Mayoku’s teaching was as bitter as Obaku’s; nobody dared to approach it. Sekikyo’s teaching was to search for the man on the point of an arrow. All who came were afraid of it.
‘Mayoku’s teaching was as bitter as Obaku’s; nobody dared to approach it’ means that his teaching was so subtle and deep like his master Obaku’s that no one could approach it through intellectual understanding. There is a story that shows how subtle his teaching was. Once a monastic asked Mayoku during a Dharma talk, “I know Buddhist doctrines roughly, but what is it that is transmitted beyond the doctrinal teaching?” Mayoku descended from the high seat, moved his cane around himself, stood on tiptoe and said, “Do you know?” The monastic couldn’t answer, and Mayoku hit him with his cane. Although Mayoku gave him a perfect answer, the monastic couldn’t digest it. So, ancient masters would say that the best food is of no use to him who cannot digest it.
Obaku, who was Rinzai’s master, also gave Rinzai thirty blows without any words whenever he was asked what the Dharma is whilst Rinzai visited him on three separate occasions. This has become a well-known anecdote that symbolises the teaching beyond words in the Zen community. This is why Rinzai said that Mayoku’s teaching was as bitter as Obaku’s.
‘Sekikyo’s teaching was to search for the man on the point of an arrow. All who came were afraid of it’ originated from the fact that he would draw an empty bow saying, “Take a look at the arrow” whenever students came to him for his teaching. Such an unusual way of teaching, people thought, was too difficult to approach easily.
Student: “Why did Sekikyo draw an empty bow saying, ‘Take a look at the arrow’?”
Master: “In order to show the arrow.”
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway
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