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.”
More questions at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.