These anecdotes belong to the heights that Buddhism reached, together with Taoism in China. Gautam Buddha and Lao Tzu were contemporaries, and both were of the same insight and clarity. They both belong to the universal sense of humanity. So when Buddhist monks reached China, they were welcomed. There was no conflict between Taoism and Buddhism. This is a strange fact of history, it has never happened anywhere else. Christians have been fighting with Mohammedans, Mohammedans have been fighting with Hindus, Christians have been fighting with Jews – everywhere, all so-called religions have been in conflict. And it is not only verbal conflict: killing each other in millions.
The meeting of Buddhism and Taoism is exceptional, unique. The Taoist monks received the refugee Buddhists with great love; and slowly a new phenomenon, a by-product of the meeting of Buddhism and Taoism came to birth: that is Zen. These anecdotes have the quality of Gautam Buddha and Lao Tzu both. Two of the greatest human beings who have passed this earth, their meeting has produced the most significant and the most fragrant religiousness. But it is a little difficult to understand because Buddha spoke in a totally different language, Lao Tzu spoke in a totally different language…and the meeting of the two became even more complicated. But it is a joy to enter into this complication and to find out the diamond hidden behind these words.
Kyogen was asked by a monk, “What is the way?”
He answered, “A dragon singing in a withered tree.”
I have to explain to you – the dragon is a mythological animal, it does not exist. But Kyogen is saying that the way is, “A dragon singing in a withered tree.” A tree that has withered and a dragon that does not exist – if you can understand this, you have found the way. Just like the dragon, disappear as an ego; and just like a withered tree, drop all your thoughts, as the leaves have fallen from the tree. And you will have found your heart, singing a song. And you will find the way to reach to the very heart of existence.
There is no God in Buddhism or Taoism. All religions that believe in God are childish. The whole universe is divine, it is only a question of awakening to your divineness. The way does not lead you somewhere else, the way simply leads you into your own heart. The ego is a fiction, like a dragon, and your thoughts, your mind, should become a withered tree. Only then can you find, hidden inside, your life juice. That is your truth, and to find it one starts singing and dancing with joy because you have found the eternal.
The monk said, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Obviously, the monk was trying to understand the words; he was not able to see that Kyogen has not answered his question but only symbolically indicated toward it. Neither the dragon exists…and the tree is withered.
Kyogen said, “If you cannot understand this, let us try it another way”:
“The pupils of the eyes of a skull.”