
Joshu asked, “What is the way which is outside things?”
Nansen immediately struck him.
In Zen the master strikes only when he finds a man worthy to be a buddha. The striking is simply to wake him up: “What kind of nonsense are you asking?” Nansen’s immediately striking him simply means, “Joshu! You are asking this kind of nonsense! You understand well what I have said; somebody else can ask such a question, but not you. I know it and you know it.” To make it clear, he struck him.
Joshu caught hold of the stick and said, “From now on, don’t strike somebody by mistake!”
Joshu is not saying, “Don’t strike me.” He is saying, “From now on, don’t strike somebody by mistake!” Striking me is perfectly right, but don’t strike somebody else by mistake. I can understand why you are striking me, but striking somebody who has not reached to such a consciousness in understanding can be dangerous to you. You are getting old.”
Nansen said, “It is easy to speak of a dragon, but difficult to please me!” and throwing down his stick, he went back to his room.
What he was saying is, “It is easy to speak of a dragon, but difficult to please me. The statement of Joshu, ‘From now on don’t strike somebody by mistake!’ is just an effort to please me.” To the statement, ‘As far as I am concerned you have done well, but don’t do it to anybody else,’ Nansen says, “It is difficult to please me.”
At another time, Joshu asked Nansen, “When one realizes that ‘there is,’ where should he go from there?”