2020-05-25

124: The Joke

When Zen people appear to be dodging a question, maybe they are dodging it. Or maybe they are directly answering it. Or maybe both. Consider Blue Cliff Record #78:
A monastic asked Zhaozhou, "All the Dharmas are reduced to oneness, but what is oneness reduced to?" Zhaozhou said, "When I was in Qingzhou, I made a hempen shirt. It weighed seven pounds."
Can you see how "I made a seven-pound hempen shirt" is exactly what oneness is reduced to? Zhaozhou could not have more directly answered the monastic's question. Or consider the case that appears as both Blue Cliff Record #73 and Book of Serenity #6:
A monastic asked Great Master Mazu, "Please tell me directly, Master, the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West."
Master Mazu said, "I am tired today, I can't explain it to you. Go and ask Zhizang."
The monastic asked Zhizang about it.
Zhizang said, "Why don't you ask our master?"
The monastic said, "He told me to ask you."
Zhizang said, "I have a headache today, I can't explain it to you. Go and ask Brother Huaihai."
The monastic asked Huaihai about it.
Huaihai said, "I understand nothing about that question."
The monastic told Great Master Mazu about it.
Great Master said, "Zhizang's head is white, Huaihai's head is black."
This monastic wants to know the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the west. This is thoroughly explained to him five times. (1) I'm tired. (2) Why don't you ask our master? (3) I have a headache. (4) I don't understand. (5) This is white and that is black. Each one of those answers tells precisely the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the west.

"It really doesn't amount to much" is the joke -- and saying that to Mallard is letting Mallard in on that joke.

Case
Porcupine was foraging near Stillpond and met Mallard unexpectedly,
"Porcupine!" exclaimed Mallard, "I've wanted to ask you about something. It almost seems that you and Raven have a secret understanding of some kind."
Porcupine said, "We know the same joke."
"Can you let me in on it?" asked Mallard.
"It really doesn't amount to much," said Porcupine.
"Tell me," demanded Mallard.
"Mallard!" Porcupine exclaimed. "You aren't listening!"
Verse
"When devoted invocations are sent forth, they are perceived and subtly answered."
And if the invocation isn't devoted?
Or isn't sent forth?
Or, for that matter, isn't invoked?
Still perceived.
Still answered.
Still subtle.
Case adapted from Robert Aitken; introduction and verse by Meredith Garmon
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