Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Suzuki and Merton Drinking Tea - Another Zen Story

Some time ago I was fascinated with Zen stories, and shared a few of them here. A good Zen story means nothing, but still enlightens. Here is a delightfully absurd account of Daisetz Suzuki drinking tea, as told by Thomas Merton in his essay "Learning to Live":

... A room in Butler Hall, overlooking some campus buildings. Daisetz Suzuki, with his great bushy eyebrows and the hearing aid that aids nothing. Mihoko, his beautiful secretary, has to repeat everything. She is making tea. Tea ceremony, but a most unconventional one, for there are no rites and no rules. I drink my tea as reverently and attentively as I can. She goes to the other room. Suzuki, as if waiting for her to go, hastily picks up his cup and drains it.

It was at once as if nothing at all had happened and as if the roof had flown off the building. But in reality nothing had happened. A very very old deaf Zen man with bushy eyebrows had drunk a cup of tea, as though with the complete wakefulness of a child and as though at the same time declaring with utter finality: "This is not important!"

The function of a university is to teach a man how to drink tea, not because anything is important, but because it is usual to drink tea, or, for that matter, anything else under the sun. And whatever you do, every act, however small, can teach you everything - provided you see who it is that is acting.


Paul said...

Very Zen if there is such a thing . A fish ?

David said...

Merton told me this story very many years ago. Our paths had crossed via Robert Lax, the American poet and a good friend for so many years. Merton also said that he had learned more about the essence of Zen in that brief encounter over tea than he had ever learned in reading about Zen or in conversation with others. I also found the story profoundly insightful.