On a certain day, all the monks in Nansen’s monastery were involved in preparations for the following day – which was the anniversary of Ma Tzu’s death.
Nansen said to his disciples, “Tomorrow we will offer vegetarian food to master Ma Tzu. Do you think he will come?”
No one answered. But among the group was a young, traveling monk called Tozan. He stepped forward and said, “He will wait for a companion to come.”
Nansen commented, “Although this man is young, he is qualified for the training.”
Tozan responded, “The venerable sir should not oppress a good man by regarding him as a worthless fellow.”
Maneesha, in the long history of Zen there are milestones. Mahakashyapa is the first, but not much is known about him – in Buddhist scriptures he is mentioned only once. Just one mention and yet he is regarded as the greatest disciple of Gautam Buddha.
For twenty years he has not spoken a single word, no question, just sat by the side of Gautam Buddha. Even Gautam Buddha is concerned: “This is a strange fellow – he has not even said hello; there are thousands of monks, they all come with questions, problems, but this man seems to have no questions.” But in that utter silence, everything happened.
Mahakashyapa was immensely courageous to be utterly silent for twenty years, not even to ask the master, but just to wait: “Whenever the time is ripe, the master will deliver the truth.” And it happened, and it happened in a strange way.
The emperor Prasenjita has come to offer Gautam Buddha some flowers out of season. And at the same time a great philosopher, whom Prasenjita has up to now believed to be his teacher, has come with Prasenjita.
Prasenjita introduced his teacher, Maulingaputta, and said to Gautam Buddha, “I offer my gratitude that you are staying in my kingdom; just let me know if anything is needed by the great assembly of monks. One thing more I ask you: I have brought my teacher, Maulingaputta, and he has come with his five hundred followers. He is a great philosopher, a man of tremendous knowledge, very articulate in discussing things. I pray to you to give him a chance to discuss ultimate problems with you.”
Gautam Buddha turned to Maulingaputta and said, “I am ready. But are you ready?”
Maulingaputta could not understand what readiness was needed.
Gautam Buddha said, “Readiness means, are you capable of being silent, utterly silent, not a single thought passing through your mind?”
He said, “Thought is my life, I am a thinker; philosophy is my profession. All that I know about mind is that it is a thinking process. Beyond that I don’t know any silence you are talking about.”
Then Buddha said, “You are not ready. And it will be a very strange conversation. From the hilltop I will be shouting to you, and from the dark valleys you will be answering me – without understanding me. So first, let us come to a point where our consciousnesses are at the same level.”
It was convincing, and even Prasenjita said, “Gautam Buddha is right. But what is to be done?”