The Lone Zen Master

I’ll be joining a new yoga class soon, and I was just thinking about what I might say, or not say, to the other students in the class about the things I’ve experienced when practicing yoga very seriously. In an open discussion during a previous yoga class I told other students that I was able to feel various things when we did the “corpse pose” at the end of the session. I didn’t go into great detail, but I did tell them that I could feel my blood flowing in my body, how I could feel “vibration” sensations on my skin, and a few other things.

I don’t think I’ll go into great detail in this class, definitely not right away, and this leads to an interesting thought: I wonder how many people have unique/special experiences, but won’t share that information with you? The person you’re sitting next to could be an expert in the advanced “metaphysical” aspects of yoga, but you’ll never know it because they won’t say anything.

An interesting aspect of that is that if you don’t say anything — if you don’t open up about your own experiences — you’ll never know what experiences other people have had; you’ll never learn what they know. So you have to make yourself accessible. You have to be willing to say, “I practice meditation,” or, “I practice yoga, and I’m really interested in the spiritual aspects of it,” that sort of thing.

The Lone Zen Master

There’s a Zen story like this. A Zen student gained enlightenment at a monastery and became a Zen Master, but decided he didn’t want to stay at the monastery or start his own lineage. He just wanted to go back to work. I don’t remember the name for his work, but he had a boat, and would row people from one shore across a river to another shore, and that was his business. (This was at least 1,000 years ago.)

His teacher said that was fine, but asked if he would help just one other student gain enlightenment when the time came. The new Zen Master said that was fine, he would be glad to help one student.

So he left the monastery, and went back to his business, rowing people across the river. He would casually test people with a simple question to see whether they were a Zen student, essentially starting a mondo. If the student answered the question in the right way, the Zen Master might help him gain enlightenment. But most people were not Zen students, so they answered the question in a way a non-Zen student would answer it. (The question was simple, but could be interpreted in different ways.)

One day a ripe Zen student finally showed up, and the Zen Master rowing the boat did what he had promised, and helped the student gain enlightenment, right there on the boat. (I’ll skip the details of how he did that.)

I always thought this was interesting: An unknown Zen Master could ask you a question today, but if your mind isn’t ripe, you’ll miss the question entirely and go on about your day, “La la la la...” However, if your mind is ripe (open), a simple meeting could lead to your own enlightenment.


(I originally wrote this story on January 18, 2013.)