For anyone to be able to say that an answer to a question is incorrect, there must already be in the person’s mind a spectrum of possible answers that are considered to be ‘correct’ and a spectrum of possible answers that are considered to be ‘incorrect. If, as a response to a question, someone answers within the spectrum of possible ‘correct’ answers that person is considered to be knowledgeable in the subject. Whereas if their answers falls within the spectrum of possible ‘incorrect’ answers, that person is considered to be not knowledgeable in the subject. Herein lies the danger within the spiritual world, for so many are simply allowing themselves to be attracted to those teachers and teachings that aligned themselves to the seeker’s already established list of ‘correct’ spiritual answers. Many rate a person’s level of spiritual maturity based on how many answers align with their spectrum of possible correct answers. Those whose answers fall on the ‘incorrect’ answer spectrum are considered spiritually immature.
A monk asked Zhaozhou, “What is the living meaning of Chan Buddhism?”
Zhaozhou said, “The cypress tree in the yard.”
(from the Book of Serenity, Case 47)
To ask a true question is to have already allowed a profound sense of “not knowing” to have engulfed your being. In the old days, when someone approached a master with a question, they did not have within them any idea of what a correct answer would be. There would be a sense of doubt within the being, and no way to remove it. So one went on a journey. A journey to discover at all cost the answer to their question. Imagine what it must have been like in the times of ancient masters. To be able to sit in front of a true master and present your questions was not something easily attained. Sometimes months and years would go by before one could spend a few moments with a master and present their question. All the energy that is built up, the intense yearning simply to know is waiting for the moment to erupt. To approach the master and ask him, “What is the living meaning of Chan Buddhism?” is the same as asking, “Who am I?” for it is not about the words that make up the question, but the energy of simply being receptive, simply willing to let everything go to see with utmost clarity.
“The cypress tree in the yard.”
From a logical standpoint, this answers has nothing to do with the question yet, from an existential standpoint, this answer is the eruption of the question itself. No preconceived answers was there, there was simply a question. A feeling of doubt, a feeling of pure receptivity. Any answer given when one is in this state is enough to crack open the being.
A monk said to Joshu, “I have entered this monastery. I beg you to teach me” Joshu asked. “Have you eaten your rice-gruel.” “I have,” replied the monk.”Then”, said Joshu, “go and wash your bowl(s).” The monk was enlightened.
(Gateless Gate case 7)
The logical mind wants to think that such an answer holds a hidden meaning, for how can such an answer enlightened a monk? Hence a whole tradition of meditation that focuses on trying to solve riddles known as; Koans was born. Yet, it misses the point completely. The answer has nothing to do with the question. It is simply the question that matters. True questioning is the beingness functioning at full throttle. Anything, be it a sound or a long discourse, can shine the inward light back onto itself for the beingness to have a clear recognition of what it is not.