Acharya Prashant on Zen: Have you any God?

Acharya Prashant: Joshu went to Hermit and asked, “What’s up? What’s up?” The Hermit lifted up his fist and Joshu said, “Water is too shallow to enter here and went away”. Joshu visited the Hermit once again, a few days later and said, “What’s up? What’s up?” The Hermit raised his fist again then Joshu said, “Well given, well taken, well killed, well saved” and he bowed to the Hermit.

A few things Right-living, Wisdom, Spirituality, Zen are all about a non-reactionary way of living. A non-reactionary way of living. So, Joshu asks the hermit, “What’s up?” He isn’t parlance as indicated. It means, “Have you any Zen?” Now, Zen is not an object. Zen is not a part of ‘duality.’ The answer to the question that asks, Have you any Zen, can neither be ‘yes’ nor ‘no’ as such. When Hermit raises his fist. It is inferior to remain in silent. It comes across as a reaction to Joshu’s question.

The situation become such that Joshu’s question becomes actually a provocations, a stimulus to which the Hermit reacts this is not really the way of Zen. The question demanded no answer. The question demanded rather the stillness of Zen or the silence of Zen. The question, “Have you any Zen?” is aching to the questions — “Are you God? Is the universe same as or different from it’s source? Are you in God or God is in you? Have you any Zen? Have you any God? Have you the Truth? Have you Love?” All these are questions in the same dimensions. To such questions ordinary answers don’t suffice.

So, upon seeing the response of the Hermit, upon seeing the raised fist of Hermit. Joshu says, “The water is to shallow to enter here.” Zen is still an intellectual thing for you, ‘shallow.’ It is not yet reached your depth. Zen has not yet reached your depth. It has still not yet penetrated your heart. No point talking to you.

You are a man of mind.

You are a man of reactions.

You are a man of patterns.

Who wants to talk to such a man?

Joshu walks away. Who wants to talk to a monk? For whom, Zen is a matter of questions and answers. Then comes another day, Joshu goes to the same Hermit and asks the same questions.

Now, see what happens. The first time the Hermit has had an experience. The experience say that when somebody asks you about Zen and you respond by raising your fist, you get an insulting answer and the questioner walks away. That is what the experience of Hermit has been, right?

In one situation, the Hermit has given one particular answer and that answer has ostensibly not sufficed. The questioner has walked away dissatisfied. Not only has he walks away dissatisfied. He has blatantly on the face of the Hermit said, “The water is to shallow here.” Now, what would an ordinary man do then when faced with the similar situation again?

Listener:  Change the response.

AP: Change the response. And if he changes the response it only proves that the first time he had been hurt. It only proves that even the first time his response was not intrinsic, not innate, not Zen. Had it been intrinsic, how could he change the second time? The worth of the Hermit lies in coming up with the same response that apparently failed the first time.

An ordinary man in the name of learning from failures, Just tries to react differently. The second time a similar situation arises.

And this he labels as learning from failure.

He does not have the sureness within he says, “I acted in one way and it didn’t work out. It proves. I must act now in a different way.” No, this one is a little differently cut out. And Joshu is a renounced monk. To be snapped by Joshu is a serious insult. To be labelled by Joshu as shallow, must be hurtful but he doesn’t appear hurt. He risks the same response again and this time Joshu says, “Wow! well killed, well saved.” Had he done anything different?

Probably he would have received an even deeper insult from Joshu. Now, Joshu sees that this man does have Zen.

Do you see this? Are you getting it?

L: Is well given, well taken is the same as well killed, well saved?

AP: Well given, well taken is just the same as well killed, well saved. These two are the same thing. It means you have retained what must be retained and you expunged what deserved to be expunged. Zen you have and hurt an ego and the memory of last incident, you killed. You did not let it linger with you. You totally forgot what your last interaction with Joshu was. You did not allow it to fester like a wound. Oh! I was insulted. Joshu did something bad to me. You did not allow that. You saved Zen, and you killed all that was not Zen.

L: Acharya Ji, what is Zen?


Zen is your essential core that reacts not, that it’s his own master. Has it’s own way of living.

Zen is very close to the sanskrit word ‘dhyan.’ When ‘dhyan’ travels from India to China to Japan it becomes Zen. So, Zen essentially means ‘remaining committed to nothing but the Truth.’ Dhyan, meditativeness. I meditate on the Truth and everything else who wants to look at it.

L: Acharya Ji, this is an enquiry, right?

AP: Of Zen?

L: Yeah.

AP: Not really.

L: Guru beat disciple with a question.

AP: That is one of the ways. Otherwise, the methodology is simply allowing yourself to be. Actually, Zen and methodologies really do not go together. Though they do have certain methods. Zen is essentially a methodology free thing but masters.

L: They sees and realizes but difficult it when heard.

AP: Yes.

L1: It is all the limitation.

L2: I see there is a question a few of Zen problems inquiry that his disciples is left with and some times of two years and three years and so on. And the response, let’s say his Guru knows whether they got it or not yet.

AP: But what we call as an inquiry is not about finding it something. Yes, teacher often says, go figure this out, find out your face before birth. But none of these really demand an answer. They are given as tricks to clear the mind. So, if these are inquiry the answer is Silence.

The student cannot come up with anything else in front of the teacher. Two or three years are given not so that the inquiry would be resolved.

Two or three years are needed so that all the pre-existing answers get clear. Not that the new answer is needed but the old answer need to go.

Zen in that sense is a very pretty vacuum.

L: Acharya Ji, when the Hermit again says is it important to keep the reply same?

AP: That’s OK, when you say is it important for whom? For whom? By raising his hand again, the Hermit has indicated, has shown that the raising of the hand is not really situation dependent. The raising of hand then become a symbol of the Hermit’s nature. The Zen nature itself.

Since, you are asking, since you are using words so I’m responding. Had your inquiry being silent? My response too had been silent. But you have used something material which is words. So, just to honour the convention just to keep the trade, I’m also responding with something material which is the raising of the object, a fist. But let me also tell you that my response is independent of your question.

Let me also tell you that the raised hand is an indication of Zen itself and Zen does not change. So, how can the raising of the hand change? The hand will get raised irrespective of whether you ask the question five times or ten times. It is also possible that question may change and yet the hand just keep getting raised. Does it happens with us? Very rarely. Whatever comes from us is very dependent on situations, circumstances, people around us, right? It is as if we do not exists. It is as if situations totally determine who we are. The Hermit has demonstrated that he is not a slave of situations and that’s Zen. To be committed only to the Silence that one is. But again do not be too sure that if you go and ask the Hermit, the same question. Again, he will raise his fist. He may even use his fist. Zen is entirely unpredictable.

L: Acharya Ji, what is the meaning in showing fist while he could show his finger or something.

AP: Let’s not try to find too many meanings. What is important is that the fist remains a fist. What is important is that had it been a finger, the finger would have remained a finger. The unchangeability is important not the question that what is it that is not changing.

The Finger may not change into two fingers, the fist may not change into an open palm. The question is whatever it is, is it unchangeable? That is what you must look at, the unchangeablity.

-Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity

Watch the session: Acharya Prashant: You will always be afraid of the world if your self-image comes from the world

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