The creek of enlightenment has bottomless water and never dries out. But it seems to dry out for some seekers: they reach a dead end. No matter how hard they discipline themselves in prayer or meditation, or to what extremes they push themselves physically and mentally in their practice of the Way, the impasse still remains. In such situations many doubts are wont to arise in one’s mind.
Yet, the secret of all enlightenment lies in the immutable fact that the death of the ego has to precede the attainment of Nirvana. There are no shortcuts to the Ultimate. Where there is ego, there is no Nirvana; where there is Nirvana there is no ego-mind. Hence, one must first die in order to be born into a new life of pure enlightenment.
The old creek of Zen
A monk asked Seppo, “When the old creek of Zen dries out and there is not a drop of water left, what can I see there?”
Seppo answered, “There is the bottomless water that you cannot see.”
The monk asked, “How can one drink that water?” Seppo replied, “Not with the mouth.”
Later, the same monk went to Joshu and repeated this dialogue. Joshu commented, “If one cannot drink the water with his mouth, neither can he take it in through his nose.”
The monk then said, “When the old creek of Zen dries out and there is not a drop of water, what can I see there?”
Joshu answered, “The water will taste as bitter as quinine.”
“What happens to one who drinks that water?” asked the monk.
“He will lose his life,” came the reply.
When Seppo heard of their conversation, he paid homage to Joshu, saying, “Joshu is a living Buddha. I shall not answer questions hereafter.”
And from that time on he sent all newcomers of Zen to Joshu.