Ma Tzu rebelled against the traditionalism that had grown after Bodhidharma. He introduced totally new ideas, new devices – hitting, shouting. Nobody had ever heard that you can wake up a man just by shouting at the right moment; it was a great contribution to human consciousness that hitting can become a reward.
In the hands of Ma Tzu, Zen became again fresh – as fresh as Buddha wanted it to be. After a thousand years, Buddha would have loved Bodhidharma and Ma Tzu, the people who rebelled. A rebellious spirit loves the very creativity that any rebel brings to any action, thought, meditation, art, music. But Ma Tzu again – it has to be, it seems, a matter of course that every rebellious person also becomes a tradition.
Isan also wanted to rebel against Ma Tzu. It was not against Ma Tzu, but the Ma Tzu that the tradition had created. It is a strange phenomenon: Isan loved Ma Tzu as he loved Buddha and Bodhidharma, but he could not accept the rituals that had grown afterwards, when they had died.
But Isan was not that great a genius. He could not be compared to Ma Tzu or Bodhidharma. He was very polite, and his politeness prevented his rebelling completely. You cannot be polite and revolutionary; you have to be iconoclastic and you have to hit hard against the dead tradition. Politeness will make you respectable, but not revolutionary. And that is what happened – it is a misfortune – Isan became a respectable master. Because he became respectable he lost the grandeur of a revolutionary.
Whenever a person becomes respectable, he cannot say anything against the mass mind. The collective unconsciousness will feel hurt if he says anything revolutionary, and anything revolutionary will take away the respectability.
He was very much respected, and he managed the respect. That’s where he lost the beauty of rebellion. That shows in his sutras: they are not very great or very profound; they are good enough, but very lukewarm. Just because he wanted to rebel against the rituals that had grown after Ma Tzu, Isan left shouting, he left hitting – but he could not substitute anything else in their place. So he became in a way very poor. His humbleness was great, his simplicity was great, but he could not contribute anything new or profound to human consciousness.
You have to remember it: respectability and rebellion don’t go together. If you want respectability, you have to conform to the society – and the society consists of blind people. Even though you have eyes, you have to walk like the blind, you have to keep your eyes closed. If you want respectability from the blind…they can give respectability only to another blind person. A man who has eyes does not belong to the mass, seems to be a stranger. Isan could not gather the courage to be a stranger.