Echu's Three Calls

One day Zen Master Echu called, from behind the losed screens of his room, "Ho! Attendant!" Tangen, his attendant, heard the call from his dormitory room. He went at once to his teacher's room. Kneeling outside the Shoji screens, as was customary, he said, "Yes, master, I am here." But the teacher did not respond. So Tangen persisted, "Do you want something?" Silence. Thinking he had been mistaken, Tangen returned to the dormitory.

Shortly, Echu called again: "Attendant!" Again Tangen responded. Waiting by the paper screens, once again he said, "Yes I am here. What can I do for you?" Silence. Puzzled and disturbed, Tangen returned to his room.

No sooner had he reached his room than his teacher called a third time, louder than before. A third time Tangen went and waited, saying, "You called three times. I am here." There was a long silence. at last the Zen Master said, "Come in, Tangen." Tangen entered. "You know," the Master continued, "you have been studying with me for some time now, but you haven't attained enlightenment. I thought it was my fault. I was feeling ashamed of myself for being a poor teacher. But now I see that it is not totally my fault. Instead of apologising to you, you should apologise to me!"

Some commentaries say that Tangen did well to respond three times, without artificiality, to his teacher's call. Others say that the Zen Master, recognising his disciple's potential, was too ambitious, overly anxious to have his pupil attain. When all is said and done, Zen is awareness. Tangen should have been aware of what his teacher meant by calling three times. He was not summoned to perform some actual or material action. The teacher can teach, but only the pupil can learn. The Master can only point the way to awareness. Don't be dumbfounded!


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