In the old days the venerable Yen Yang asked Chao Chou, “What’s it like when not bringing a single thing?” Chou said, “Put it down.” Yen Yang said, “Since not a single thing is brought, put what down?” Chou said, “If you can’t put it down, pick it up.” At these words, Yen Yang was greatly enlightened.
Again: A monk asked an ancient worthy, “What’s it like when the student can’t cope?” The ancient worthy said, “I too am like this.” The monk said, “Teacher, why can’t you cope either?” The ancient worthy said, “If I could cope, I could take away this inability to cope of yours.” At these words, the monk was greatly enlightened.
The enlightenment of these two monks is precisely where you are lost; where you have doubts is exactly where these two monks asked their questions. “Phenomena are born from discrimination and also perish through discrimination. Wipe out all phenomena of discrimination – this dharma has no birth or destruction.”
Zen is special in many ways from other traditions of the mystics. But one thing that stands out, very unique, is these strange, small dialogues: just reading them you cannot see how those small dialogues can bring enlightenment to someone.
Secondly, Zen itself gives no explanations. That is one of the reasons a living tradition of enlightenment has not overtaken the whole world. I would like you to understand these small dialogues which apparently mean nothing, but in a certain circumstance, produced by other Zen methods, can bring awakening. The dialogues are remembered down the centuries; and the people on the path of Zen enjoy them immensely. But for outsiders they remain an anathema, because the context is never told; in what reference the awakening happened is never discussed.
Behind these small dialogues there is a long discipline of meditation, understanding – maybe years and years of work. But only the dialogue is known to the outside world. You don’t know the men who are discussing with each other; they are not ordinary people. The awakening is possible only if they have a background which can make the small piece of dialogue – which in itself is nothing – of tremendous importance.
But when you read them, you cannot believe how these dialogues can make somebody enlightened – because you are reading them and you are not becoming enlightened! Something is missing in your perspective.
My effort will be to give you the whole context, and to explain not only the words of the dialogue but also the individuals who are engaged in these small dialogues. Only then will you see that they are not small things, they are the very optimum. Those people have reached to the last point; these dialogues are just a little push. They were almost ready…it can be said that even without these dialogues they were going to become enlightened, maybe a week later. These dialogues have cut not more than one week from their being enlightened.