When Rinzai took leave of Obaku, the latter asked, “Where will you go?” Rinzai replied, “If it is not to the south of the river, it will be to the north of the river.” When Obaku slapped him in the face, Rinzai stopped him and gave him a slap instead. Obaku gave a shout of laughter and ordered his attendant, “Bring the armrest and stool of my late master Hyakujo!” Rinzai said, “Attendant, fetch fire.” Obaku said, “Though this may be so, you’d better take them. In future they will serve you to shut up everybody.”
Obaku’s question ‘Where will you go?’ implies ‘Do you know that the true-Self never moves at all; neither goes nor comes?’. Rinzai’s answer ‘If it is not to the south of the river, it will be to the north of the river’ means that wherever he goes, he is still in the true-Self without any direction. Obaku tested him again to see if he was really aware of the true-Self by slapping him in the face. Rinzai revealed the true-Self by returning him a slap. Convinced of Rinzai’s enlightenment, Obaku wanted to give him the armrest and stool of his late master Hyakujo as a token that his enlightenment was approved by him, just as the historical Buddha transmitted his robe and bowl to Mahakasyapa. That is why he told his attendant to bring them. Rinzai’s ‘Attendant, fetch fire’ means, ‘I know that everything is empty and that we should not be deluded by the illusions of secular things such as the armrest and stool of Obaku’s late master Hyakujo.’
Obaku’s ‘Though this may be so, you’d better take them. In future they will serve you to shut up everybody’ means ‘You are right in that everything is the true-Self in the realm of Emptiness, but you’d better take them in the realm of forms since they will help you to teach others’.
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway