Tuesday, 6 October 2015


5. Inasmuch as a Zen Master can be said to give teachings, they are nevertheless teachings that can't be taught. Strictly speaking, a Zen Master should not be referred to as a Zen teacher. An old Chinese master, with a clear understanding of the matter, rightly declared that 'in all the land of T'ang there is no Zen teacher'.

Another old master invented a story to articulate how, after many years as a 'teacher', he came to understand that he had been on the wrong track. He told of how, in the course of giving a series of talks to his monks, he became aware of an alien presence in the lecture hall. The disturbing presence presented itself as an old-man-who-was-not-now-a-man though in the distant past it had been human. Indeed, it had been the master of the current master's very own monastery. It confessed that something had gone wrong way back then. The former master, when asked a question about causation, had failed to respond from the perspective of someone mastered by Zen. Rather he had answered as a teacher who believed himself to have mastered Zen. He had declared that an enlightened one does not fall under the yoke of causation. Consequently he found himself doomed to undergo five hundred re-births as a fox and was now seeking release from that cycle. For the current master the story that he was now telling represented his own career as a professional Zen teacher, that is, a career in which he had come to see himself as a fraud, a trickster, a giver of Zen teachings. Now, half way through his latest lecture series, it had become imperative for him to confront and own the trickster dimension of himself. The antinomian implications of the view that a fully enlightened person is not subject to causation were suddenly and forcibly borne in upon him, implications that he now realized were intolerable. By confronting and acknowledging his shadow self the current master found himself freed from the secret dominance of that shadow self. His presentation of the Dharma was no longer dependent on words and letters. This brought about a change in his presence that was immediately noticed by his leading disciple. This led the disciple to acknowledge the master by slapping him in the face. The master responded with uproarious laughter. The disciple in question went on to become a master in his own right, a master who one day would declare that 'in all the land of T'ang there is no Zen teacher'.

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