Joshu Investigates an Old Woman

A travelling monk asked an old woman directions to Taizan, a popular temple supposed to give wisdom to anyone who worshipped there. The old woman said, "Go straight ahead." After the monk proceeded a few steps, she said to herself, "He also is a common church-goer." Someone reported this incident to Joshu, who said, "Wait until I investigate." The next day he went and asked the same question, and the old woman gave the same answer, Joshu remarked, "I have investigated that old woman."

Taizan was a famous mountain temple visited by many pilgrims. At the foot of the mountain an old woman kept a small tea house where travellers rested. This old woman was very Zen, and she examined the insight of passing monks. When Zen Master Joshu went to her tea house, he was dressed as a common monk, and he asked the way to Taizan. The old woman gave him the sae answer she had given previous monks, and after he had gone a few steps, she concluded that he, also, was "a common church-goer." The conversation (mondo) was the same, but all the other monks had been investigated by the old woman. Only Joshu investigated her. The point of this koan is: where are you? Joshu repeated the actions of the other monks, but he went his own way.


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