‘A monk asked Caoshan, “How can one be in charge all the time?”
Caoshan said, “Like passing through a village with poisoned well – don’t touch even a drop of water.”‘ (quoted in The Book of Serenity)
This is an intriguing little exchange, which I don’t remember hearing before. My first thought was, ‘why would you want to be in charge all the time?’, and my mind brought up the case with Kueishan (not for the first time). But then I thought of all the introductory verses in the koan collections where the suggestion is that mastery of the teachings mean you experience, as Suzuki Roshi put it ‘being the boss.’ And then I thought about Caoshan’s analogy, and that the way to be the boss is to be aware of the dangers of taking in things that we might think are beneficial but fundamentally do us no good. Or to put it another way, as Linda Ruth always used to say to us at Tassajara, remember that there is no fundamental to rely on.