In the first court in America, where my case was presented after I was illegally arrested, the woman magistrate was puzzled – because in America, you cannot wear your hat in court. Wearing your hat in court is insulting to the court – such are the different attitudes of East and West.
I could see that she was a little bit puzzled what to do. She sent an attendant to tell me, “Perhaps you don’t know that in court you have to remove your hat. To keep your hat on is to insult the court.”
I said to him, “Go back to the magistrate and tell her that if she has courage, she should ask the question herself. According to me, to remove the hat is insulting and I will not insult the court.”
The man thought for a moment, and went back to the magistrate. The woman was even more puzzled! She simply thought it was better not to get into an argument, because it is not written in the constitution, it is just a formal tradition. I am not legally bound to remove my hat. I will remove my hat only when I see a buddha – not before a magistrate. Seeing the situation, the woman behaved sanely. She said to the attendant, “There is no need, just don’t raise the question again.”
Different worlds, different symbols.
When Massan asked, “Why don’t you remove your bamboo hat?” she was saying, “If you have come for the sake of Buddhism” – and that means in search of the buddha within you – “then be graceful. Remove the hat, be humble and be receptive.”
Kankei had no reply, and making his bows, asked, “What is Massan?”
Massan was the woman master’s name.
She answered, “It does not show its peak.”
The woman got the name Massan because of the Massan Mountain where she had her monastery. The peaks are so high that they are almost always covered with snow and clouds: they rarely show. And that is exactly the situation of consciousness. It is so covered with thoughts – the past, the conditionings…so much smoke – that it rarely shows.
This is the beauty of Zen, that ordinary questions are suddenly turned into immense significance.