The same answer was given by Picasso. While he was painting, somebody asked him. He said, “Don’t ask me anything right now. While I am painting I am just a painter; I am not that great Picasso you have heard about. And when the deepest moments come, then even this painter disappears. Only the painting remains.”
If you can see this point, then the first anecdote will become clear to you, because it is a little out-of-the-way….
When Tosu was in Tojo province, Joshu asked him, “Aren’t you the master of Tosu hermitage?”
Tosu said, “Give me some tea, salt, and cash!”
He did not answer the question. That is one of the important things to understand: Zen answers in its own way, not in the ordinary way. We expect dialogues to happen. Joshu and Tosu both are prominent masters. Joshu asked him, “Aren’t you the master, Tosu?” Without saying anything about himself, Tosu said, “Give me some tea, salt and cash!” What does it mean?
It means, “You are a great master, you don’t need to be answered. You can see for yourself that Tosu is standing before you. To answer you will be insulting, suggesting that you could not see for yourself the radiance of Tosu, his presence, his energy field, his aura. No, I will not insult a great master like Joshu.” That’s why he simply ignored the question.
This ignoring of the question would be taken anywhere else in the world as an insult – but in Zen, this ignoring of the question has a totally different meaning. It is showing great respect: “What are you talking about? You have eyes to see. Just as I can recognize you, you can recognize me; hence the question is irrelevant and I am not going to insult you by answering it.” Rather than answering, Tosu asked, “Give me some tea, salt and cash. I am a poor Zen master.”
Tosu was a very poor Zen master because he lived in a hermitage on a faraway mountain where it was very difficult for people to reach. He had become known as the master of Tosu Hermitage, but he was very poor. So rather than bothering about saying, “I am Tosu,” he is showing his poverty. He was known as the poorest master – one of the greatest souls, but the poorest in the sense that he had not much of a following. He lived in such a strange place that nobody bothered to go there, it was too far away. And his behavior was very strange….
Joshu had just gone there to see him, hearing about him so much. There were many rumors about him and why he did not get disciples: “He himself is responsible because he behaves in such a way that disciples escape! In the first place nobody goes to that faraway hermitage. But sometimes somebody gathers courage, and Tosu behaves in such a way that the man loses heart and tries somehow to escape this strange man!”
Joshu has gone to see Tosu, and Tosu is showing his poverty by asking him, “Give me some tea! Don’t bother about Tosu – in this very moment I need some tea, some salt, and cash!”