Obaku came into the kitchen and asked the cook what he was doing. The cook said, “I am sorting out the rice for the community of monks.” Obaku said, “How much do they eat a day?” The cook answered, “Two and a half stone.” Obaku asked, “Isn’t that rather a lot?” The cook replied, “I rather fear it is too little.” Obaku hit him. The cook reported this to Rinzai. The master said, “I will go and test that old fellow Obaku for you.”
When Obaku asked the cook what he was doing, he didn’t mean to ask what he was doing, but he, revealing the true-Self, checked whether the cook could discern the true-Self or not. He asked the cook if he knew whether the essence of his being that was sorting the rice is the true-Self, Emptiness. In the realm of Emptiness there is no rice and no one to sort the rice. Failing to grasp the master’s meaning, the cook made a worldly answer. Obaku had the kindness to present him with another question ‘How much do they eat a day?’. In the realm of the true-Self there cannot be any conceptions such as ‘much’, ‘little’ and ‘eat’. The cook, deluded by words again, responded with a mundane answer. When the compassionate Obaku gave the cook one more chance by asking, ‘Isn’t that rather a lot?’, he, aware that the cook was still lost, gave the answer to the three questions he had asked by hitting him. When Rinzai, hearing about this situation from the cook, said, “I will go and test that old fellow Obaku for you”, not only did he promise to test Obaku but also gave the same answer to the three questions as Rinzai did by hitting the cook.
Student: “How would you have answered the question ‘What are you doing?’?”
Master: “I would have sprinkled water on Obaku.”
Student: “What would your reply have been to the question ‘How much do they eat a day?’?”
Master: “I would have said, ‘Why do you ask me how much you eat a day?’.”
Student: “How would you have responded to the question ‘Isn’t that rather a lot?’?”
Master: “‘A lot’ and ‘a little’ are the complaints of those who eat with a mouth.”
Student: “What did Rinzai mean by ‘I will go and test that old fellow Obaku for you’?”
Master: “He meant, ‘Why don’t you recognise what Obaku showed? What I am showing you now is not different from it. Take a close look.”
The king doesn’t know what rice is while the cook in the kitchen is always worried whether there is a lot or a little.
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway
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