Dec 30, 2009

Great Death

When Zen master Sekiso passed away and the brotherhood asked the head monk to succeed him as abbot, Zen master Kyuho, who had previously served as the master's attendant, came and addressed them. He posed a question to the head monk, "The master often told us to `cease all activity,' to `do nothing whatever,' to `become so cold and lifeless the spirits of the dead will come sighing around you,' to `become a bolt of fine white silk,' to `become the dead ashes in a censer left forgotten in an ancient graveyard,' to `become so that the present instant is ten thousand years.'

"What is the meaning of these instructions? If you show that you grasp them, you are the next abbot. If you show that you do not, you aren't the man for the job."

"His words," said the head monk, "refer to the essential oneness of all things."

"You have failed to understand the master's meaning," said Kyuho.

"Get some incense ready," replied the head monk. "If I have terminated my life by the time that incense burns, it will mean I grasped the master's meaning. If I am still living, it will mean I did not."

Kyuho lit a stick of incense. Before it had burned down the head monk had ceased breathing. Kyuho patted the dead man on the back, and said, "Others have died while seated; some have died while standing. But you have just succeeded in proving that you could not have even seen the master's meaning in your dreams."

— Hakuin

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