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Zen Stories - 1 - Everything is void

Once upon a time, a young man, in his eagerness to learn the path of Zen, served many masters. Even after gaining much knowledge he was not satisfied and finally approached a Zen master named Dokuan.

At that time Dokuan was sitting peacefully and smoking hookah.

The young man, Yamaoka tried to demonstrate his knowledge by saying “In reality, the mind, Buddha and living beings do not exist. The true nature of the Universe is nothingness. There is no illusion nor knowledge, no sage nor fool. There is no giving and nothing to receive. Nothing exists”.

Dokuan continued to smoke quietly which made Yamaoka wonder if he was listening. All of a sudden, he whacked Yamaoka with his hand stick which made Yamaoka quite angry. Dokuon asked “If nothing exists, then where is your anger coming from?”

Yamaoka served many masters and gained bookish knowledge. He could quote from various scriptures eloquently. He understood the truth by intellect but not by practice. He did not have the strength of Sadhana. This is the sorry state of people who understand philosophy by merely reading books and presume that it is everything. Philosophy can be understood by intelligence, but Zen can be understood only through experience. Experience and scholastic knowledge are totally different things. Usually, scholastic knowledge is an obstacle to Zen experience. The professor in Nanin’s story is a philosopher. That is why Nanin indirectly suggested that one cannot understand Zen unless he gets rid of bookish knowledge.

The idea of nothingness is true. But this was not from Yamaoka’s experiential knowledge. He was merely reciting from the scriptures like a parrot. He was under the delusion of philosophy and took that to be real knowledge. To bring him out of his imaginary world to the real world, Dokuan beat him with a stick. If Yamaoka had the strength of Sadhana, he would have realized it by that blow. But instead, he was possessed by anger, which is an inherent human nature.

If he had experienced the real state of No-mind, he would not have become angry. In fact, he wouldn’t even have come to Dokuan. He came to Dokuan only because he was not a realized soul. A realized soul does not need certification from someone else. He need not go to anyone in search of Truth.

Knowing that Yamaoka had not yet attained realization, Dokuan asked "If everything is void then where does your anger come from?", this means the ultimate truth you are speaking of is not from your experience. Unless that becomes your experience, whatever you read is a mere waste of time. You have read a lot, but you have not even crossed the first step in the path of Sadhana. Dokuan was hinting Yamaoka to start his Sadhana at least from then on.

In spiritual world, experience is what counts, but not scriptural knowledge.

All rights reserved. This article has been translated by Suresh P, which was originally posted in on February 17, 2009. The content or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express permission of the publisher.

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