Tag Archives: ancient teachings

A Memory of Tea with Master Pu Yu

master pu yu smallPu Yu (普雨法師) was the 133rd head master of Yungquan (“Bubbling Spring”) Temple on Gu Shan (“Drum Mountain”) in Fuzhou, China. Established in the Tang dynasty, this monastery has over 1,200 years of history. I formally became his disciple in the late 1970s, just a few years after the end of the Cultural Revolution. At that time, due to the long suppression of religion in China, the temple had few monks and hardly any visitors. As a result, I was able to enjoy quite a bit of time with Master Pu Yu during my stay.

Once I visited him in his private room while he was making tea, and he handed me a cup of steaming brew. The cups in the monastery were bigger than the tea cups usually seen in homes. It was a Song dynasty design, with a soft celadon glaze. I bowed, accepted it with both hands, and carefully took the first sip.

This was a special oolong tea known as “rock tea,” which has a bittersweet taste but a robust aroma with a hint of smoke in its flavor. While we had tea, I asked, “Master, what exactly is Zen mind?”

He smiled, but went on talking about tea.

After a while, when I had nearly finished my cup, I was about to repeat my question. He looked at my nearly empty cup, looked at me directly, and said very quietly, “So, do you remember?”

I was puzzled.

After a short moment, I asked, “Remember? Remember what?”

“Didn’t you just ask me about Zen mind?” he replied.

I tried to figure out what he meant, but was still confused.

“Do you remember the very moment you took the first sip?” he asked, looking right into my eyes.

After pausing briefly, he continued, “Do you remember that moment? Before you could tell whether the tea was hot or warm? Before you could differentiate smell from taste? Before you could tell what kind of tea it was? Do you remember that moment?”

As soon as I heard Master Pu Yu’s words, I understood: that moment is the state of Zen mind.

I looked at him and smiled in silence. He nodded and smiled back. It was but a brief moment; yet I have retained this memory for decades.

The foundation of Zen teaching is this: no matter where we are or what we are doing, we must fully live at that moment.

So, do you remember?

The Mirror as a Teacher

Mirrors are common household items. They are used for dressing, for reflecting more light and for creating the feeling of a larger space. But mirrors also have negative aspects.

Mirrors can create false images and incite chaos and conflict. For example, a bedroom with mirrored closets often creates insomnia. Also, have you ever noticed that if you talk with a friend while sitting next to a full mirrored wall, the discussion often turns into an argument?

Mirrors have become feng shui gadgets. Some feng shui schools claim that mirrors can deflect bad energy, draw good energy, and can even create an invisible opening when hidden inside a wall. These are just some of the few examples that some claim are the powers of mirrors. For the past few decades, as feng shui gained popularity in the United States, many have come to see mirrors as the aspirin of feng shui, possessing the ability to take care of all issues.

A mirror is a very ordinary object. However, there is much to be learned from it.

Mirrors have been used as a metaphor in many ancient teachings. The best known example in China is an event in Zen history. When the Fifth Patriarch was about to pass on the transmission, he asked all his disciples to present their understanding. The head teacher, Shen Xiu, wrote: “Our body is a Boddhi [wisdom] tree, our heart is a mirror, dusting it diligently daily, does not allow it to be covered by any dust.”

Hui Nen, a monk, working in kitchen, who did not know how to read and write, asked a fellow monk to write and present his understanding: “The Boddhi has no tree, the mirror has no platform, if there is nothing to begin with, how can dust rest anywhere.” With this understanding, He received the transmission and became the Sixth Patriarch.

A mirror reflects what is in front of it. When that disappears, the reflection also disappears. The lesson here is, when something comes, reflect and respond to it; when it leaves, do not hold on to it. Live in the moment, not in grasping after the past or future.

When people stand in front of a mirror, it reflects them. When a king stands before a mirror, it reflects the king. When a beggar stands before a mirror, it reflects the beggar. There is no discrimination. A king does not receive more, nor does an ordinary person receive less. A reflection is just a reflection. No matter who comes to you, then, you should treat them equally.

When a mirror reflects a color, the mirror does not change. The mirror maintains its original nature. As a person, regardless of how things change, one does not change oneself.

A mirror, an ordinary object, can be a great teacher. Isn’t that also true for all things around us? If we pay attention to ordinary things, situations and events, how much additional insight can we gain?

Shan-tung Hsu
Blue Mountain Institute