The Old Cow, Tetsuma

Tetsuma, an old woman, visited Isan one day. Isan greeted her: "Welcome, Old Cow!" Tetsuma said, "In a few days there will be a ceremony celebrating the restoration of Buddhism to imperial favour. Is Your Reverence going to attend?" In reply, Isan flung himself, sprawling, on the floor. Tetsuma left.

Tetsuma was a nun. Her surname was Ryu. She was unusually able, intelligent, and sharp. Those foolhardy enough to challenge her Zen were crushed; hence she was given the name, Tetsuma, which means "iron grinding mill." Isan called her by her nickname, Old Cow, meaning "old female buffalo." It was a name of camaraderie, not derision. In those times the buffalo was a precious animal. When living, it provided humankind with labour, milk and fertiliser; when dead, it provided hide for leather. Isan always commented that, if reborn, he would like to be reborn as a buffalo.

This koan demonstrates the freedom and spontaneity of enlightened ones. Tetsuma and Isan are understanding, frank, and intimate. There is no formality. Isan does not hesitate to express exactly what he thinks of such ceremonies as celebrating official sanction of Buddhism. Their friendship is completely without pretence or artificiality. The enlightened world is free and natural; there is no feeling of must, ought, or should. Everything is said and done spontaneously as it arises. But one who thinks he has attained enlightenment yet still feels, "I am enlightened," is not enlightened. True Zen has no smell of Zen.


Popular Posts