A monk asked, “I wonder if a man of true practice can be perceived by gods or demons or not?”
The master said, “They can perceive him”
The monk said “Where is his fault?”
The master said, “Faults are wherever they are looked for”
The monk said, “In that case, it is not practice”
The master said, “It is practice”
Joshu is difficult to understand because the exchanges are deceptively ordinary, and appear to be nothing much, when actually they are life and death exchanges about the essence of buddhism.
In this case, the monk’s question is rhetorical. “gods and demons” refers to 2 of the 6 realms of samsara, so what the monk is really saying -dressed up as a question – is that zazen is a special state outside samsara. There are similarities with the famous question “does an enlightened person fall into cause and effect or not?”; that is, is an enlightened person free from karma?
In turn, what underpins this is the question “Why do we practice?” The monk’s position would be that the point of practice is personal liberation. And in that one can succeed, or one can fail.
Joshu’s position is radically different; it is that zazen is not a personal practice. It cannot be seen in terms of personal gain or loss. To think that there is a special state is to be blind to the full dynamic functioning of everything- the ‘internality’ which is the imagined site of the special state is as much a part of this as the trees or the traffic. It isn’t a matter of trying and failing, but understanding, through faith, that zazen is the enactment and expression of this dynamic functioning.