Once a monk asked Chao-chou what was the ‘intimate offering’ of the daughter of the Dragon King, in the Lotus Sutra, made to the Buddha. Mysteriously, answering his question, Chao-chou stretched forth both hands in a gesture of offering.
I am sure today’s modern Zen geniuses have Chao-chou’s gesture all figured out. Let me guess what they imagined the ‘intimate offering’ to be. Probably one modern Zen teacher would no doubt insist that Choa-chou’s gesture was the ‘offering of no offering’ because offering anything would be something and Buddhism is about nothing. This anwer is way off track. Another answer might be that Chao-chou is offering emptiness. This is off by a mile, too. Such answers are not intimate at all. They play with words. They only point to ignorance (i.e., the immediacy of awareness) which some in Zen, these days, take for enlightenment.
The most intimate offering of all would naturally have to be suchness (tathata). But what is suchness? If our mind is not fit to apperceive suchness, in the first place, we cannot actually give such an offering. We may certainly call our offering, “suchness” and play with words which is easy to do. But this is not authentic suchness. The Buddha would be very displeased with our offering because it is not real suchness. Real suchness is much more than words or word games. To experience real suchness is to know and to see the spiritual light of pure Mind.
When Chao-chou stretched forth both hands, he actually made the exact same offering as the daughter of the Dragon King. It wasn’t an empty gesture on his part. If the monk had an intimate knowledge of the daughter’s offering he would have certainly smiled upon receiving Chao-chou’s splendid offering! But of course he didn’t. He was clueless as are so many who practice Zen today.
Today’s Zennists are infected with Western thinking and beliefs. There is not supposed to be a superessential light which animates our body. It is all a figment of our imagination. Yet, the real goal of Zen is to apperceive this light. This is the so-called transmission of the light. What else might be transmitted besides spiritual light or suchness? And what else did the daughter of the Dragon King give except spiritual light?
If we wish to be able to make such an offering, we have to look elsewhere for suchness other than in our imagination. We might have to find a good Zen teacher like Chao-chou to help us. But he is going to scare the crap out of us because all our lives we have actually been running from suchness—we hate it. Indeed, to encounter a true teacher who is a light bearer is a frightening affair. His suchness finds nothing about us which is compatible with suchness.
Only by emptying out our corruption which makes us incapable of apperceiving suchness can we hope to see what the daughter of the Dragon King gave the Buddha. For a long time, according to the Lotus Sutra, the task will be to carry out the countless buckets of dung until we are worthy to receive the higher transmission, being able to give like Chao-chou.