These are special devices of Zen. Kyozan is provoking the monk by asking this question; he is asking whether he remembers the past, which is no more, the village of Yushu and the price of rice there. But the monk proved equal to Kyozan.
As Kyozan asked, “I would like to know something interesting about Yushu; what is the price of rice there?”
The monk replied, “As I was coming here, I unintentionally passed over the bridge of the town and trod on the girders of the bridge, breaking them.”
This is an old, very ancient saying of Buddha, that when you pass a bridge, break it, because there is no way of going back.
On another occasion, Kyozan was washing his clothes and Tangen asked him, “What should we do at this moment?”
Kyozan answered, “At this moment, where shall we look?”
Kyozan is saying, “Just find out if there are any bridges connecting you with the past and break them. Be independent of the past, just be here and now in this moment.”
Except this there is no Zen, no Gautam the Buddha, no religion, no essential and existential experience of life, of love, of this tremendous cosmos. Just be disconnected from the past and be disconnected from the future. Being in this small and still moment you are also the buddha.
Tangen made no reply.
Tangen making no reply is a way of accepting a failure. Kyozan is washing his clothes, neither in the past nor in the future, just herenow; there is no Kyozan, there is only washing of the clothes.
At another time Kyozan saw a snowman and, pointing to it, said to the group of monks around him, “Is there anything whiter than that?”
His monks were unresponsive.
They could not understand that what Kyozan is asking has nothing to do with snowmen; they are all imaginary. But he is saying, “If there is a snowman” – he must be pure white, snow white – “is there anything whiter?”
There is! Your very being. Nothing can be whiter, more luminous than your own very existence.