Except Zen, no religion has been so intensely clear about its own existential status. The others are only aware about their theologies, their scriptures, their teachers, their masters, their disciples. They are all very superficial – just waves on the ocean. But Zen has never for a single moment identified itself with the waves. It consistently emphasizes, “I am the ocean. Waves come and go; the ocean remains. Many more waves will come and go; it does not affect the ocean in any way.”
Obaku was right when he said that there is no Zen. There were many teachers and many followers, but they don’t constitute the reality of Zen.
For example, one day I was not and one day I will be again not. The same is true about each of you. But the essence of existence knows no change; it remains. And that essence of existence is called Zen. It is not an ordinary religion like Hinduism, Christianity, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism – I am including even Buddhism – because Zen is the essence; everything else is just commentary. Zen is the experience; everything else is just decoration.
Obaku is right: even though there are Zen masters and there are Zen followers, yet there is no Zen in the sense that these teachings are all superfluous and these teachers are only knowledgeable. They know about Zen, but they have not lived it, they have only learned about it. And when the teachers themselves don’t have Zen as a quality of their innermost being, how can they teach anyone? But that does not mean that there is no Zen.
Zen is another name of existence – and then you will be able to understand Obaku very easily.
Commanding his way of teaching;
But he made it no point of merit.
Seated majestically over the whole land,
He distinguished the dragon from the snake.
Emperor Taichu once encountered him
And thrice fell into his clutches.
Setcho is appreciating the tremendous insight of Obaku, his clarity of vision in making a distinction between the snake and the dragon, his great capacity to be a master:
Commanding his way of teaching…But he is so humble that he made it no point of merit.
Seated majestically over the whole land…He is just a beggar as far as the outside world is concerned, but because of his insight into the very center of existence he is the real emperor. Even a great emperor – Taichu once encountered him and thrice fell into his clutches.
We don’t know what those clutches were. They are not recorded but they must have been of the same quality. For example, when somebody says, “There is no Zen, although there are Zen teachers and Zen disciples,” at the same time he means that these disciples and these teachers make no difference – Zen is.
Zen is rather is-ness. It is in the flowers and it is in the mountains and it is in the clouds. It is in the open sky and it is in the tremendous light of the sun and it is also in the darkness of the night.
It is! Everything else is commentary.