A Moment before the Words
by Yanai Segal
One day a boy came to the gates of the Gekogi monastery and he asked to meet the Zen master Soshu.
When he entered the monastery he found Soshu sitting alone with an empty page before him and a brush in his hand.
"I came to study with you the art of drawing, if you will agree to teach me", he said.
"Ha ha, I haven't heard an excellent joke like this in quite a long time", said Soshu.
"Why?" asked the boy.
"How am I to teach drawing to somebody who doesn't see?".
The boy was puzzled - "Why do you say I don't see. I have two eyes, and both of them are strong. I see you sitting before me with a brush in your hand".
Soshu stood up and said: "Follow me".
Both of them exited the monastery.
They walked a short distance and Soshu stood and looked to the sky and told the boy: "look up and tell me what you see".
The boy said: "the sky".
"You don't see anything" Soshu said and he turned back and returned to the monastery.
The boy left disappointed.
When he returned home his mother asked him "what happened?". He told her, and she answered: "You fool; the old monk is testing you. He wants to see how well you can describe what your eyes see. Go back to him and ask him for a second chance".
The boy returned to Soshu and asked him for a second chance.
Soshu stood up and again exited with the boy.
After they walked a little bit Soshu stopped and said, "look up and tell me what you see".
"I see clouds. Beautiful clouds" said the boy.
"If so you still don’t see anything," Soshu said and went back inside.
The boy returned to his house and told his parents what had happened. His father told him "You fool; he wants to check the richness of your imagination. Go back to him tomorrow and try again".
The boy returned to the monastery for the third time, and the master and the boy again went for a walk.
After they walked a short distance Soshu stood and said: "look up, tell me what you see".
"I see shapes," said the boy, "a squirreling dragon with smoke coming out of his nostrils, and next to it is a hopping rabbit and behind them snowy mountain tops".
"Don't tell me stories," said Soshu, "You still don't see anything," and he went back in.
The boy tossed in bed all night while thinking about what the monk said to him, and early in the morning an idea came to his head. In the morning he woke up and went again to the old master. The master stood up and again like the other times, he went for a walk with the boy.
"Tell me what you see," said Soshu.
"I don't see anything," said the boy.
"If so, you are a liar!" said Soshu angrily and entered the monastery. The boy went home in despair.
On the morning of the fifth day the boy went again to the monastery with a heavy heart. He thought that the master would never agree to teach him, but he wasn't willing to give up.
"You are stubborn," said Soshu when he saw the boy before him. "Come with me outside".
Like the previous times, the two of them went outside and after a few steps Soshu stood and said: "look up and tell me what you see".
The boy looked at the quiet blue sky and at the clouds that were constantly shifting, and he didn't find anything to say. He just stood and kept silent.
Soshu smiled and said: "Good".