“Strange words and extraordinary actions” were the hallmark of 8th century Ch’an master Ma-tsu (also written as Mazu Daoyi) whose teaching methods involved the kind of unorthodox actions that became associated with certain forms of Zen, especially Rinzai. Ma-tsu was particularly fond of holding up his fly whisk, shouting and hitting his students, in order to shock them out of a lazy state of mind. Many of his dialogues with his students were preserved as koans, including the one below where he shows Ta-Chu the truth of his own treasure and original mind.
When Ta-chu came to see the Ancestor for the first time, the Ancestor asked him, “Where are you coming from? “
“I am coming from Ta-yün Monastery in Yüeh-chou, ” replied Ta-chu.
The Ancestor asked him, “What is your intention in coming here?”
Ta-chu said, “I have come here to seek the Buddha-dharma.”
The Ancestor said, “Without looking at your own treasure, for what purpose are you leaving your home and walking around? Here I do not have a single thing. What Buddha-dharma are you looking for?”
Ta-chu bowed, and asked, “What is Hui-hai’s [my] own treasure?”
The Ancestor said, “That which is asking me right now is your own treasure—perfectly complete, it lacks nothing. You are free to use it; why are you seeking outside?” Upon hearing this, Ta-chu realized the original mind without relying on knowledge and understanding. Overjoyed, he paid his respects to the Ancestor and thanked him. After this he stayed with him for six years and served him as his disciple.
Later he returned [to Yüeh-chou] and composed a treatise entitled Essentials of Entering the Way Through Sudden Awakening in one chuan When the Ancestor saw the text, he said to the assembly, “In Yüeh-chou there is a great pearl [ta-chu]; its perfect brilliance shines freely without obstruction. “
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