Notes in Lotus Lake
“Our teacher,” said a disciple to a friend of his, “won’t let us take notes when he gives his sermons. Still, he always speaks on one of the classical texts, so as soon as possible afterwards, a group of us meet together and recover as much as we can from memory. With the basic text to consult, we can between us recall nearly everything that he’s said, and then we get it down.”
“But why won’t he allow notes while he’s speaking?” asked the friend.
“Yes, we’d always wondered that,” went on the disciple. “He just says at the beginning of every year that he doesn’t want us to take notes. None of us felt we had the right to ask him; I mean, a teacher’s decision mustn’t be questioned, must it? But we thought we’d like to know.
“Well, one day when we knew that some outsiders would be coming, we got a notebook and pencil ready. When we saw one keen-looking fellow going in, we just gave them to him. We didn’t say anything (the teacher wouldn’t have liked that), but we assumed that he’d probably make a note or two.
“And so he did. Soon after the sermon began, he jotted down something. The sermon stopped at once. And then he gave some wonderful teaching.” The disciple half-shut his eyes, and continued in a slightly singsong voice:
I don’t wish notes to be taken of these talks. It is no use doing it. Some of you may feel that you can take away something in note form, and look over it later on at home, and perhaps then get some sort of enlightenment. But that’s a wrong idea. If you are going to get enlightenment, get it here and now, not afterwards. It’s the same thing as going to a restaurant where you like the cooking, and instead of eating the food then and there, you wrap it up carefully and take it home with you. Then after some time, maybe next day or next week, you take it out and warm it up in the oven, and expect it to taste good and nourish you. But of course it’s no good to you at all.
And then you begin to blame the food, and perhaps the cook as well. The place to eat the food, to take it into yourself and digest it, is when the cook serves it to you. So don’t write down notes here, but give full attention to what is said, and take it into your heart.
“Those were his exact words. Isn’t it a wonderful teaching, like I said?”
“Yes,” said the friend, “it certainly is. But how can you be so sure those were his exact words? It’s quite long, and I don’t see how you can be sure you remember them perfectly.”
“Why, I learned them by heart. We all did. It’s wonderful teaching, and we knew it would never be repeated, so we learned it by heart from the script.”
“‘Script’?” wondered the friend. “What script?”
“Oh yes,” confided the pupil. “Didn’t you guess? When we gave that visitor the pencil and notebook, so that the teacher would tell him why notes shouldn’t be taken, of course there was one of us behind a pillar, taking down what he’d say. We felt that the teaching mustn’t be lost.”