Zen is going beyond “I” and “you.” The portrait can only be of the body, which is not you; the portrait is only of your skeleton but not of your consciousness. Of course it cannot be like Joshu.
I am reminded of a great painter. A beautiful young lady was visiting him. The painter was immensely impressed by her beauty – the painter was no other than Picasso – and Picasso had made a self-portrait, which was hanging on the wall behind him. The young lady asked, “Is this your self-portrait?”
Sometimes poets and painters and musicians and dancers, whether they belong to the East or to the West, come very close to the Zen understanding.
Picasso said, looking at the portrait, “I think it is not my portrait. It is not me.”
The lady said, “That is strange – you have been telling people that this is your self-portrait.”
Picasso said, “If it were me, it would have kissed you – and this idiot is simply hanging on the wall! How can it be me?”
Joshu is asking, “Tell me, does this portrait look like me?”
“If it looks like me I will beat me to death.”
“Me” is not your real life. Me is only a utilitarian word: it is useful but it is not real. There is no one inside you who can say “me.” The moment you are silent there is no “me,” no “I,” no “thou.”
Joshu is making the point, according to Zen language, that “if you say it looks like me, I will beat me to death – because only the death of “me” can be my life.” In the death of the ego you are resurrected; you find a new space, a new being, a new eternity. “Me” is just for the marketplace.
And he said:
“If it does not, I will burn you to death!”
…Because “I” and “you” are just a polarity of the same non-existential but utilitarian subject.
Joshu is saying, “Just tell me! Whatever you say, either I am going to kill myself or I am going to kill you, but murder is going to happen!”
The monk had nothing to say.