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Deshan Meets the Tea Lady (GG28)


Deshan cultivated the scholar’s life, spending long hours with the Diamond Sutra. He was famous throughout the north of China, traveling from monastery to monastery speaking to large crowds in pursuit of wisdom. They called him “The Diamond Sutra King.”

Talk had spread throughout the North of heretical masters down south who were speaking of a transmission of wisdom “mind to mind, outside of scripture.” Deshan packed up his notes and commentaries on the sutra and headed south.

Arriving in the region of one of the southern teachers, Longtan, Deshan stopped at a teahouse at the foot of the mountain. An old tea lady came to serve him. He was intrigued by her confidence as she came to the table. As he ordered tea cakes, the woman noticed Deshan’s cart, loaded heavy with his Diamond Sutra text, commentaries, and notes. “What have you got there?” she asked. “That is my life’s work on that cart,” he replied, “my commentaries and notes on the Diamond Sutra, the sum of my vast knowledge. I am the King of the Diamond Sutra.” “Is that so?” she said, “then I have a question for you. If you answer it, I’ll give you tea cakes. If you can’t answer, you get nothing!” “How hard can this be?” thought Deshan.

“Like it says in your Sutra,” the old shop-woman said: “Past mind cannot be realized. Present mind cannot be realized. Future mind cannot be realized. Which mind is it you want to realize?”

Deshan couldn’t answer. He could barely speak. Nothing he knew, or had read, or heard could help him with this question. He was completely in the dark; confused, upset, and desperate. “Is there a Zen Master around here?” he asked the old woman. “Yes, just a few miles up the road, that’s Longtan’s place.” Head full, belly empty, Deshan went to meet Longtan.

—Wumen’s commentary on Gateless Gate Case 28