When first translated by Christian missionaries, these anecdotes were translated to show the world that “Christianity is the only civilized religion, and as a proof look at these stupid dialogues, with no reason and no rhyme!” But everything backfired. They wanted to prove Zen to be a very primitive religion. But to those who were real seekers, on the contrary it proved though every other religion may be primitive, at least Zen is not.
In the first place, it is not a religion at all. It is not in competition with Christianity or Hinduism or Buddhism or Mohammedanism; it does not belong to that category at all. It has its own category, its own language, its own world, and there is no competitor to it. Its uniqueness is absolute and categorical.
But you will have to be very loving, very careful in understanding these strange dialogues – because the language seems to be the same as we use, but hidden between the words and between the lines there is a different poetry, a different song, which we are not accustomed to.
But my people will understand it, because we are entering into the same space toward which Zen has been pointing. These dialogues can be understood only by meditators; otherwise they look stupid.
The monk, Kankei, once visited the nun, Massan Ryonen. He said to himself, “If what she says hits the spot, I will remain there. If it does not, I will overturn the Zen seat!”
He was a seeker in search of a master, and when he came to see Massan Ryonen, a woman Zen master, he thought in his own mind, If what she says hits the spot… It is not a question of reasonability. Not that “What she is saying is very wise,” but, “If it hits the spot, my own being – if the arrow of what she says reaches to my being, I will stay; otherwise I will overturn the Zen seat.”
When a disciple comes, a seat is offered by the master for him to sit on. And if the disciple rejects the master, he overturns the seat gracefully – showing that “this is not my place” – and leaves. That overturning of the Zen seat is symbolic: “I don’t accept you as a master, but I will not say it. Saying is so crude. I will just give you a hint that you could not hit the spot of my being, for which I am searching. I will have to go to another master.”
He entered the hall, and Massan sent a messenger to ask, “Have you come on a mountain-viewing journey, or for the sake of Buddhism?”
In response, Kankei said, “For the sake of Buddhism,” so Massan sat upon her seat, and Kankei approached her.
She said, “Where did you come from today, may I ask?”
Kankei replied, “From Roko.”
Massan then said to Kankei, “Why don’t you remove your bamboo hat?”
Kankei had no reply, and, making his bows, asked, “What is Massan?”
The bamboo hat has to be removed in grace and gratitude when you encounter a master. The removing of the hat simply signifyies “I am available, in humbleness, open; I’m not covered or defensive. Even if you want to cut off my head, I am ready.”