I had a dream that seemed to last for at least fifty years . . .
The Monk Mayo sat out under the stars and watched wood smoke curl up into the night sky. On the other side of the fire pit sat his master, the Sixth Patriarch, who stirred the dying embers with an iron poker.
The Monk Mayo asked: ‘What is Zen?’
The Sixth Patriarch said: ‘When your mind is not dwelling on the dualism of good and evil, what is your original face before you were born?’
The Monk Mayo laughed. ‘Stupid question! How could I know anything if I wasn’t born yet?’
The Sixth Patriarch threw down the poker and grabbed an ember with his bare hand. ‘Stupid Monk Mayo! How would you know you weren’t born yet unless you were already vibrantly alive, knowingly present and aware?’ Then he stuffed the ember in his mouth and swallowed it.
The Monk Mayo, wide-eyed, shrunk back in shock. ‘Master, you just swallowed a hot coal!’
The Sixth Patriarch belched. A thin trail of blue smoke drifted from his nostrils. ‘That has nothing to do with the question.’
. . . and then I woke up.