There was this famous sutra master in China named Dok Sahn who used to get off on traveling from temple to temple so he could test the resident monks in their knowledge of various Buddhist texts, particularly the Diamond Sutra.
Eventually he learned of a Zen temple in the southern region where the monks did nothing all day but just sleep, eat, work and sit facing a wall in meditation for hours at a time. They did no formal sutra study but rumor had it that many if not most of these monks attained enlightenment doing nothing but this.
Dok Sahn thought this was poppycock because if they didn’t understand the Buddha’s teaching, how could they possibly awaken? So he decided to travel to this temple and really wake these monks up by teaching them everything he knew about Buddhism and the Diamond Sutra in particular.
On the way there he stopped at a small teahouse for some food and drink and was immediately greeted by the owner - an elderly Buddhist laywoman who practiced with great effort and great sincerity each and every day.
“It’s an honor to meet you great Sutra Master Dok Sahn! Where are you going?”
“I’m going to the local temple to teach those monks a thing or two about the Diamond Sutra so they can truly awaken! I hear that all they do all day is sleep, eat, and sit facing a wall and they will never truly wake up unless they hear the the teachings I am about to offer them!”
“That’s wonderful,” she said, “ you really are quite the expert and you do understand the Buddha’s teachings very well...so let me ask you a question. Oh, and if you answer this question correctly I will give you your lunch for free!”
“How dare you try to test the greatest Sutra Master around!,” Dok Sahn replied, “Go ahead, ask me anything and I’m sure I will be able to answer you!”
“In the Diamond Sutra it says, 'it is impossible to keep past mind, impossible to hold onto present mind, and impossible to grasp future mind.' So, Dak Sahn, with what mind will you eat lunch?”
Dok Sahn was uncharacteristically silent for a moment because he could not think of a good answer. His mind raced around, frantically searching for the right answer to the old woman’s simple question. He could think of no chapter of the Diamond Sutra that could answer the woman’s perplexing question. Embarrassed, he covered his face with his hands and and turned away.
The old woman looked at him and said, “You claim to know the Diamond Sutra inside out yet you can’t answer my simple, real-world question! If you can’t answer me, how on earth do you think you’ll be able to teach anything to the monks in that temple?”
“How,” Dok Sahn asked, “did you acquire such a profound understanding of this sutra?”
The woman replied, “I didn’t acquire anything from anyone. Everyone already has this profound understanding within them, if only they just look."
What this Means
2. A smart brain is useless if your heart is foolish.
3. Knowing techniques, steps, theories and philosophies will not help anyone. Being able to incorporate these teachings into our everyday lives is what this practice is all about.
We all have to find a way to allow the dharma to fully and seamlessly incorporate itself into our daily experience and not view it as a stale set of teachings we can cling to and quote whenever we feel like we’re floundering. Otherwise Buddhism nothing but a good idea.