Woodcutter or Zen master?

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Osho says, “You have to remember that wherever you are it is a holy land and whatever you are doing it is divine.”

Chopping wood

Zen has changed a very ordinary thing into an extraordinary experience. You will never forget drinking tea with a man of Zen. You will be fortunate if the master is present. Every gesture is filled with significance.

It is called a tea ceremony, not tea drinking. It is not a tea shop or a tea stall, it is a temple: here, ceremonies happen. This is only symbolic. In the whole of life, around the clock, you have to remember that wherever you are it is a holy land and whatever you are doing it is divine. But just remembering will not be of much help. It is supported by meditation; otherwise it will remain a mind thing, it won’t go deep. That meditation is always there to give it depth.

So the whole day in a Zen monastery, from the morning when people get up till the night when they go to sleep, is a long prayer. They are not praying – there is no God to pray to – but they are prayerful, they are thankful, they are grateful. And with the meditation in the background, each small thing starts having new significances that you had never thought about.

Who had thought that a cup of tea could have some spiritual significance? But in Zen it has. If you look just on the surface it may look like a ritual. If you are an outsider, it may look like a ritual. You have to be an insider to understand that it is not a ritual; they are really living it, enjoying it, because behind it is the world of meditation, silence.

It is not only the silence in the temple; a greater silence is within them. It is not only the holiness outside; a greater holiness is within them. The whole day they are whole – whatever they are doing: cleaning the grounds of the monastery, working in the garden, cutting wood, carrying water from the well, cooking food. Whatever they are doing, they are doing so totally that unless you are an insider you can see only their action. You will not be able to see from where that action arises – the oceanic depth within them.

It happened:

One emperor of Japan went to see Nan In, a famous Zen master and one of the strangest masters of all. The emperor had heard much about him. Many times he had invited Nan In to come to the court, to be a guest of the emperor, but he always received the message, “It is always the thirsty who goes to the well, not the well to the thirsty.”

Finally, the emperor decided to go himself. When he went inside the gate of the monastery… it was on a mountain, surrounded with thick jungle, and one man was chopping wood. That was the first man he met.

The emperor asked him, “Where is the master? Can I see him?”

The man stopped and said, “Yes, you can see him. Just go directly ahead and you will reach the place where he lives.” And he started chopping wood again.

And as the emperor was going on he shouted, “Don’t disturb the place. Just sit down and wait. The master comes whenever he feels like coming. That is his mastery.”

The emperor thought, “Strange people. Just a woodcutter, but he talks with the emperor in such a manner that if he were in the court he would have been beheaded! But here it is better to be silent and go.”

So he went and sat at the cottage where the master was supposed to come. After a few minutes, the master came. And the emperor was puzzled, because he was dressed in the robe of the master, but his face looked exactly like the woodcutter.

Looking at his puzzled face, the master said, “Don’t be worried, we have met before. I was chopping wood; I had directed you to this place.”

The emperor said, “But why did you not say then and there that you are the master?”

He said, “At that time I was not. I was just a woodchopper, a woodcutter – so totally involved in it that I had absolutely no place left for the master. That’s why I told you to wait, so that I could finish with my wood, take a shower, put on the master’s robe remember that now I am a master, and be total in it. Now I am ready. For what have you come?”

The emperor said, “I have completely forgotten for what I had come! Seeing the situation, that the master chops wood – don’t you have disciples? I have heard that you have five hundred disciples.”

He said, “Yes, I have. They are in the monastery, deeper in the forest. But chopping wood is such a joy that I would rather chop wood than be a master. It is such a sacred, such a blissful feeling, the cool breeze, the hot sun, the whole body perspiring, and each hit of the axe making the silence of the place deeper. Next time you come, join me! We do all kinds of things which are necessary, but one thing remains common, as a golden thread running through all actions, and that is meditation. And meditation makes everything divine. Then actions don’t count. What counts is your consciousness at the moment of the action.”

Osho, The Path of the Mystic – Talks in Uruguay, Ch 22, Q 1

Series compiled by Shanti
All excerpts of this series can be found in: 1001 Tales

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