One day when Gyosan was sitting in meditation, a monk came and stood by him. Gyosan recognized the monk, and he drew a circle on the ground with an ideograph for water beneath it. Then he looked questioningly at the monk. The monk could not answer.
THE TRUTH OF LIFE CANNOT BE UNDERSTOOD UNLESS ONE IS READY TO RECEIVE IT
Zen discipline is often similar to training in kendo, judo, Kung fu, karate and other martial arts. Teacher and students practice and train mutually. The monk who came and stood by Gyosan intended to challenge the teacher. But Gyosan was aware of those tricks. He immediately drew a circle with the character “water” beneath it and looked at the monk as if to say, “Well, do you understand?”
Poor monk. Does it mean bring a pail with water in it? If he tries to solve the circle and the water logically, he can never enter the mind of Gyosan. Naturally he could not say a word. He came to challenge Gyosan, but the situation was completely reversed. Gyosan wrote the ideograph for water. But no matter how many characters for water are written, they cannot quench thirst. Gyosan drew a large circle to indicate the perfect reality, the complete universe. But to the monk it was just like a picture of bread; it could never fill his stomach.
The truth of life cannot be understood, no matter how skillfully explained and presented, unless one is ready to receive it. It might have been better for this monk to have received a blow or a “katsu!” rather than a symbolic koan.