Ma Tzu had three outstanding disciples who enjoyed a special intimacy with him. They were Nan-chu’an, Chih-tsang, and Hui-hai (otherwise known as Hyakujo).
One evening, as the three disciples were attending on their master, enjoying the moon together, he asked them what they thought would be the best way of spending such a night.
Chih-tsang was the first to answer. He said, “A good time to make offerings.”
Hui-hai said, “A good time to cultivate one’s spiritual life.”
Nan-chu’an made no answer, but shook his sleeves and went away.
Ma Tzu turned to Chih-tsang and said, “The sutras will join the tsang.”
(He was making a pun on Chih-tsang’s name, tsang, which in Chinese means ‘basket’, as in carrying the word of Buddha.)
He turned toward Hui-hai and said: “Dhyana will return to the sea.”
(Ma Tzu was making a second pun, since, in Chinese, hai means ‘sea’.)
Then Ma Tzu concluded, “Nan-chu’an alone transcends the realm of all things, all by himself.”
On another occasion a monk asked Ma Tzu, “What is the Buddha?”
Ma Tzu answered, “Mind is the Buddha.”
The monk then asked, “What is the Way?”
“No-mind is the Way,” answered Ma Tzu.
The monk then asked, “Are the Buddha and the Way somewhat different?”
Ma Tzu replied, “The Buddha is like stretching out the hand, the Way is like clenching the fist.”
Maneesha, before entering the sutras something has to be said about Ma Tzu himself, because it is very strange…No other Zen master has ever behaved the way Ma Tzu behaved – but it is very symbolic.
Ma Tzu is said to have been a strange-looking man. It is said that he walked like a cow, and looked around like a tiger. He could touch his nose with his tongue, and had two rings on the soles of his feet.
Ma Tzu’s way of teaching was most varied. He is said to have been instrumental in the enlightenment of one hundred and thirty disciples, each of whom became the master of a particular locality.
Obviously this strange man, Ma Tzu, behaved according to his spontaneity, not caring about anybody in the world. That is the first thing to be understood. Only a man of tremendous courage can walk on all fours like a cow – a man who does not care a bit about the opinions of others. He knows the truth and that is the end.
And walking like a cow is very symbolic. You cannot fall asleep standing up, it is very difficult. You have to lie down horizontally, so that the gravitational pull is equal all over the body. Standing, leaning or sitting, the gravitational pull will be different on different parts of the body. That is a disturbance in your harmoniousness. But when you lie down you come into a deep harmony with the gravitational field.
There is a strange story in Zen circles – it is very ancient – that animals know our language perfectly well, but they don’t speak, they don’t show even a sign that they understand us.
Once a Zen master said to a monkey – only a Zen master can do such a thing – “I know it perfectly well; my insight says that you understand my language but you are trying to hide the fact.”
The monkey said, “Yes, sir. But please don’t tell anybody because I will not speak in front of anybody else. So keep it a secret. Every animal understands your language, but no animal wants to be enslaved by you. The moment any animal speaks, he is going to be put to do some work.”