One day a fifty-year-old student asked Shinkan, “Tendai (doctrine) claims that even grass and trees will become enlightened. How is that possible?” Shinkan said, “Of what use is it to discuss how grass and trees become enlightened? The question is how you yourself can become so.” “I never thought of it that way,” replied the old student.
Shinkan lived during the Kamakura period in medieval Japan, and he studied Tendai for six years, then he studied Zen for ten years. After that, he went to China and contemplated Zen for thirteen years. When he returned to Japan, many wished to interview him, but he received few visitors and seldom answered their questions.
The questioner in this Zen story exhibits a great fault of the intellectual: studying and discussing something unrelated to himself. This is a common problem with many people in the modern world who are too engrossed with philosophies and propagandas concerning the ultimate enlightenment that they miss the very basic steps that would otherwise lead them to the greatest experience in human life. Zen always points within.
It is very interesting that when one is enlightened, the grass and trees and the stars are enlightened also! It is when we are awakened that we begin to realize everything in our life was as perfect as it should have been. Everything begins to fall in its proper place and that becomes the beginning of boundless contentment. The enlightenment of grass and trees is really the enlightenment of us about trees and grass – we discover a subtle oneness with all nature.