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A Taste of Zen


Once Zen Master To An was visiting another temple.  He was not wearing his Zen Master clothes, but just the clothes of a wandering monk.  He began a conversation with one of the monks at the temple, who did not recognize him. Soon the monk began to talk about his Master. “Everyday he does one thousand prostrations. He eats only one meal a day. He hasn’t left the temple for thirty years.  He is always sitting Zen. He is the greatest Zen Master in all of China.”

To An replied, “Well, well, he sounds like an extraordinary man.  I can’t do any of these things.  I can’t bow a thousand times a day; but my mind is never lazy.  I can’t eat only once a day; but I never desire food.  I can’t stay in a temple for more than a short time; but wherever I go I have no hindrance.  I can’t sit Zen for very long; but I never give rise to thinking.”

The monk said, “I don’t understand.”  “Then go ask your Master,” To An replied.  The monk bowed and went into the temple.

Soon the Zen Master of the temple came running out to To An and prostrated himself three times in front of him.  “You are a great Zen Master,” he said. “Please let me become your disciple.  I have been very attached to hard training.  But now that I have heard your words, my mind is clear.”

To An laughed and said, “No, I can’t be your teacher.  You are already a great Zen Master.  All you need to do is to keep the mind you had when you were bowing to me.  Already you are a free man.  Before, you were bowing, sitting and eating only for yourself.  Now it is for all people.”

At these words, the Zen Master began to weep with joy.  He bowed again to To An and said, simply, “Thank you.”

It is important to bear in mind that one must not be attached to rituals, words or even Zen sitting.  True sitting means to cut off all thinking and to keep non-moving mind.  True Zen means to become clear.

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