The Ultimate Teaching

Seppo asked Tokusan, "Can I also share the ultimate teaching the old patriarchs attained?' Tokusan hit him with a stick, saying, "What are you talking about?" Seppo did not understand, so he repeated his question the next day. Tokusan answered, "Zen has no words, neither does it have anything to give." Ganto heard about this exchange and commented, "Tokusan has an iron backbone, but he spoils Zen with his soft words."

Seppo was Tokusan's successor, but this dialogue took place when Seppo was still a young student. Like many others, he thought that Nirvana was something and that the ultimate teaching was something, too. There is no "ultimate" something. So Tokusan gave him a blow. Still, Seppo did not understand. He asked again the next day. Tokusan said, "Zen has no words." Bodhidharma once said, "I do not know." Eka, the second patriarch, said, "cannot get it." Zen is living life. If one conceptualises, it dies. The ultimate is continuum. When Ganto, another student, heard of this dialogue, he said that Tokusan spoiled Zen with explanations. Indeed, this very comment spoils Zen with too many words. Zen must be sought and realised by individuals. Is this koan easily understood? If so, it is only the intellect.


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