Behind the Paper Screen

Zengen, a Zen Master, sat concealed behind a hanging paper screen. A monk, coming for sanzen, had to lift the screen in order to greet the teacher. "How strange," the monk commented. The teacher gazed at the monk wordlessly, then said, "Do you understand?" "No, I do not understand," the monk replied. "Before any Buddhas appeared in the world," said the teacher, "it was the same as the present moment. Why don't you understand?" Later, the monk mentioned this incident to Zen teacher Sekiso. Sekiso praised Zengen, saying, "Brother Zengen is like a master archer. He never shot an arrow without hitting the mark."

The Zen method of teaching is intuitive and often wordless. Master Zengen was silent; then he asked the monk if he understood. The monk must have been a novice, for he did not even understand the question. Zengen, trying to explain, next said that from the beginning all things are as they are. When Sekiso heard about this, he commented that Zengen had presented the Dharma directly, but the poor monk had not understood. Poor monk! He could see it even though it was right before his eyes and someone pointed it out.


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