The Hidden Lamp

‘Master Hakuin Ekaku used to tell his students about an old woman who had a teashop nearby, praising her understanding of Zen. The students didn’t believe that such a person could have much wisdom, and so they would go to the teashop to find out for themselves.
Whenever the woman saw them coming she could tell at once whether they had come for tea or to look into her grasp of Zen. In the former case, she served them graciously. In the latter, she beckoned them to come behind the screen to the back of the teashop. The instant they obeyed, she struck them with a fire poker.
Nine out of ten of them did not escape her beating.’

From Jane Hirshfield’s commentary: ‘Walk into the old woman’s teashop today, you’d still get either tea or a thrashing. But her koan? This book? She’d burn them right up, stirring the ashes gladly with her plain iron poker.’

As Jane Hirshfield says, the gracious offering of tea and the striking with the poker are both the full expression of the old woman’s zen. What have you come for?

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