A well – known modern Zen master, on tour with his attendant, visited a Zen centre for lay folk founded by a pupil of his. In addition to their sitting practise, they were encouraged to undertake joint social work to help the local school and so on, but not so much that it became an overriding concern.
When he was introduced to the members, the master seemed to have an immediate understanding with one of the women, a longtime member of the group. She was known as a good quiet worker, but not otherwise remarkable. He did not give her special attention, though he asked her opinion on several points. When the time came for the individual farewells, the two of them stood for a few seconds looking into each other’s eyes. The head of the group took the opportunity to thank the master for his “kindness, to each one of our humble lay group. It is an example of the Buddhist principle of No Distinctions,” he concluded. “No distinctions indeed,” agreed the master, and she repeated, “No distinctions.” They burst out laughing, bowed to each other, and then both bowed to the slightly confused group leader. The little occasion was over.
On the way home, the attendant found himself wondering about what he had seen. On return, he was asked by a senior how it had gone, and related the incident. He then asked whether the master had seen something special in that lay follower, and if so, by what indications. “A trained eye can see much more than an untrained one,” replied the senior, “but usually such indications can’t be explained.” The attendant persisted, and finally the other said, “Well, I’ll tell you a case from another field.”
“When I was young I was interested in sport, and a student friend, a first-rate swimmer, offered to give me advanced lessons. When I was tired, I sat for a rest on the side of the bath while my friend swam up and down. I saw a very athletic-looking man come out of the changing rooms and stand on the edge of the bath, obviously waiting for a little clearing so that he could dive in. Looking at his trained physique, and posture straight as a spear, I thought, ‘Now we’ll see something.’
“My friend happened to swim up then, and beckoned me to come in. I told him, ‘I just want to see this chap go in.’ He just glanced across and said, ‘He’s no good. Come on in.’ And so it proved: the athlete had clearly not trained at swimming.
“Afterwards when I asked how he had known, he said, ‘Oh, he had his feet together. If you dive off from that position, the body will twist a bit, and the first stroke will be impaired. In a race that might be decisive. The racing dive is always made with the feet underneath the shoulders; then there’s no twist.’
“I objected, ‘But he wasn’t in a race then …’”
“No, but once you’ve learned the racing dive, you never again have the feet together. Even just standing around in the baths, you’d never want anything to do with that horrible twist. Under the shoulders—that’s where your feet would be.”
“I’ve given you that example: now as to our master, of course I can only guess. Both of them were then functioning in distinctions—place and time, Zen master and lay worker, man and woman, and all the rest. But perhaps when they met, they saw something in each other of an inner posture ready at any time for a racing dive into No-distinctions. The spiritual feet were under the spiritual shoulders. And no horrible twist.”