The Elusive Zen Journalist

I enjoy reading Zen stories. It is so wonderful to read those interactions between master & student – the innocent question from the student and the crazy answer from the master.

Most of the times there is a question asked by the student, followed by the master’s enigmatic reply. The master’s reply is mysterious only to a non-enlightened student. The reply which takes many forms, not just words but sometimes a whack of a stick or a kick or a loud shout, is always intended to point directly to the mind.

Zen is described by many to be a teaching beyond scriptures & tradition, directly pointing to bare reality.

​So, not surprisingly, many students get enlightened on hearing the master’s reply. Such stories are the most interesting ones. We hope too to get an insight into the master’s response.

Zen Story of Gutei’s Finger

Whenever anyone asked him about Zen, the great master Gutei would quietly raise one finger into the air. A boy in the village began to imitate this behavior. Whenever he heard people talking about Gutei’s teachings, he would interrupt the discussion and raise his finger. Gutei heard about the boy’s mischief. When he saw him in the street, he asked the boy and asked him a question. The boy raised his finger as usual. Gutei grabbed his finger and cut it off with a knife. The boy cried and began to run away, but Gutei called out to him. When the boy turned to look, Gutei raised his own finger into the air. At that moment the boy became enlightened.

Zen Story of Dojen’s Enlightenment

One day Master Ju-Ching was scolding another monk for sleeping, and said, “The practice of Zazen (Sitting Meditation) is the dropping away of body and mind. What do you think dozing will accomplish?” Upon hearing these words, Dogen became fully enlightened.

Enlightenment apart, I really wonder who is it that takes the time to write down these stories?

The dialogue in a Zen story is a deeply intimate, intensely personal and mostly private exchange between the student & the master. So for the story to have passed down through the oral tradition, someone has to report it verbatim, for us to enjoy.

Is it the teacher who takes pride in his responses to his students & keeps repeating them to others so as to make stories out of it? I doubt it because if they are real Zen teachers, they would be more concerned about the student getting enlightened than about making a story of it to brag about.

So is it the student who reports his conversation with the teacher & shows off how he got enlightened? Again I doubt it because if the student really attained enlightenment, that would be such a great event, he would have been too out of his mind to cry “Eureka” and run down the street.

So there must be somebody else – the elusive journalist – who eavesdrops on the conversation, sees the changed expression on the face of the student & infers whether he got enlightened & then runs away to share the story with fellow students.

​There were no hidden microphones or voice recorders in those days & obviously neither Zen master nor the student who got enlightened would be interested in making silly stories, then WHO THE HELL NOTED ALL THESE ZEN STORIES? – TAKE IT AS A KOAN TO SOLVE.

Zen Story of Huike’s Enlightenment

Huike and Bodhidharma were climbing up a mountain peak. Bodhidharma asked, “Where are we going?” Huike replied, “Please go right ahead—that’s it.” Bodhidharma retorted, “If you go right ahead, you cannot move a step.” Upon hearing these words, Huike was enlightened.

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