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The Invisible Zen Master Tozan

I was reading about a Zen master, Tozan – a very famous Zen master.

The story says that the Gods wanted to see him, but they couldn't because he was just an emptiness.

They would enter into him from this side and that, they would pass through him, but he was nowhere to be found. He was a nowhere-ness, a- nothingness… so empty of himself that they could not see him.

They were very curious to see a man who had become empty, so they played a trick.

They went to the kitchen as Tozan was coming from his morning walk and took a few handfuls of rice and wheat and threw it on his path.

In a Zen monastery that is almost a sin because it is very disrespectful to rice and wheat. Everything should be respected because everything is divine.

It is a respect for everything. Everything that exists and has existed, is divine and should be respected.

So in a Zen monastery nothing is wasted; one should be careful, and alert.

They played this trick and threw on his path a few handfuls of rice and wheat.

When Tozan came he could not believe it – that any disciple could do that. Who could do it? Who could be so careless and disrespectful?

This idea arose in him, and suddenly a self was there and the Gods could see him. The emptiness was no more empty.

Suddenly an idea had crystallised; an attitude, a mind had come. For a moment a cloud appeared in the blue sky and the Gods could see this man, Tozan.

Then the cloud disappeared because the idea disappeared.

From Osho &ndash Beloved of My Heart

What Is the Moral / Meaning of Osho's “The Invisible Zen Master Tozan” Story?

In the sacred dance of existence, we are invited to witness the profound nature of emptiness and the intricate beauty of the spiritual path. The story of Tozan, the Zen master, offers us a window into the divine mystery of our being. Through this narrative, we are called to explore the depths of our own spiritual journey and to understand the transformative power of true emptiness.

At the heart of this tale lies the essence of surrender. Tozan's emptiness is not a void, but a divine state of being where the self dissolves into the infinite. This emptiness signifies the ultimate surrender, where one relinquishes the ego and merges with the universal consciousness. It teaches us that true spiritual enlightenment is achieved not through accumulation, but through the shedding of our attachments, our identities, and our illusions. When we let go of the self, we open ourselves to the boundless love and wisdom of the cosmos.

Moreover, the story highlights the sacredness of respect. In the Zen monastery, every grain of rice and wheat is honored as divine. This reverence for the mundane reflects a deeper spiritual truth: that the divine permeates all aspects of existence. When we cultivate a mindset of gratitude and respect, we align ourselves with the flow of the universe. This practice of honoring the small and seemingly insignificant elements of life awakens us to the presence of the divine in everything, fostering a profound sense of interconnectedness and harmony.

The trick played by the Gods reveals the fragile nature of our spiritual progress. It reminds us that even the most enlightened beings are susceptible to moments of ego reemergence. The fleeting appearance of the self in Tozan's consciousness underscores the importance of vigilance on the spiritual path. It is a gentle nudge to remain ever aware, to continuously guard against the subtle rise of the ego, and to practice mindfulness in every moment. This vigilance is not about striving for perfection, but about cultivating a compassionate awareness of our own human tendencies.

Furthermore, this story teaches us about the impermanence of thoughts and emotions. The cloud that briefly obscures the blue sky symbolizes the transient nature of our mental states. Just as the cloud appears and disappears, so do our thoughts and emotions. By recognizing their impermanence, we can develop a sense of detachment and equanimity. We learn to observe our internal experiences without becoming entangled in them, allowing us to maintain our spiritual clarity and inner peace.

In the spiritual journey, we are often tested by the challenges and disruptions of daily life. Tozan's moment of confusion caused by the scattered rice and wheat mirrors the distractions we encounter on our path. These obstacles serve as opportunities for growth and deeper understanding. They compel us to confront our unconscious reactions and to bring awareness to our habitual patterns. Through these trials, we gain insight into our own psyche and strengthen our commitment to our spiritual practice.

The ephemeral nature of Tozan's self-revelation also speaks to the profound concept of non-duality. In the ultimate state of enlightenment, distinctions between self and other, subject and object, dissolve into oneness. Tozan's momentary lapse into selfhood is a reminder that duality is an illusion created by the mind. True enlightenment transcends this dualistic thinking, embracing the unity and interconnectedness of all existence. This understanding liberates us from the confines of separation and opens us to the infinite possibilities of being.

Lastly, the story of Tozan invites us to embrace humility. Despite his advanced spiritual state, Tozan is not immune to the subtle trick of the Gods. This humbling experience serves as a reminder that humility is an essential virtue on the spiritual path. It encourages us to approach our journey with a sense of humility and openness, recognizing that we are always students of the divine, continually learning and evolving.

The story of Tozan is a profound allegory of spiritual enlightenment. It beckons us to explore the depths of surrender, respect, vigilance, impermanence, non-duality, and humility. Through this story, we are reminded that the journey to spiritual awakening is a continuous unfolding, a dance between emptiness and presence, self and no-self. As we walk this path, may we embrace the lessons of Tozan and open our hearts to the infinite grace of the divine.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. In the quiet of your own heart, have you ever experienced a moment of true emptiness? What did it feel like, and what did it reveal to you about your own nature?
  2. How do you honor the sacredness of the ordinary in your daily life? Can you identify simple acts that you perform with reverence and gratitude?
  3. Reflect on a time when your ego emerged unexpectedly. What triggered it, and how did it alter your perception of yourself and the world around you?
  4. Consider the idea of impermanence as seen in the story. How do you navigate the transient nature of your thoughts and emotions? What practices help you remain centered amidst change?
  5. The Gods played a trick on Tozan to reveal his self. What tests or challenges in your life have served as catalysts for your spiritual growth? How did they help you discover deeper truths about yourself?
  6. Tozan’s moment of self-awareness was fleeting, like a cloud passing through the sky. How do you cultivate a sense of detachment from your own thoughts and emotions? What helps you maintain clarity and equanimity?
  7. How do you practice vigilance in your spiritual journey? Are there particular moments or situations where you find it difficult to stay mindful and present?
  8. The story speaks of the divine nature of all things. In what ways do you recognize and honor the interconnectedness of all life? How does this awareness influence your actions and relationships?
  9. Reflect on the concept of non-duality. How do you experience the dissolution of boundaries between self and other in your own life? What moments or practices bring you closer to this sense of unity?
  10. Finally, consider the role of humility in your spiritual path. How do you embrace humility in your daily actions and thoughts? What lessons in humility have been most transformative for you?