This open-ended story appears in many forms.In the published versions, the teacher is Nan-in and the monk Tenno.
The monk had been summoned to see the Zen teacher. It was the custom in the monastery for the teacher to meet individually with the monks in order to test their understanding. The monk had worked with the master for 10 years; He had worked hard, both in mindfulness and reading. Possible questions and scenarios of questions that may come from the teacher raced through his head. He was ready for them all.
The day was rainy, but his spirits were high. At the appointed time, he walked over to the abbot’s quarters. The master immediately asked: “When you entered the building, did you put your shoes to the right of your umbrella or to the left”? The monk hesitated; he wasn’t sure. He had just done taken his shoes off moments earlier. Before he could consider further, the master ended the interview; he had not been aware; The monk remained with his teacher for another 10 years.
Scenarios racing through the mind lead nowhere.Yet, the habit of this mental activity seems to be the way to prepare.The reality always seems to be different from the scenarios.
At first look, inventing scenarios seems like more useful than developing awareness. The scenarios fill the mind and block the reality. With awareness, there is room for spontaneity and creativity.
In this story, it is a rare event that the monk saw his own confusion for himself and then did something about it.