You might remember this line from Fight Club, in which the master and disciple are in fact the same person. But we have a real application for it, apart from such hallucinations and hyper-ascetic practices. When you can raise the eyebrows of Old Shakyamuni, you must also be able to open his mouth and share the reality you have found yourself in. We take this very seriously in Soto Zen monastic practice.
I originally came from the West To save all sentient beings.
One flower opens five petals And the Truth is complete.
Attributed to Bodhidharma
There are a number of flowers that have five petals, such as hibiscus (right) or azaleas or plum blossoms, but the particulars don’t matter here.
This saying of Bodhidharma gave rise to the koan,
Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?
used as the opening of the Chief Junior ceremony in Soto Zen. The juniormost monk is assigned to ask this, and the Chief Junior must reply with his best understanding, or perhaps a book answer if he doesn’t really know what it’s about.
Then all of the other juniors get to ask their individual questions, and the Chief Junior must answer each in the spirit of the koan. Afterwards the Chief Junior’s master does a similar ceremony answering questions from all monks, while standing on the altar as the Buddha.
This can be a tricky business, because the Chief Junior has to do this before receiving the Transmission, before being named a Roshi. Well, we practice, and we manage. One of the koans I learned just before the time came for my ceremony was from Rinzai.