In Japan the earthquake is a daily experience. That’s why wood and bamboo have become so important in Japan. You cannot make houses of marble; any moment the earthquake can come and then it will be very dangerous, it will kill. You can make only very thin walls; most of the walls are made of paper. You have to use very lightweight material, so even if the earthquake comes it cannot kill you. Just because of those earthquakes, bamboo has taken on a special significance in Japanese life.
Joshu’s saying that he is coming from Jui-hsiang temple means that he remembers his past life, that he was a priest in the Jui-hsiang temple which exists no more.
“Do you still see the holy image?” Nansen asked.
…because it was said that that temple had a really beautiful image. Just because of earthquakes, in Japan they started making Buddha statues of wood. India has never known any images of wood, but China and Japan had to change from marble to wood. The wooden image could survive an earthquake. Wood is not so hard, it is soft; but a stone image is bound to get shattered.
Nansen asked him – he did not say anything about his past life. He could see that what Joshu was saying was right.
When you encounter a master, before you tell him anything about your being, he knows it. You cannot lie, you can only be authentic and true. Nansen did not ask for any proof, for any validation, for any argument, even though that temple had disappeared long before. On the contrary, he asked, “Do you still see the holy image? We have heard it had a very beautiful image of Buddha which was destroyed. Do you still see it?”
“No, I don’t,” replied Joshu, “I only see the Tathagata lying down.”
Nansen was lying down. Now without saying directly that “You are the buddha; now what have I to do with any holy image?”…this subtleness, this beauty! Joshu says, “I only see the Tathagata” – Tathagata is another name of Gautam Buddha – “lying down in front of me. Who cares about images when you are facing the buddha himself?” All that is implied in it. He has already accepted Nansen as an enlightened being.
At this, Nansen got up, saying, “Are you a monk who has a master or one without a master?”
Seeing Joshu’s great insight, that he declares that the Tathagata is lying in front of him, so who bothers about images…this is not an ordinary man. Nansen simply got up and asked,
“Are you a monk who has a master or one without a master?”
“With a master.”