In this encounter, Ch'en Ts'ao approaches Tzu Fu with an attitude, as he's done with many other teachers. He seems to be on a mission to expose falseness, incompleteness. He wants to test Tzu Fu, which could also be an effective shield for his own insecurities. And then, there is Tzu Fu welcoming him with the infinity of possibilities. A spirit recognizing a spirit—that circle an invitation. Okay, Tzu Fu says, let's do a few rounds! I will meet you wherever, whoever you are, with whatever attitude you bring.
In the ancestral lineage of Zen, the teacher-student relationship balances zazen in this basic spirit of acceptance. You accept yourself in your encounter with your mind. The teacher accepts you in what you present at every moment. So, if perchance you can't hold yourself completely, the teacher can extend a wider berth. And if the teacher, for one reason or another, collapses his perspective, the spaciousness of your zazen can be an antidote. The teacher's role, and the foundation of the teacher-student relationship, is resting on that implicit dedication to seeing the student's perfection. The teacher is dedicated to seeing you in that completeness and doing whatever is helpful to allow you to verify that completeness for yourself as your practice and life. There is nothing that isn't welcomed.
The basis of this work is that unconditional embrace. Being unconditional, it will take many forms, an infinity of forms, some that at first glance may not seem helpful. Tzu Fu draws a circle in the air. Is it a welcome into vast emptiness? Is it a trap? If this is a trap, how does it match the student's potential? The poem implies just such a possibility. When fishing for a tortoise, he lets down a cage-trap. It's a cage-trap that encompasses the whole universe. How, indeed, do you jump out of that? How can you relieve yourself from the burden of this complete reality? Maybe, since you cannot escape it, stop seeing it as a burden. Stop seeing it in a limited fashion.
Ch'en Ts'ao, seeing that circle, says, "My coming here like this has already missed the point; how much more so, to go on and draw a circle!" He's basically saying, what's the point of all this? Or putting it more assertively, all of this is missing the point. But, if that's true, what is the point of saying even that? What is the point of going to visit Tzu Fu in the first place? What is the point of testing, if that is what he's doing?