Interview with a Zen Master

February 17, 2015

A few years ago I went to a fairly large Zen Center and stayed there for three or four days. During one of the meditation sessions I had a chance to interview with a Zen Master, and it went like this:

As the student before me returned from his interview, the Zen Master rang a bell, indicating that I should go for my interview. I got up from my meditation cushion and walked to the Master’s room. (I don’t remember the name of the room, but it seems like it had a special name.)

I walked into the room, which had a strong smell of incense, closed the door, and tried to do everything as I had been instructed to do. The biggest things I can remember are that you had to bow a certain way, approach the Zen Master in a certain way, and sit in a certain spot, in a certain way. It was all very formal, not really my specialty.

We had never spoken before, so after a short, polite introduction he began testing me with a series of koans. I answered the first several koans easily, and then it got harder. I managed to hang in there a little while longer, and then on one particular question the Master had a small device, which he held against the floor in a certain way.

At this point I was looking down at the device and he asked me another question. I wasn’t sure what he meant, so, me being me, I looked up and started to ask him a question. When I looked up, I saw that his eyes were open, but they had rolled up into his head. All I could see was the whites of his eyes. His eyelids were fluttering.

The scene freaked me out, so I looked down quickly. When I looked down I suddenly understood his question and knew the answer, but he pulled the device away. Again, me being me, I started to say that I knew the correct answer, but he said something to the effect of, “Nope, no more discussion. This interview is over, better luck next time.” (I don’t remember his exact words.)

So I thanked him and left the interview room just as I had entered it.

And that is the story of my first formal interview with a Zen Master.


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