What’s the sound of one eye blinking?
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Mistress Toshiba and her adherents were walking back from town when a long-time student of Zen, who had studied with another teacher for fifteen years, passed by.
“Good day Mistress,” the student bowed.
Mistress Toshiba laughed loudly. The student stopped and looked confused.
“Why do you laugh Abbott Toshiba? Was it something I said?” The Mistress laughed again. “Are you laughing at me?” That question made Mistress Toshiba laugh even harder. She fell to her hands and knees with laughter. She was laughing so hard that she began to roll around on the ground.
“I don’t see what’s so funny!” the student exclaimed.
The Abbott was finally able to constrain herself and propped herself up with her hand.
“If you could see yourself, you would be laughing too,” Mistress Toshiba grinned.
The students looked at themselves up and down and didn’t see anything out of place or a cause for ridicule.
“What are you talking about? There’s nothing funny about me.”
“Like I said,” the Abbott replied, brushing the dust off her robe as she stood. “If you could see your SELF, you’d be laughing too.”
At that moment, the passing student realized that she did not know what her SELF was, let alone if there was such a thing. She immediately fell too her knees.
“Dear Master Toshiba, I beg that you take me as your student and allow me to attain wisdom in your community.”
“You are welcome to join us, whoever you are,” the Abbott replied, “but you do not need my permission. Who do you think ‘I’ am anyway?”
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Master Tarantino Toshiba always believed in equality and freedom for all. She freely taught to one and all — young, old, men, women, children, smart, stupid, rich, poor, and even the middle-class. There was a little girl named Cinderella who had been taken in at the monastery after her parents had died. By the time she was of age, she started noticing that all the nuns would visit their master daily for a private session. She was told that these sessions were called nodzen and were designed for each student to be given a special koan (or mind problem) for them to solve and reach enlightenment. Cinderella said she “reeeeally” wanted to participate in nodzen as well, and asked for permission to do so. She was now of age, so her Master could not refuse.
Cinderella approached Master Tarantino Toshiba’s room the next morning and banged loudly on the door (as she had been instructed). She was invited in and asked to squat in the middle of the room.
“Tell me,” asked the Abbess. “Why are you here?”
“I have come to receive my koan Master.”
“Why are you here?”
“Because I want to be enlightened and find peace.”
“Why are you here?”
“I told you before,” Cinderella replied, somewhat annoyed. “I’m here…”
“Why . . . are . . . you . . . here?”
“How many times do I have to say it? I’m . . .”
“Stop!” exclaimed The Master. “This IS your koan. Why are you here? Not here in this room, but here on the planet. Why are you alive? What’s your purpose? What does it all mean? Why are you here?”
Cinderella rolled her eyes. “Oh. Now I see.”
“Not sure about that,” the Abbess whispered quietly.
“Thank you,” Cinderella said. She stood and bowed several times and then departed.
Cinderella pondered her koan deeply night and day. She watched the water in the stream flowing by and contemplated upon its existence. When her time for nodzen was upon her the following week, she entered The Master’s room with great excitement, certain that she’d solved the problem.
“Why are you here?” asked the Abbess.
“My existence is temporary. Like water, we come and go.”
“That is not the question. Yes, we are all transient, but why are we here?”
Making sure to avoid water the following week (and getting quite smelly as a result), Cinderella sat in the town square and watched and listened to the people living their lives. One afternoon, after seeing a farmer receive some turmeric in exchange for her chicken’s eggs, she knew she had discovered life’s purpose. She could hardly wait until it was her turn to visit the Abbess.
“I am here . . . we are all here,” Cinderella bubbled, when she next saw The Master, “to share what we have and help one another with what we need.”
The Master rolled her eyes and then smiled. “You think you’re hot, but you’re getting colder by the minute. The tinniest forms of life make exchanges for their existence, but why are they here? Why are you here?”
Cinderella was crestfallen. She had been certain that she’d had the answer. The following week she spent in isolation in a dark cave. There was no water or people to disturb her meditation. In the darkness, her sense of hearing was amplified. She became aware of her breath as it moved in and out. After hours of sitting it seemed as if the air going in and out of her lungs was a title wave of energy and her body a receptacle of its life force. Upon this discovery, she made her way out of the cave (after running into a few walls) and went straight to see The Master without waiting for her appointment. She pounded loudly on the door, entered, and called out.
“Master! Master!” Master Toshiba stepped aside just in time, as the door swung her way. “I’ve got it! I’ve got it!”
Master Toshiba stepped out from behind the door.
Cinderella looked around. “Oh, there you are. Master, I’ve got it!”
“I was just going out for some fresh air,” Master Toshiba replied. “Come with me.” Cinderella followed like an adoring puppy. “What is it you think you have?”
“Why I’m here. Why we’re here.”
“And why is that?”
“Because energy cannot exist in a vacuum. We are all interdependent.”
The Master stopped, put her hand on Cinderella’s shoulder and calmly said, “This is true, but you still do not understand why you are here.”
“Help me. I don’t know what to do.”
“Go,” the Abbott replied. “Go help yourself and don’t come back until you can answer the question.”
Cinderella’s head dropped and she started crying. “I give up.”
“That’s not why we are here, to give up.”
Four months later, while reading a children’s story, Cinderella asked, for the millionth time, why she was here. She realized that she would never know the answer and decided to tell the Abbess.
“There are so many stories Mistress and none of them can tell us why we are here or what our purpose is. I will never be able to answer your question. I’ll just live my life and do what I have to do to get by. I don’t need to know why in order to live.”
Mistress Toshiba smiled and kissed Cinderella on the forehead. “My dear little pumpkin. You got it.”
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It is said that Master Toshiba created some rules to live by, which she practiced every day of her precious life.
Before dressing each morning, cough vigorously five times, stretch until you touch the ceiling and meditate upon the sky.
Go to bed late. Eat whenever you feel like it or when food is offered and never eat more than you can chew.
Never receive guests when you are in a foul mood and don’t visit others when you are upset, sad, or depressed. There is no point in having your negative emotions rub off on someone else.
Always say the first thing that comes to mind and don’t hesitate to let others know how you feel and what you think. Otherwise, how will anybody get to know the real you?
Seize every opportunity by the throat and don’t let go until you have derived some satisfaction and understanding of the situation.
Meditate on the past daily and try to figure out your past mistakes. When thinking of the future, make sure to plan ahead as much as possible, so you have some control over what takes place.
Keep the innocence of a child, the wisdom of an elder, and stand steadfast in what you know and don’t know.
Before retiring for the night, cough and stretch, walk quietly in a circle counter-clockwise for three rotations and always sleep with your head at the foot of the bed.
If you can’t go to sleep, drink a large glass of lime juice, repeat your bedtime routine, and go to the toilet before you lay your body down to rest.
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There is nothing to defend, protect, or discover, because there is no thing. Nothing from nothing leaves nothing. You’ve got to have something, if you want to be with me. But, if I am no thing and you are no thing, then you need not have any thing to be with me, since we do not actually exist as individual entities.
We must keep what we call our minds open to the vastness of being. In what we see as reality we are both nothing and everything. There is nothing which we are not part of, yet nothing is the totality of who we are.
This is one of the most difficult teachings to understand with the human mind. That is why we must understand it beyond the mind, with the essence of who we are or whom we think we are.
Some of you may ask, “What is our essence?” Of course, you already know the answer, because you consist of the same essence as I, which is difficult to express in words. Some people say we are mostly made of water and minerals and that is true. Others say we have energy fields that run our biological systems and radiate outwards and that is true. Yet others would insist that we are merely matter with limited brain capacity and that too would be a factual statement. Yet, none of these explanations contain the ultimate truth or explain who or what we are.
That is why we must say that we come from nothingness and return to nothingness. That is why we know that we are no thing, yet every thing. This is what makes us unique and yet the same. We have the answers, yet there are no answers.
Sit and think upon these things, even though there is no one thinking. Blessings to you all; whoever you are.
From a talk given to followers during the sunny season in 417 B.C.
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After years of losing students to Master Toshiba, the local priest of another Buddhist sect could take it no more. He walked to Master Toshiba’s training hall and challenged The Master.
“You have many students,” the priest said, with his ego hanging on his sleeve. “What do you have that I don’t have?”
“I’m much better to look at,” replied Master Toshiba.
The ensuing laughter further infuriated the priest.
“Seriously,” he exclaimed. “You are not the wisest, nor have you studied the longest. Your words are shallow and your promises cheap.”
Some of the students became agitated at the priest’s belligerence, but Master Toshiba motioned for them to be still.
“Which of my words have been shallow and to what promises are you referring?”
“Well . . . well . . . ” the flustered priest hesitated and then said, “Everything! But, if you want specifics . . . here’s one.” He raised his finger, pointed it at The Master, and mockingly said, ‘You get out of it what you put into it.’ “That’s not Buddhism, that’s just common sense and even that isn’t always true. Sometimes, you don’t get anything out of it, no matter how much you put into it.”
“Is that like your teaching?” Master Toshiba inquired. “You’ve put everything into it and your meditation hall is empty.”
“How dare you? I still have students. There may not be as many as you have, but mine are tried and true. They practice day and night. Their understanding deepens and enlightenment is theirs to have and to hold.”
“Since when did it become possible to own enlightenment? How do you hold it? Where is it?”
“You know what I mean. Quit turning my words around and trying to make me look like a fool.”
“There is no need to try,” replied Master Toshiba. “Your actions today have revealed your true self.”
The priest was suddenly overcome with shame. He kneeled down.
“And as far as promises,” Master Toshiba continued. “There is no such thing. The only promise I’ve ever made is that I can make no promises.” She paused. “Well, there was one promise. When I was young I promised my parents I’d never leave them, but I did. Oh yeah, there was also that time . . . anyway, as far as our spiritual practice, the only promise I can make is that the sun will rise tomorrow, that we have all been born and that we will all die.”
“I beg you Master.” The priest prostrated himself on the floor. “I am not worthy, but I ask humbly that I be allowed to be your student.”
“You probably aren’t worthy,” The Master replied “and I doubt you’ll learn anything, but you’re welcome to join us.” The priest stood and bowed repeatedly. “Go see Brother Peacock next door. They’re leaving on holiday tomorrow. Tell him I said you could tag along. Come see me upon your return.”
“Thank you. Thank you.” The priest continued bowing as he walked backwards. “I will see you as soon as we return.”
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Enlightenment is not some goal to attain or strive for; it is your natural state. It can be realized at any time while sitting, talking, walking, or most often when laying down to sleep. Our minds are most open when we are not focused on a particular object or task and are at ease with what is and where we are.
It takes practice not to practice. Be diligent in your daily activities, chores, work, and contemplation. Do not focus. Let your mind wander. Wherever it goes is where it’s supposed to be. There is no path, but if you find yourself on one, try not to get lost.
Dreaming the Dreamless by Mistress Tova. Pg. 10
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If life is a bowl full of cherries, what do we eat when we are dead?
Every Day Koans by Master Tova. Epilogue.
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A student came to study with Master Tarantino Toshiba after a recent separation. She was fed up with relationships and said she was tired of the whole mating game. She’d rather go it alone and find peace of mind through meditation.
“Go back to your ex and give it a little longer,” advised Master Toshiba. “But this time make sure to meditate non-stop while engaged in any conversation or activity with your partner.”
“You’re telling me to leave and return to that selfish, nagging cheater and try again?”
“Yes, but try not to call them names, as that tends to make people feel bad.”
The student thought The Master had misspoken, since she had no idea what her ex was really like, but she trusted her teacher and returned home. After a month of re-kindled arguments and negativity, she returned to her teacher.
“This is not working Master. No matter how hard I try to meditate or have loving thoughts, they continually ignore me, put me down, and tell me what to do. I want to stay here with you and the other nuns to find some peace of mind.”
“If you can’t find peace of mind at home with those you love, you will not find it in a monastery, community, or distant cave.”
“But Liz is insufferable. Aren’t there times when one needs to move on?”
“What’s her name?” The Master asked.
“My partner? You know Liz.”
“Oh yes. I know Liz,” Abbess Tova said. “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”
“I assumed you knew who I was speaking about.”
“It is best to never assume anything,” replied the Abbess.
“Well, I apologize if I wasn’t clear.”
“No apology needed and it is accepted.” The Master smiled. “In this case, as I said before, there are times when some situations are hopeless and one must move on in order to find freedom.”
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