Among the students of Great Zen Master Ma-tsu, there was a layman named Chang. This man was a very devout Buddhist who bowed and chanted sutras twice a day and paid frequent visits to the Zen master. He would always take along his little daughter Sul.
The little girl was even more devout than her father. She would join him every day for bowing and chanting, and looked forward with the greatest pleasure to seeing the Zen master. One day, during a visit, Ma-tsu said to her, "Since you are such a good girl, I will give you a present. My present is the words Kwan Shi Yin Pusal. You must repeat the Bodhisattva's name over and over, as much as you can. Then you will find great happiness."
After they came home, Sul's father gave her a picture of the Bodhisattva to hang up on her wall. She spent many hours in front of it, chanting Kwan Shi Yin Pusal. Gradually she came to chant it all day long, wherever she was - while she was sewing, while washing clothes, cooking, eating, playing, even while she was sleeping. Her parents were very proud of her.
Several years passed and her friends had long since concluded that Sul was a little crazy. This didn't affect her at all; she continued to chant all day long, wherever she was. One day she was washing clothes in the river, beating the dirt out of them with a stick. Suddenly the great bell from Ma-tsu's temple rang. The sound of the stick and the sound of the bell became one; she felt as if the whole universe was dancing along with Kwan Shi Yin Pusal! And Kwan Shi Yin Pusal was the earth, the sky, the great bell from Ma-tsu's temple, the dirty clothes which lay in a heap on the riverbank. She ran back home for joy, and never chanted Kwan Shi Yin Pusal again.
During the next few days, her parents noticed a great change in her. Whereas before, she had been a quiet, well-behaved little girl, now she would burst into wild laughter for no reason, have long conversations with trees or clouds, run down the road to the village at breakneck speed. Her father became so worried that he decided to peep in at her through the keyhole of her door to see what she was doing alone in her room.
He looked in and first saw the picture of Kwan Shi Yin Pusal on the wall, and next to it her altar, where the Lotus Sutra should have been, surrounded by incense and flowers. But today it wasn't there. Then he saw Sul, sitting in a corner, face to the wall, sitting on . . . the Lotus Sutra!
He could hardly believe his eyes. After a moment of shock, he burst into the room, shouting, "What do you think you're doing? Are you out of your mind?! This is the holy scripture! Why are you sitting on it?"
Sul smiled and said, calmly, "Father, what is holy about it?"
"It is the Buddha's own words, it contains the greatest truths of Buddhism!"
"Can the truth be contained in language?"
At this, Chang began to realize that what had happened to his daughter was beyond his grasp. His anger turned to intense puzzlement.
"Then what do you think the truth is?"
"If I tried to explain," Sul said, "you wouldn't understand. Go ask Ma-tsu and see what he says."
So Chang went and told Ma-tsu the story of the past few days. After he had finished, he said, "Please, Master, tell me: is my daughter crazy?" Ma-tsu said, "Your daughter isn't crazy. You are crazy!"
"What should I do?
"Don't worry," Ma-tsu said, and handed him a large rice-paper calligraphy with the following inscription:
you will know the country where your mind was born.
Outside my house, in the garden,
the willow is read, the flower is green.
"Just put this up in your dauther's room and see what happens."
Chang was now more confused than ever. He walked home like a man who has lost his direction. He could understand nothing.
When Sul read the calligraphy on her wall, she simply nodded and said to herself, "Oh, a Zen master is also like this." Then she put the Lotus Sutra back on her altar, surrounded by incense and flowers.
After more hard training, she went to see Ma-tus at his temple. Zen Master Ho Am happened to be visiting Ma-tsu at the time, and the two master invited Sul to sit down and join them for tea. After she had sat down and poured herself a cup of tea, Ho Am said to Ma-tsu, "I hear that this young lady has been practicing very hard." Ma-tsu said nothing. Ho Am turned to Sul and said, "I am going to test your mind."
"In the sutra it says, 'The great Mount Sumeru fits into a mustard seed; someone enters and breaks the rocks to smithereens.' What does this mean?"
Sul picked up her cup and threw it against the wall, where it smashed.
Ma-tsu laughed and clapped his hands. "Very good! Very good! Now I will test your mind."
"In Buddhism, the word 'karma' is used very often. You have good Buddhist karma. So I ask you: What is karma?"
Sul said, "Excuse me, but could you explain the question once more, please?"
"In all the three vehicles of Buddhism, the concept of karma is used in one sense or another. I am asking you what precisely karma means."
Sul bowed to Ma-tsu and said, "Thank you," and then was silent.
Ma-tsu smiled and said, "A very good trick. You understand."
As Sul grew up, she always kept a perfectly clear mind. Outside, her actions were ordinary actions; inside her mind was the mind of a Bodhisattva. Eventually she married and raised a large, happy family, all of whom were devout Buddhists. Many people came to her for help and teaching. She became known as a great Zen Master.
On day, when she was an old woman, her granddaughter died. She cried bitterly during the funeral and kept crying back at her home, as the visitors filed past to offer their condolences. Everyone was shocked. Soon they were whispering. Finally one of them went up to her and said, "You have attained the great enlightenment, you already understand that there is neither death nor life. Why are you crying? Why is your granddaughter a hindrance to your clear mind?"
Sul immediately stopped crying and said, "Do you understand how important my tears are? They are greater than all the sutras, all the words of the Patriarchs, and all possible ceremonies. When my granddaughter hears me crying, she will enter Nirvana." Then she should to all the visitors, "Do you understand this?"
No one understood.
Source: Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, by Zen Master Seung Sahn
Photo by Paul Lawley-Jones