Formal training is not over until we come down off the mountain and into the marketplace. In other words, we must go beyond the realm of the mystical and re-enter the ordinary world. As Master Dogen says, “No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment continues endlessly.” This is when someone who’s realized is indistinguishable from an ordinary person. I knew a Zen teacher who loved monster movies. Whenever there was a monster movie on TV, he was glued to the set. Maezumi Roshi argued with his mother-in-law. Deshan gave thirty blows, Linji a great shout, Juzhi held up his finger. There are many different kinds of teachers, but there is one thing that all of them have in common, and that is that they have to wear the iron yoke. As Wumen said, “Taking the towel band from his head, he [Guishan] put on an iron yoke.”
As the tenzo, Guishan was in charge of the monastery’s kitchen. The head monk was the likely candidate to succeed Baizhang, but Baizhang was prepared to appoint Guishan, so the head monk complained, “How come you’re sending the tenzo? Shouldn’t the head monk go? I’ve been in charge of training and teaching these people and your right-hand man all these years. He’s been working in the kitchen.” Of course, Baizhang knew what he was doing, but he had to make a public demonstration of it so everyone else could see. So, he set the pitcher on the floor and said, “You must not call this a pitcher. What will you call it?” And the head monk didn’t fall into the trap of trying to name it. He said, “Well, you can’t call it a wooden sandal.” It’s not bad. Baizhang’s trap was avoided, but not too skillfully. One master said, “Zengaku [the head monk] is a fine hawk; too bad he’s tied.” In other words, he’s very limited in his freedom. Then Guishan kicked over the pitcher and walked out. He leapt free of Baizhang’s trap so easily. And yet, in doing so, he still fell into the trap and placed the iron yoke over his head.
In Wumen’s commentary, he writes, “Extremely valiant though he is, Guishan could not after all jump out of Baizhang’s trap. Upon careful examination, he followed what is heavy, refusing what is light. Why? Nii! Taking the towel band from his head, he put on an iron yoke.” The towel band is a sweatband, and many times, tenzo, or cooks, working in the heat of the kitchen, have a sweatband around their heads so the sweat doesn’t drip into their eyes. Guishan took that off—that is, gave up the easy job of the tenzo—and instead put on the iron yoke of the teacher. The iron yoke keeps your head down, keeps you pulling the cart. So this incredible freedom that Guishan had—this easy way of taking care of the monastery kitchen—became the difficult task of carrying the teacher’s iron yoke.