One day, when Ma Tzu was on his way home from Chiang-si, he stopped to visit his old master, Nangaku. When Ma Tzu had burned incense and made bows to Nangaku, Nangaku gave him this verse:
“I advise you not to go home.
If you do, the Tao is immovable.
And an old woman
next door to you
will talk of your infant name.”
Ma Tzu respectfully accepted it and swore to himself never to go home, however often he might be reborn. Staying only in Chiang-si, he had disciples come to him from all parts of China.
One day a monk called Ta-mei joined a training assembly of Ma Tzu. Ta-mei asked the master: “What is buddha?”
Ma Tzu replied: “It is the present mind.”
On hearing this, Ta-mei attained his full enlightenment. He took himself off into the mountains, and over the years hardly noticed the passing of time; he only saw the mountains around him turn green or yellow.
One day, Ma Tzu sent a monk especially to test him. The monk asked Ta-mei, “When you once saw Ma Tzu, by what word did you become enlightened?”
Ta-mei replied, “By Ma Tzu’s saying, ‘The present mind is the buddha.’”
“Now his way is another,” the monk told Ta-mei.
“What is it then?” asked Ta-mei.
“Ma Tzu now says that this very mind which is buddha is neither mind nor buddha,” replied the monk.
“That old fellow!” said Ta-mei. “When will he cease to confuse the minds of men? Let him go on with his ‘neither mind nor buddha.’ I will stick to ‘this present mind itself is buddha.’”
When the messenger told Ma Tzu of this exchange, Ma Tzu commented: “The fruit of a plum has ripened.”
Maneesha, one of the most important things to be remembered all along is that the Zen master is not a philosopher. He is not rational. Basically he is very irrational and absurd, but miraculously he manages – from his absurdity, from his contradictory statements – to make the message clear to you. Today he may say something and tomorrow something else. If you bring your logical mind into it, you will think that you are being confused. But there are different ways of saying the same thing. In fact even in contradictions the same message can be given.
This is one of the great contributions of Zen, that there are no contradictions. Everything is expressing the same truth, the same reality. The smallest piece of grass and the biggest star are not in any way giving you a different message. Nobody is lower and nobody is higher in existence. There is no hierarchy. And as far as truth is concerned, fundamentally it is inexpressible. But if you want to express the inexpressible, then you can use even contradictory terms to indicate the same thing.
Two different fingers, coming from two different angles, can point to the same moon. The mind may find it difficult. In fact the Zen master’s whole work is to make things so difficult for the mind that you become tired of the mind, tired of thinking, and you put it aside. And that moment of restfulness, when you have put the mind aside, brings you to the door of existence.