Case 40 Tipping Over a Water Bottle
When Isan Oshõ was with Hyakujõ, he was tenzo [典座 head cook] of the monastery.
Hyakujõ wanted to choose a master for Mount Tai-i, so he called together all the monks and told them that anyone who could answer his question in an outstanding manner would be chosen.
Then he took a water bottle and stood it on the floor, and said, "You may not call this a water bottle. What do you call it?"
The head monk said, "It cannot be called a stump."
Hyakujõ asked Isan his opinion.
Isan tipped over the water bottle with his feet and went out.
Hyakujõ laughed and said, "The head monk loses."
And Isan was named as the founder of the new monastery.
Isan displayed great spirit in his action, but he could not cut himself free from Hyakujõ's apron strings. He preferred the heavier task to lighter one.
Why was he like that, eh?
He took off his headband to bear the iron yoke.
Tossing bamboo baskets and ladles away
He made a glorious dash and swept all before him.
Hyakujõ's barrier cannot stop his advance;
Thousands of Buddhas come forth from the tips of his feet.
True Story: Here in the USA a Zen Master is paired with a Tibetan Buddhist teacher for a public talk/debate. The Zen Master holds up an orange and says "What is it?" The Tibetan fellow looks at he Zen Master incredulously and says, "Don't they have Oranges where you are from?" The Zen Master breaks out laughing.
Straight ahead runs the Way. Don't be thrown by ridiculous questions. Recognize that they are ridiculous and act appropriately. The head monk is caught. He thinks he should say something profound but then nothing profound comes to his head. His answer is truly lame. He could of said "I don't see a thing," referencing his understanding of Emptiness. He could of said "All the Universe is contained in that bottle," showing his understanding of interdependence and non-duality. They would have been better answers but still Isan's answer would of won. He wasn't interested in profound thoughts he had better things to do.
I am not saying there is no profundity in Zen. Deep meditation opens the door to profundity but in the practice of non- attachment we have to learn to let go even of those deep thoughts, if we are to continue to deepen meditation and then bring that quiet mind into our daily lives.
All koans are context driven and the most obvious interpretation may be misleading. We might think from this koan that Zen is simply anti-intellectual as we might think several koans are anti-intellectual. But here we are in the late stages of this Koan collection. Like Isan who was an advance monk if you have gotten this far then it is time to drop even the profundity and come back to simply functioning but now with a difference. All that profundity just sits in the background. It is not that it has gone away but it is no longer something that needs to be thought about but has simply become part of who you are.
Years of meditation and deep meditative experience gives one a clear mind. This clear mind sees the world exactly as it is without overlaying layers of thought. Some would say this is the essence and final outcome of meditation practice. But who is to say what a clear mind is? Most people already think they know what a clear mind is. The other day I loaned a friend a sutra titled by the translator Journey to Reality. My friend looked at the title and said, "Isn't this all reality as it is." Though my response was, "Just read the book," I didn't contradict him but our normal view of reality like that of clarity is not the same for one who who has deep experience in meditation. And the deep clarity of one who is well practiced in meditation is different from what we normally think of as clarity. It includes both the mundane and the profound, the mind is quiet and deeply knowing at the same time.
Mumon's Verse 頌曰
颺下笊籬并木杓 Tossing bamboo baskets and ladles away,
當陽一突絶周遮 He made a glorious dash and swept all before him.
百丈重關欄不住 Hyakujõ's barrier cannot stop his advance;
脚尖□出佛如麻 Thousands of Buddhas come forth from the tips of his feet.