So when a man like Joshu asks, “Have you been here before?” don’t misunderstand him. He is not talking about the place, he is talking about spacelessness, timelessness. “Have you ever been in deep meditation?” That is what he is asking.
“Yes,” the monk said.
“Help yourself to a cup of tea!”
The monk has understood the meaning of “here.” It is not that he has been here to this monastery before, it simply means he has known the taste of here-ness. A simple “yes” implies a vast meaning, that “I am not a newcomer, don’t count me among the new arrivals. I have been here – where else can I be?”
But it is not said so explicitly. That is the beauty of Zen, that it leaves the most important part to be discovered by you. When the monk says, “Yes,” he is also saying, through his eyes and through his gestures, “What kind of a question are you asking? Where else can I be? Everybody is here, wherever he is – it doesn’t matter. Here is the only point where you can be.”
His “yes” is not to be misunderstood. He does not mean that he has been to this place; he says, “I have been here always – where else can I be?”
With a great respectfulness Joshu said, “Help yourself to a cup of tea!”
A cup of tea in Zen is not the same as it is anywhere else in the world. A cup of tea is the greatest reception a Zen master can give to you. The cup of tea represents awareness. After drinking tea you cannot go to sleep; hence tea became one of the most important symbols of awareness, of meditation. “Have a cup of tea” does not simply mean, “Have a cup of tea.” Certainly the tea is offered, but with the understanding that the cup is full of awareness. A cup of tea has been used in many ways by the Zen masters.
A professor of philosophy reached Joshu. He had many questions in his mind, many complicated answers which he had borrowed from all the scriptures and philosophical systems.
Coming up the mountain he was perspiring, looked a little tired. Joshu received him and told him, “You are tired…just wait, I will prepare a cup of tea for you. It is not time for tea – otherwise tea would have been served immediately – I will prepare it specially. You just wait and rest.”