Zen Master Hyakujo had a great many students and was in need of expanding into another monastery. He needed to find a student capable of taking on leading a large monastery like his current one. He had two candidates in mind. One was a head monk who was particularly well versed in the dharma and was the most probable to continue Hyakujo’s teachings at Mount Kuei. The other was a cook and student in the monastery and was seen as someone particularly suited for the setting of the new monastery.
The cook, Ling Yu, was selected for the new task of leading a second monastery. The head monk, Hua Lin, was incensed! So much so that he privately met with the master and complained.
So Hyakujo hatched a plan. He would use this situation as a skillful means to enlighten not just one, but many. The next day when the entire Sangha was in the main meeting hall, he placed his personal jug of water on the floor beside him. This jug symbolized the whole of his teachings and that of the dharma itself which would be transferred to the new monastery on Mount Kuei.
He first calls Hua Lin, the experienced head monk, to the front and asks him, “Without calling this a jug of water, what would you call it?” Hua Lin is stunned and it is clear the master has set a trap for him. He has to find a skillful way to answer this and demonstrate his understanding of the teachings. He answers, “It cannot be called a wooden pivot”. His answer is creative, but Hyakujo was actually expecting him to demonstrate himself by picking it up and walking away, thus showing his ascendency as the true heir and Roshi of the new monastery.
Hyakujo then calls up Ling Yu, the cook, and asks him the same question: “Without calling this a jug of water, what would you call it?” The cook never hesitates and sticks out his foot to tip over the jug, spilling the water everywhere on the floor. He then walks out.
Ling Yu soon began teaching at the new monastery. Not only did he show that he could take over for his teacher in the new setting, but he showed he would do it his way and with great care to do so with authenticity. He had not, after-all, picked up the jug and walked away. He kicked it over!
Barack Obama embodies all that is Hyakujo’s cook. There are times when the game changes. Things shift and cause us to be able to think in different ways. They are generally very chaotic and interesting times. It’s where we find ourselves now. Like Ling Yu, Obama may not seem like the most logical choice given many factors.
One thing is definitely in his favor. Unlike some whose vision may be clouded by the politics of old and the ways of Washington, Obama sees an opportunity and a desire for us to throw the whole system off kilter. He points to it in a way that resonates with people. Sure, his oratory eloquence aids his message and the substance is often doubted. Yet, while many are busy explaining how it is the jug of water might be described in a different way, Barack is busy tipping it over and showing us.