Ma Tzu was noted for his resourcefulness in finding expedient means of working with his disciples. This is illustrated by his conversion of Shih-kung, who was originally a hunter, loathing the very sight of Buddhist monks. One day, as he was chasing after a deer, he passed by Ma Tzu’s monastery. Ma Tzu came forward to meet him. Shih-kung asked him whether he had seen any deer pass by.
Ma Tzu asked, “Who are you?”
“A hunter,” he replied.
“Do you know how to shoot?” queried Ma Tzu.
“Of course I do,” replied the hunter.
“How many can you hit with one arrow?” asked Ma Tzu.
“One arrow can only shoot down one deer,” said Shih-kung.
“In that case, you really don’t know how to shoot,” Ma Tzu commented.
The hunter then asked Ma Tzu, “Does your reverence know how to shoot?”
Ma Tzu replied, “Of course I do.”
“How many can you kill with one arrow?” the hunter asked.
“I can kill a whole flock with a single arrow,” answered the master.
At this, Shih-kung said, “The beasts have life as you do: why should you shoot down a whole flock?”
Ma Tzu said, “Since you know this so well, why don’t you shoot yourself?”
Shih-kung answered, “Even if I wanted to shoot myself, I would not know how to manage it.”
At this point, Ma Tzu remarked, “This fellow has accumulated klesa from ignorance for numberless aeons. Today the whole process has come to a sudden stop.”
Tossing his arrows and bows to the ground, Shih-kung became a monk and a disciple of Ma Tzu.
Some time later, when Shih-kung was working in the kitchen, Ma Tzu asked him what he was doing.
“I am tending an ox,” the disciple answered.
“How do you tend it?” asked Ma Tzu.
Shih-kung replied, “As soon as it returns to the grass, I ruthlessly pull it back by its nostrils.”
This won great approval from the master, who remarked, “You certainly know the true way of tending an ox!”
Maneesha, there are two kinds of masters, not in any way different in their experiences, but different in conveying their experience to others.
One is simply using old methods, well tried, which have given sure results. The other is a creative person, who does not follow any traditional method or device to transform a person, but responds to each person according to his need.
Ma Tzu belongs to the second category, of very creative and inventive masters. He never repeats himself. In every situation he will bring a new device; he will function just as a mirror. And whatever comes spontaneously out of his empty heart, he will use it as a vehicle of dhamma.
This type of master is very rare, because you don’t know whether a method is going to succeed; you don’t know what will be the outcome. You are simply trusting in your own heart, that your heart cannot let you down. This is an immense trust in one’s own enlightenment and awakening – that whatever comes out of your illumination is going to succeed, there is no question about it. Hence a man like Ma Tzu has a tremendous freedom.
Other masters have thousands of methods given by the tradition, and they choose one of them; but it is a dead device, even though success seems to be more certain.
With Ma Tzu success is not the point; success is the last point in the journey. All those masters in the first category are looking at the success – the method must succeed. And because the method has been used again and again, and has been successful, why bother to look for a new method? Their emphasis is on the end, the success.
Ma Tzu’s method, his approach, is totally different. It depends on the first point of the journey, from where the arrow comes. If it is coming from your empty heart, then there is no need to bother about success. That is no more the question for Ma Tzu. His whole life he invented thousands of methods, according to the person confronting him. And he had tremendous success.
But his success is the success of the empty mirror. He reflects the man so accurately that there is no need to fall back on old methods. He can go straight forward with the man who is confronting him, and make a situation in which the transmission happens; in which, heart to heart, something moves, something is inspired, something takes the light from one heart to the other heart.