Whenever anyone asked him about Zen, the great master Gutei would quietly raise one finger into the air. A boy in the village began to imitate this behaviour. Whenever he heard people talking about Gutei’s teachings, he would interrupt the discussion and raise his finger. Gutei heard about boy’s mischief. When he saw him in the street, he seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and began to run off, but Gutei called out to him. When the boy turned to look, Gutei raised his finger into the air. At that moment the boy became enlightened.
Acharya Prashant: Very fond of saying cute things when asked questions about Zen, raising his finger and stuff. What does the master do? He cuts off the raised finger. And he screams and runs away, the master calls him back and when he comes back, what does the master do?
Listeners (in unison): Raise his finger in the air.
AP: And in that instant, the boy is immediately…?
Listeners (in unison): Enlightened.
AP: What’s this about?
A couple of things, first, Gurus, monks, teachers, have been conventionally known to be very compassionate people. So, it shocks us a little that a teacher cuts off a boy’s finger, right? The anecdote just illustrates that for the teacher, it is not your body that counts. The teacher would not be shaken even a little if you tell him that you are tired or that there is a pain in your stomach. The teacher will say, “So what? Your body doesn’t matter, come over! It's about something far bigger than the body.”
Even if you have to compromise on your health, still come over. The teacher will not allow you to escape! For the teacher, cutting off the boy’s finger was a very obvious thing, if cutting off the finger would lead to the boy gaining some wisdom. The teacher says, “It's such a beautiful deed. It is not at all bad for the boy if he can give a finger, sacrifice a finger and be wise in return. It’s okay.” And it’s not only about a finger, even giving your right hand is no big deal. Even laying down your life is no big deal because what you are getting is much-much bigger than life, it is immortality. Your finger is just a token payment, it’s not even full payment.
“Alright, give me your finger.”
That is one thing about the Koan. The second thing, what does the master mean by raising ‘his’ finger? What does the master mean by raising his own finger?
Listeners (in unison): That there is only one reality.
AP: And that One is personified in the form of the Guru, the teacher. If the student tries to emulate that One, he is trying to create an alternate, a duplicate Truth. And that is sacrilege. That cannot be tolerated. After he comes back to Guru, he says, “Listen, if the finger were to be raised, if the finger were to indicate One, that finger has to be a single finger belonging to the Teacher. By cutting off your finger, I am only cutting off the false finger. I am only cutting off that which was trying to compete with the Truth. By raising this finger, I am telling you that only the Truth prevails. That which is false gets cut off.”
And surely, the student is a deserving student. He immediately gets, in an instant, without thinking, without interpreting, he immediately gets the import of what the teacher is saying. And that’s what is meant by saying that he gets immediately enlightened.
The raised finger of the Guru is the one Truth, the one Truth that bears no comparison, no second, no alternative. Yes?