Isan: No Footprints in the Blue Sky

Osho on Enlightened Zen Master Isan

ZEN master ISAN was the man of pure freedom, freedom for himself and for others. He created no path, no religion, nothing that has even a little of possessiveness, and this shows his utmost  understanding and regard towards the ecstasy of freedom. Osho has dedicated a discourse series on him ‘Isan: No Footprints in the Blue Sky’

Osho says Isan was very polite. Naturally his politeness would affect whatever happened around him. He was a very humble person, never tried to convert anybody, but on the contrary slipped deep down into the forest, so nobody came to him. He felt it a little embarrassing to be the master and degrade somebody as a follower — a very nice, very delicate personality, the personality of a poet, of a singer, of a dancer…

Although he never was interested in people, still in the deepest forest one thousand disciples had gathered, and they had come from such faraway places just because they had heard that Isan was not a man to hit or slap. He was so mild and so humble and so loving….But this was only a veneer. Inside there was glowing fire. Once you had come close to him, because of his humbleness, because of his very friendly behavior, you were caught in the net. As you would come closer, you would know the fiery nature of his being — but it was too late to go back. You had fallen in love with the man. Now whatever happens, if you have to pass through this fire, you will pass through this fire.

Maneesha, today we start a new series of talks on Zen, particularly on Master Isan. The name of the series will give you an indication what kind of man Isan was. The title of the series is ISAN: NO FOOTPRINTS IN THE BLUE SKY. He was as great a master as one can be, but has left behind him neither great scriptures nor great commentaries. Isan functioned exactly as Buddha had said an authentic master would — to disappear in the blue sky like a bird, leaving no footprints. Why this idea of leaving no footprints? It has great implications in it. It means a great master does not create a following; he does not make a path for everybody to follow. He flies in the sky, he gives you a longing for flying, and disappears into the blueness of the sky — creating an urge in you to discover what it is like to disappear into the ultimate.

Isan followed exactly what Buddha had said. He is a great master, but almost forgotten. Who remembers people who have not created great followings, who have not made organized religions, who have not chosen their successors, who have not made their religion a politics, a power in the material world? Isan did none of that. He simply lived silently. Of course thousands of disciples were attracted towards him, but it was not his fault. You cannot blame him for it — it was just the magnetic force that he had become by disappearing into enlightenment. The light shone to faraway lands and those who had eyes started moving towards a small place hidden in the forest where Isan lived. Slowly slowly, thousands of disciples were living in the forest — and Isan had not called a single one. They had come on their own.

And remember the difference: when you come on your own, you come totally. When you are called, there is a reluctance, a fear: perhaps you will be dominated. But when you come on your own, you have lived your life, you have known the meaninglessness of it. You are coming out of a great understanding that life has nothing to offer. You are coming with your wholeness and totality — and with an urgency, because nobody knows: tomorrow you may be here on the earth or not. Death can knock on your doors any moment, it is unpredictable. It rarely comes to warn the person, “I am coming.” Once in a while it has happened, in stories….The next moment is not certain. All that you have is this moment. So don’t disperse your consciousness; concentrate it on this moment. If you want really to know the ultimate source of being and the tremendous blessings of it, this single moment is enough.

Don’t follow anybody’s footprints. Truth cannot be borrowed, neither can the path that somebody else has trodden. You have to enter into a virgin land of your own inner space, where nobody can enter in any way. The deeper you go, the more alone you are. Friends and foes, families and the society, slowly slowly, all drop away as you are dropping your mind. Once the mind is finished, you are left in total aloneness. And this aloneness is such a great joy…. Remember, it is not loneliness. Loneliness is a desire for the other. Aloneness is a fulfillment unto oneself. One is enough, one is the whole universe. So whatsoever the dictionaries say is absolutely wrong. They make aloneness and loneliness synonymous — that is not true. As far as existential experience is concerned, Isan lived alone. But his aloneness became such a radiant splendor that people came towards him on their own, towards this great silence, this immense beauty of truth.

This man has reached home; just being in his presence, perhaps you may find your way also. He is not going to give you the way, but in his presence many things are possible. One is that you will become certain that the experience of enlightenment is not an imagination of poets, or a philosophical system of philosophers. It is an authentic realization. You can feel it, you can almost touch it, and if your heart is open, you can see your heart dancing with joy. Your whole life near a man like Isan will take wings so thousands came. But Isan has not given any guidance; therefore I have chosen the title from Buddha’s statement: ISAN: NO FOOTPRINTS IN THE BLUE SKY. He just fluttered into the sky, attracting those who had forgotten their wings; provoking, challenging those who had forgotten their sky, their freedom. Then he disappeared into the faraway sky, into the blueness, leaving no footprints but leaving a tremendous urge to go to those dimensions where you are no more.

Your being no more is the ultimate realization of truth. You are the barrier, you are the problem. You are the only problem. As you melt away, something in you which is eternal, which you cannot call your self, something in you which belongs to the whole cosmos, starts appearing. What you used to call your self was only dust. Before I take the sutras, a little introductory note about the life of Isan:


These are things that may seem non-essential, but I feel they have a great meaning to be understood. He left home at fifteen… there was a totally different world, a totally different urge in humanity. What is a fifteen-year-old boy…? But the urge must have been so widespread and so thick in the atmosphere that even a fifteen-year-old boy is intelligent enough; he will catch the fire…The saying is that the unintelligent will not learn from his own mistakes, but the intelligent can even learn from others’ mistakes. And the man who can learn from others’ mistakes has a great potential. At the age of fifteen, Isan must have learned from others’ mistakes. He must have watched carefully his parents, his neighbors, his teachers — their lifeless lives, their meaningless wanderings, no sense of direction except misery and suffering. All that they have is some promising hope that may be fulfilled in the future, perhaps in the next life or perhaps in paradise. But this life is going to be a suffering, it cannot be otherwise. It is the nature of life and they have accepted it. At the age of fifteen he left his home. He was not going to commit the same mistakes that everybody else was committing.

HE LEFT HOME AT FIFTEEN TO BECOME A MONK, STUDYING UNDER THE LOCAL VINAYA MASTER. A Vinaya master is only a rabbi, a pundit, a learned scholar. Vinaya is the name of the Buddhist scriptures. The very word `vinaya’ means humbleness, and Buddha teaches that to be humble is to be close to nature. All his scriptures — and they are many — have been called the Vinaya scriptures because their fundamental teaching, from different directions, is the same: just to be nobody, just to be ready to disappear into the blueness of the sky without leaving any footprints. Obviously he was in search; he went to study under the local Vinaya master. A fifteen-year-old boy does not know where to go. So whoever was in the locality, the most famous and learned scholar — he went to him.


Being ordained means that now he is making an absolute commitment to find himself. He is declaring to the world, “Help me not to go astray.” It is an announcement on his part of his innermost longing. Now it becomes socially known that he is a seeker, and in those days seekers were helped by the society in every possible way — with food, clothes, shelter. The whole society seemed to be running around the central longing of becoming a Buddha. If circumstances wouldn’t allow them now, people were waiting for the right circumstances so they could escape in the blue sky. Today we are very small in that sense. Our desires are for money, our desires are for beautiful houses, our desires are for success in the world — fame, name, political power. In terms of spiritual skill we have fallen, certainly. In those old days people were poor, with no science, no technology, but still they were superior in the sense that their whole longing was to search for the meaning of life. And anybody who was searching for the meaning of life… at least if you could not go so far, you could help. Helping anybody who was searching for truth was in itself considered a great virtue.

And I accept the idea. A society should live… of course everybody cannot be a monk unless my strategy is followed. And it is a little complicated to remain a witness in your ordinary life. It is easier to be a witness if you live in a monastery, or if you are a monk and you don’t deal with ordinary life. You don’t earn any money, you don’t have any power, you live just on begging — just one meal a day. Because the society was so poor, Buddha told his ordained monks, “You should collect your one meal” — only one meal was allowed in twenty-four hours — “from seven houses. Just piece by piece, so you are not a burden on anybody.” Now, just one monk going to beg from seven houses is not a burden, because every house is giving him such a small piece. Because of this fact, the seekers and searchers would not be involved in business and waste their time. Their total energy should be directed towards a single point, their central being. Society should help them because their rising consciousness is going to help the society also.

You may know, you may not know: the few buddhas that have happened in history have raised your consciousness without your knowing. Without them you would still be in the jungles. You have not done anything, but the atmosphere has been changed by each Buddha. He has given so much in abundance… don’t think that a piece of bread is enough to pay him. We cannot pay him in any way; his contribution to human consciousness is so great and his carefulness…. Buddha told his monks, “Take your one meal from seven houses and never stay in one village for more than three days. Go on moving, because by remaining in one village you may become a kind of drag to people. Every day they have to give something to you. Leave before they become in any way annoyed by you.” And it is a great psychological insight, because it takes people four days to become familiar with persons or places. If you change your house, it will take four days for you to become at ease with the new house. Before the village becomes familiar, you should leave. You are an outsider, you are not allowed to become familiar, friendly. You have to remain a stranger. You have chosen the path of being a stranger.


He found the master. The learned teachers that he must have come across could not fulfill his appetite. They could not give him what he was asking for. He was not asking for more knowledge; he was searching for the one who knows. He was interested to inquire into the very structure of the knower, of the witness. Naturally, the scholars cannot do that. They can quote great quotations, but they cannot radiate buddhahood. They are not an argument for their own quotations, they are not a support to their own learnedness. Their whole life is so ordinary; it does not show the grace and the beauty and the blissfulness of which they are talking. So any intelligent seeker will soon realize that this man has only words; he does not know the meaning. He is carrying a dead corpse but he is not aware that the person is dead…

Isan must have moved from one teacher to another teacher. He went on, looking for a man who is essential, who is not a Buddhist but a Buddha, who does not believe in any hypotheses — who knows. And when he came to Hyakujo, immediately something transpired. He found the master. That was the way students, disciples, devotees, went on searching, from one monastery to another monastery, from one monk to another monk. There are no visible signs, no certificates to say who is enlightened. You have to find with your own heart, someone in whose presence your heart starts dancing. It is an inner finding — one in whose presence your whole life becomes light, in whose presence certainly your mind is gone as if it had been a shadow, and utter silence falls over you. When he came to Hyakujo, he immediately became a disciple.



Listen to complete discourse at mentioned below link.

Discourse Series: Isan: No Footprints in the Blue Sky Chapter #1

Chapter title: Dig deep

1 November 1988 pm in Gautam the Buddha Auditorium


Osho has also spoken on other Zen Masters and Mystics Mahakashyap, Bodhidharma, Hyakujo, Ma Tzu, Nansen, Dogen, Isan, Joshu, Kyozan, Basho, Bokuju, Sekito, Yakusan, Bankei, Sosan, Nan-in and many more in His discourses. Some of these can be referred to in the following books/discourses:

  1. Bodhidharma: The Greatest Zen Master
  2. Ancient Music in the Pines
  3. Ah, This!
  4. A Bird on the Wing
  5. Dang Dang Doko Dang
  6. Dogen, the Zen Master: A Search and a Fulfillment
  7. Hsin Hsin Ming: The Book of Nothing
  8. God is Dead, Now Zen is the Only Living Truth
  9. Isan: No Footprints in the Blue Sky
  10. Joshu: The Lion’s Roar
  11. Kyozan: A True Man of Zen
  12. The Language of Existence
  13. Ma Tzu: The Empty Mirror
  14. Nansen: The Point of Departure
  15. Hyakujo: The Everest of Zen, with Basho’s Haikus
  16. No Mind: The Flowers of Eternity
  17. No Water, No Moon
  18. Yakusan: Straight to the Point of Enlightenment
  19. Zen: Zest, Zip, Zap and Zing
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