Hui Neng, a Chinese seeker, went to a renowned master. But the master said, “Why have you come? There is no need.” Dismayed, the seeker thought he was not yet ready to be accepted.
The master was seeing something else. He was observing Hui Neng’s growing aura, and was thinking: “Even if you do not come to me, it is bound to happen sooner or later, anywhere. You are already in it.”
Hui Neng implored, “Do not reject me.” So the master accepted him and told him to go to the kitchen just behind the mostery. It was a big mostery of five hundred monks. The master said, “Help in the kitchen. Do not come to me. If needs be, I will come to you.”
No meditation was prescribed for Hui Neng, no scriptures to read, nothing to study at all. The mostery was busy. There were scholars, yogis and meditators; everyone was working. Thrown into the kitchen, Hui Neng went on cleaning rice and vegetables, doing chores from early dawn till late night.
Twelve years passed. Hui Neng didn’t go again to the master because it was forbidden. He waited, and waited. Trainee monks and masters would come to the kitchen. To them all, he was but a servant, not deserving to be taken any notice of.
Then one day, the master announced his death was near, and that he wanted to appoint a successor. “Those who think they are enlightened should compose a poem of four lines. In those lines, he should put all he has learned. And if I see in the lines that enlightenment has happened, I will choose that writer as my successor.”
There was a tremendous hub-bub in the mostery. But the monks soon came to a consensus that a great scholar among them was sure to win. He was recognized as an authority on all scriptures, and he composed four lines. The lines went thus: “Mind is like a mirror, and dust gathers on it. Clean the dust, and you are enlightened.”
But even this great scholar suspected that the master already knew who was enlightened and who was not. So he went at night to the master’s hut, and wrote the lines on the wall without signing his me to it. He thought — if the master approved, he would reveal he had composed the poem, and if the master did not, he would keep silent.
But the master approved. He laughed and said, “Yes! The man who has written this is enlightened.” The whole mostery began to talk about it, because everyone knew the great scholar had written it. Some monks came to the kitchen for tea and began to discuss the poem. Overhearing them, Hui Neng burst out laughing.
No one had even heard him laugh before. The monks were offended. “Why are you laughing, you fool? For twelve years you have been slaving in this kitchen. What do you know, anyway?”
Hui Neng humbly replied, “I am not enlightened. I can’t even write. But these lines are wrong. I will compose four lines if someone is willing to help me out by writing it on the master’s wall.”
A monk agreed to do so, just as a joke. A crowd followed them. In front of the master’s hut, Hui Neng said, “Write thus: There is no mind and there is no mirror, so where can the dust gather? One who knows this is enlightened.”
But the master came out and he said, “You are wrong.” Hui Neng touched his feet and returned back to the kitchen.
But In the dead of night when everyone was asleep, the master came to Hui Neng and said, “You are right, but I could not say so before those idiots. They are learned idiots, you see. Had I appointed you my successor, they would have killed you. Leave this place, now! You are my successor, but don’t tell it to anyone.”
The master explained: “I knew this the day you came. Your aura was already growing then. That was why I prescribed no meditation for you. There was no need — you were already in meditation! All these years of silence, of not doing anything — emptied you completely of your mind. And the light has been constantly spreading from you ever since! I posted you in this kitchen, because everyone comes here, but no one observed your aura. It has now become full. So go, with my blessings.”