I knew a Japanese woman, who was a Christian, whose mother had trained in Zen under a great teacher, at the end of the last century. The daughter told me a story about her mother (which the mother had related to her once, very privately).
She became very ill, and she went to her Zen teacher and told him that the doctors had hinted to her that she was going to die, that the illness was fatal.
The teacher said, “After three years nobody will miss you.” She said, I’m going to die. Can’t you’ help me?” He shouted, ‑If you’re going to die, die quick!” ‑ pushed her out of the room and slammed the sliding doors behind her.
So she went into the mountains to die quick. She went to a cave. On the second night she had a vision of Bodhisattvas, standing in a vast space.
Something changed inside her and she came down and recovered. She became a very famous figure in Zen and the daughter told me that people came from all over Japan to meet her.
The teacher might not have said that to just anyone – it’s a pretty tough reply. Although I may say that phrase has been useful to me once or twice in serious crises.
IF: “you’re going to die, die quick!”
With a particular pupil at a particular time, a good Zen teacher might say almost the same thing. And with a particular pupil at a particular time, an Indian. teacher might tell him or her to die quick. But one’ could say that their general traditions are somewhat different.
There are people who are stimulated, sometimes to greatness or to realization, by remarks, like “If you’re going to die, die quick!”. But others might be crushed. It is one thing to consider these things when you are sitting comfortably in an armchair; it is quite different actually confronting it. I would have thought there is a fundamental difference in the training as a whole.
© Trevor Leggett