Master Rinzai said, “Is there some skilful general to deploy his troops and hoist his standards? Let him step forward and prove his skill before the assembly.”
A monk asked, “What is the essence of Buddhism?”
The master gave a Katsu.
The monk bowed.
The master said, “This one can hold his own in debate.”
Exchanging questions and answers between a master and his students during a dharma talk seems to have been one of the Zen masters’ common teaching methods at that time. So, Master Rinzai encouraged the assembly to demonstrate their enlightenment if they were enlightened, or to ask questions if they had any.
The monk asked the question in order to demonstrate his enlightenment, or to have his practice checked rather than because he didn’t know. So, when the master answered the monk’s question by giving a Katsu, the monk could respond to the master’s answer by offering a bow. The master, knowing that he was grasping his answer, the Katsu, approved the monk by saying, “This one can hold his own in debate”, when the monk bowed to him.
To give you another example, one day the first Patriarch Bodhidharma, in order to check his students’ practice, asked them what they had realised. When one of them offered three bows, he approved him, saying, “You’ve got the pith of my teaching.” We should ask ourselves why the master gave a Katsu instead of detail explanation about the essence of Buddhism and why he approved the monk when he bowed on hearing the Katsu just as Bodhidharma had approved his student when he responded to his question by offering three bows.
Student: “Why did the master give a Katsu when asked what the essence of Buddhism is?”
Master: “He showed it to the monk.”
Student: “Why did the master approve the monk when he bowed?”
Master: “Because the monk revealed what he grasped from the master’s Katsu.”
Student: “What did he grasp?”
Master: “Why don’t you grasp it now?”
Student: “Will you approve me if I also bow you?”
Master: “Why don’t you know that I am approving you now?”
Student: “I don’t know what you mean.”
Master: “What is difficult is not to give but to take.”
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway
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