Of course we have no way of knowing now, but let’s assume for the sake of good weather that it was a bright and sunny day. On this particular day, two humorous fellows had a frank and productive chat. One was named Mazu Daoyi, and they say he could touch his nose with his tongue, but that is not the only thing for which he is remembered.
The other was named Nányuè Huáiràng. He was known as the foremost student of Dajian Huineng, the 6th Patriarch of Ch’an (Zen). As it so happened, he was also Mazu’s teacher, although there is no record of him being able to do anything extraordinary with his own tongue, beyond spreading the dharma and so forth.
In any case, Mazu had heard that he could transform himself into a Buddha if he practiced certain methods and techniques, such as sitting really still and not thinking about stuff for long periods at a time. Perhaps that sounds familiar, even to people today. Just so, he enthusiastically applied himself to this strategy, hoping that it would do the trick.
One day his teacher Nányuè walked into Mazu’s little hut where he had been meditating, and inquired into how Mazu had been spending his time. Mazu replied that he had been busy doing a lot of seated meditation. Nányuè asked, “Why?” This shook Mazu up a bit, since he figured he was being a good Buddha-to-be by meditating like a boss. Mazu replied, “Well, I’m trying to become a Buddha!” Nányuè reached down and picked up a near-by roofing tile and began rubbing it back and forth on a rock.
Seeing this, Mazu was a bit hesitant to question his teacher, but his curiosity got the best of him, and so he finally blurted out, “What are you doing there?” Nányuè replied, “I am polishing this roof tile.” When Mazu asked why he was polishing a roof tile, Nányuè explained that he was trying to turn the tile into a mirror. When Mazu asked how his teacher could possibly expect to turn a tile into a mirror by rubbing it on a rock, Nányuè turned the tables and asked how Mazu could expect to turn himself into a Buddha by seated meditation. Perplexed, Masu asked, “What do you mean by that?” Nányuè then said, “Think about driving a cart. When it stops moving, do you whip the cart or the horse?” Mazu had no reply to that.
Of course, all Nányuè was trying to point out is the futility of getting attached to any form or technique, regardless of how potent it is claimed to be. Moreover, one can’t become what one already is, that is just the dog chasing its tail, or in this case, trying to polish a tile into a mirror. Mind is already the mirror in which the whole universe appear and disappears, without affecting the mirror itself in any way. The mirror does not need to sit down and meditate in order to reflect phenomena, it happens automatically, without the least bit of effort.
Some years later, Mazu had become a famous master himself, and is reported to have written:
“What we see with forms
is only the reflection of our mind.
The mind does not exist in itself.
Its existence reveals itself
through the forms.”