Rinzai went to Obaku in the middle of the summer retreat. He encountered Obaku reading Sutras and remarked, “I have thought you are a great man! But it is only an old monk who crams black beans into his mouth!” A few days later when he took leave again, Obaku said, “You broke the summer retreat in coming here. And now you leave without finishing it.” Rinzai said, “I only came to pay my respect to you.” Obaku finally hit him and ordered that he be chased away. When Rinzai had gone but a few miles, he had doubts about this affair, returned, and finished the summer retreat.
Reading texts literally without grasping the hidden meanings is compared to pecking black beans in Zen meditation. This is also referred to as being deluded by words. However, grasping the essence of the text without being deluded by words is compared to making a dead snake alive.
By saying, “You broke the summer retreat in coming here. And now you leave without finishing it” Obaku tested Rinzai to see if he would be deluded by words such as summer, retreat, coming, leaving and finishing. Unfortunately, Rinzai didn’t seem to grasp Obaku’s intention when considering Rinzai’s answer and the context of Obaku’s hitting him and ordering that he be chased away. That is why Rinzai was doubtful of the affair, returned and finished the summer retreat. The key point here is that regardless of whether Rinzai was deluded by words or not, we should not make the mistake of pecking black beans when we read this text.
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway