Ma Tzu: The Empty Mirror

Osho on Enlightened Zen Master Ma Tzu

Ma Tzu was born in china in the year 709. He was the most important figure in the history of Zen after the sixth patriarch, eno. Eno told Nangaku, who would become Ma Tzu’s master, about a prophecy that Nangaku would have “a spirited young horse” of a disciple who would “trample the whole world.” In chinese, the `Ma’ of Ma Tzu means `horse’.

Osho says He was a born genius, and even had prophecies about him by other masters — that he is not to be taken as just XYZ, he has a possibility of becoming a great master — and the prophecies were fulfilled. Sometimes it is possible, if a master looks at a child when the child is still uncorrupted by the society, that he can see his potential clearly. And that’s what another great master, Eno, said to Nangaku. Eno was the sixth patriarch, the sixth great master after Bodhidharma. He told Nangaku, “This child is going to become a great master; be careful.” And finally Ma Tzu became not only a great master, but the second most important master after Eno. Eno’s prophecy was fulfilled more than he had expected. Ma Tzu proved himself to be a greater master than the prophecy had said. But it is his strange fate that he is not known to the world. Perhaps he was too much ahead of his time; perhaps he was too far away from the ordinary crowd; perhaps his way of teaching was so subtle that the ordinary mind was incapable of comprehending it.

Ma Tzu was very unique Master in the sense that he had found unique ways to awaken his disciples. Osho says Ma Tzu moved on all fours just to go beyond mind and be in tune with nature. Everybody laughed. They said, “This is strange!” And he looked like a tiger. He had such shiny eyes that he would look at you like a tiger. The disciples who gathered around Ma Tzu were men of great courage, because he used to jump on people, beat them. Ma Tzu devised beating and slapping and jumping on people as methods of meditation! You won’t believe it, but he managed to make more people enlightened than even Gautam Buddha, because he had found a secret in it.

Maneesha, there are two kinds of masters, not in any way different in their experiences, but different in conveying their experience to others. One is simply using old methods, well tried, which have given sure results. The other is a creative person, who does not follow any traditional method or device to transform a person, but responds to each person according to his need.

Ma Tzu belongs to the second category, of very creative and inventive masters. He never repeats himself. In every situation he will bring a new device; he will function just as a mirror. And whatever comes spontaneously out of his empty heart, he will use it as a vehicle of dhamma. This type of master is very rare, because you don’t know whether a method is going to succeed; you don’t know what will be the outcome. You are simply trusting in your own heart, that your heart cannot let you down. This is an immense trust in one’s own enlightenment and awakening — that whatever comes out of your illumination is going to succeed, there is no question about it. Hence a man like Ma Tzu has a tremendous freedom.

Other masters have thousands of methods given by the tradition, and they choose one of them; but it is a dead device, even though success seems to be more certain.

With Ma Tzu success is not the point; success is the last point in the journey. All those masters in the first category are looking at the success — the method must succeed. And because the method has been used again and again, and has been successful, why bother to look for a new method? Their emphasis is on the end, the success. Ma Tzu’s method, his approach, is totally different. It depends on the first point of the journey, from where the arrow comes. If it is coming from your empty heart, then there is no need to bother about success. That is no more the question for Ma Tzu.

His whole life he invented thousands of methods, according to the person confronting him. And he had tremendous success. But his success is the success of the empty mirror. He reflects the man so accurately that there is no need to fall back on old methods. He can go straight forward with the man who is confronting him, and make a situation in which the transmission happens; in which, heart to heart, something moves, something is inspired, something takes the light from one heart to the other heart.

It is said about him:

WITH MA TZU, ZEN TOOK ON A TRULY CHINESE FLAVOR — OPEN-HEARTED AND NOT HIGHLY CONTROLLED. UNDER MA TZU, MYSTERIOUS MEDITATION AND RENUNCIATION FOR THE PRACTICE OF ZAZEN IN THE MOUNTAINS DROPPED.

THE SPECIALITY OF ZEN AFTER MA TZU WAS NOTHING BUT THE FRAGRANCE OF INTENSE LIVING.

He reduced everything to intense inquiry, intense living. Intensity became the focus of his whole teaching. One hundred and thirty persons became enlightened under Ma Tzu. Just as an example of his working…

MA TZU WAS NOTED FOR HIS RESOURCEFULNESS IN FINDING EXPEDIENT MEANS OF WORKING WITH HIS DISCIPLES. THIS IS ILLUSTRATED BY HIS CONVERSION OF SHIH-KUNG, WHO WAS ORIGINALLY A HUNTER, LOATHING THE VERY SIGHT OF BUDDHIST MONKS. ONE DAY, AS HE WAS CHASING AFTER A DEER, HE PASSED BY MA TZU’S MONASTERY. MA TZU CAME FORWARD TO MEET HIM. SHIH-KUNG ASKED HIM WHETHER HE HAD SEEN ANY DEER PASS BY.

MA TZU ASKED, “WHO ARE YOU?”
Now, it is out of the blue… Shih-kung is asking about the deer, and Ma Tzu changes the whole situation intoa totally new dimension. Such was his resourcefulness.

MA TZU ASKED, “WHO ARE YOU?”
This was not an answer, certainly, to the question asked.
“A HUNTER,” HE REPLIED.
“DO YOU KNOW HOW TO SHOOT?”

He has changed the whole subject matter.

“DO YOU KNOW HOW TO SHOOT?” QUERIED MA TZU.
“OF COURSE I DO,” REPLIED THE HUNTER.
“HOW MANY CAN YOU HIT WITH ONE ARROW?” ASKED MA TZU.
“ONE ARROW CAN ONLY SHOOT DOWN ONE DEER,” SAID SHIH-KUNG.
“IN THAT CASE, YOU REALLY DON’T KNOW HOW TO SHOOT.”

Do you see the shifting of the situation? Slowly he is bringing him to a totally different thing. Shih-kung has simply asked, “Have you seen any deer pass?” He has not come for renunciation, he has not come for initiation, he is not there for any inquiry into truth. But it does not matter — once you have come in front of Ma Tzu, you will not be able to leave that place unchanged. Just the very touch of Ma Tzu’s air is enough to make a difference.

He said to Shih-kung: “IN THAT CASE YOU REALLY DON’T KNOW HOW TO SHOOT.”

THE HUNTER THEN ASKED MA TZU, “DOES YOUR REVERENCE KNOW HOW TO SHOOT?”

MA TZU REPLIED, “OF COURSE I DO.”

“HOW MANY CAN YOU KILL WITH ONE ARROW?” THE HUNTER ASKED.

“I CAN KILL A WHOLE FLOCK WITH A SINGLE ARROW,” ANSWERED THE MASTER.

AT THIS, SHIH-KUNG SAID…

Now you see the climate changing — he has forgotten about the deer and the hunting.

AT THIS, SHIH-KUNG SAID, “THE BEASTS HAVE LIFE AS YOU DO…” Killing the whole flock, it is so life-negative — and for a master like you…”WHY SHOULD YOU SHOOT DOWN A WHOLE FLOCK?”

MA TZU SAID, “SINCE YOU KNOW THIS SO WELL, WHY DON’T YOU SHOOT YOURSELF?”

Searching for deer to shoot… the deer has life, you have life — why go just so far, why not shoot yourself? You are intelligent enough to understand that the whole flock should not be shot. But if you understand that much — that the whole flock should not be shot — why should one deer be shot? The principle is the same: don’t destroy life. And if you are intent on destroying life…

“SINCE YOU KNOW THIS SO WELL,” said Ma Tzu, “WHY DON’T YOU SHOOT YOURSELF?”

What does it matter whose life is lost — whether it is a deer’s life or your life?

Shih-kung answered, “EVEN IF I WANTED TO SHOOT MYSELF, I WOULD NOT KNOW HOW TO MANAGE IT.” Shooting oneself is almost impossible with an arrow. With a gun, that is a different matter: you can just put it to the side of your head, and you are gone! But for an arrow, space is needed; you cannot manage to shoot yourself with an arrow, it is almost an impossibility.

At this point, Ma Tzu remarked, “THIS FELLOW HAS ACCUMULATED KLESA FROM IGNORANCE FOR NUMBERLESS AEONS.” KLESA is a Sanskrit word; it means, originally, evil, misery, suffering, torturing others and oneself.

Ma Tzu said, “THIS FELLOW HAS ACCUMULATED KLESA FROM IGNORANCE FOR NUMBERLESS AEONS. TODAY THE WHOLE PROCESS HAS COME TO A SUDDEN STOP.”

He cannot shoot himself, and he has been shooting for his whole life — perhaps for many lives.

TOSSING HIS ARROWS AND BOWS TO THE GROUND, SHIH-KUNG BECAME A MONK AND A DISCIPLE OF MA TZU.

Do you see that no device has been used? It is not a device at all; just a simple conversation in which he turns the whole subject matter to a point where the hunter becomes aware that to kill life is ugly. Up to now he was boasting that he is a great hunter. To destroy his ego of being a hunter, Ma Tzu is saying to him, “The best way to prove that you are a hunter is: shoot yourself!” The poor hunter came to a full stop, because you cannot shoot yourself with an arrow.

In that silence, in which he started thinking how to shoot himself, he forgot all about deer, he forgot that he was a hunter. In that small gap of silence, Ma Tzu entered into his heart. This is not visible in the story, it cannot be visible in words. In that full stop, his mind could not function anymore; and the non-functioning of the mind is the right time for a master to enter into the very heart of the disciple. It does not need any effort on the part of the master — it simply and spontaneously happens. Once the gap is there, the same light, the same awakening, enters into the man confronting the master.

The hunter did not answer. He threw his bow and his arrows on the ground, and fell to the feet of Ma Tzu, and asked for initiation. He had come for a different purpose, and got caught in the net of Ma Tzu. It was not even a device, but this is how Ma Tzu was resourceful. He would convert any situation in such a subtle way that the person would not be even aware that he was being brought to a new space. Shih-kung saw the whole situation: that he had been destroying life, and to destroy life is absolutely wrong. He dropped his bow, his arrows… a sudden awakening, that it is time to search, not for the deer, but for himself, for the source of life itself. He became a disciple of Ma Tzu. He started working in Ma Tzu’s temple. Ma Tzu asked him one day what he was doing.

“I AM TENDING AN OX,” THE DISCIPLE ANSWERED.

I have to explain to you that “I am tending an ox” does not mean exactly what it says. It is a symbolic saying in Zen. There are ten cards in Tao, just like tarot cards. Those cards are called “tending an ox.” The ox is a symbol of your own self. Searching for the self is the meaning of those symbolic cards. When those cards were brought from China to Japan, the last card was dropped for specific reasons: it needed tremendously great understanding for the tenth card. Those cards had been made according to Buddha’s own description.

In the first card the ox has escaped into the forest. A man, the owner, is standing, looking all around, and there is no sign of the ox.

In the second card, he finds the footprints on the earth. He follows the footprints.

In the third card, he sees the ox’s back, his tail. He is hiding behind a big tree.

In the fourth card, he sees the whole ox.

In the fifth, he catches hold of him.

In the sixth, he is fighting hard to take him back to the house.

In the seventh, he is victorious.

In the eighth, he is riding on the ox, coming back towards home.

In the ninth, the ox is in its stall, and the man is playing a song on his flute.

These nine cards were taken out of a pack of ten cards. In China originally, and in Buddha’s statement also, a tenth card is described. But it really needs guts to understand the tenth card. Even the Japanese masters thought it is better to drop it, because it is very difficult to make people understand it. Even Buddha said, “I am at the ninth card” — because the tenth is certainly difficult.

The tenth shows that the man, feeling so happy that he has found his ox, takes up a whiskey bottle and goes towards the pub. Now that is very difficult — a buddha with a whiskey bottle going towards the pub! But I don’t want to drop the tenth card, because it is as symbolic as the other cards. You accept the ox as yourself; you accept the search and inquiry as your meditation. Part by part you become aware of your inner reality. The tenth is the ultimate point, when you become intoxicated with the universe. That whiskey bottle is not a whiskey bottle — just as the ox is not the ox — they are all symbols.

Those masters who dropped that card were a little weaker. It was so simple to explain it: that when you have found yourself, you have found the ultimate nectar; you will be drunk twenty-four hours a day. You don’t need ordinary alcohol, you don’t need any drug — your very experience will be a drug. And you all know after your meditation, when you start moving towards the canteen — I have been watching — everybody looks drunk. A few get up early, but very reluctantly; a few are sitting still, utterly drunk, remembering finally that they have to go to the canteen. This drunkenness…

By the way, I want to tell you that it is the only possibility for humanity to get rid of all drugs, of all alcohol, because they are very ordinary compared to the purity of the drunkenness that happens at the very source of life. Nothing is comparable to it. It takes you higher, it gives you tremendous euphoria — which is not hallucination — and it lasts. It is not a question of taking the drug in greater and greater quantities, of becoming addicted to it. You become the nectar itself, you become the euphoria, the ecstasy itself. You don’t need anything; just remembering your buddhahood is enough to live with immense ecstasy in your day-to-day life.

So this “tending an ox,” you should remember, is an old metaphor for searching for the self. Otherwise you will not be able to understand the anecdote.

The disciple answered, “I AM TENDING AN OX.”

“HOW DO YOU TEND IT?” ASKED MA TZU.

SHIH-KUNG REPLIED, “AS SOON AS IT RETURNS TO THE GRASS, I RUTHLESSLY PULL IT BACK BY ITS NOSTRILS.”

THIS WON GREAT APPROVAL FROM THE MASTER, WHO REMARKED, “YOU CERTAINLY KNOW THE TRUE WAY OF TENDING AN OX!”

As an anecdote in itself, if you don’t know its connotations, it is absurd. But if you understand it with all the metaphors… because these anecdotes carry a tremendous tradition.

SHIH-KUNG REPLIED, “AS SOON AS IT RETURNS TO THE GRASS…” Do you understand? We use the word `grass’ for the mundane also; for the rude, for the primitive, for the uncivilized, uncultured.

Shih-kung says, “AS SOON AS IT RETURNS TO THE GRASS — to the mundane — I RUTHLESSLY PULL IT BACK BY ITS NOSTRILS.” He is saying that he does not allow himself to be attracted by the grass. He pulls himself away from the grass, towards the great, towards the magnificent, towards the inner splendor. If you understand this connotation, then you will be able to understand why the master approved it.

THIS WON GREAT APPROVAL FROM THE MASTER, WHO REMARKED, “YOU CERTAINLY KNOW THE TRUE WAY OF TENDING AN OX!”

Source:

This is an excerpt from the transcript of a public discourse by Osho in Buddha Hall, Shree Rajneesh Ashram, Pune. 

Discourse Series: Ma Tzu: The Empty Mirror

Chapter #6

Chapter title: The hunter

21 September 1988 pm in Gautam the Buddha Auditorium

References:

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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