It happened that a Zen master was invited as a guest. A few friends had gathered and they were eating and talking when suddenly there was an earthquake. The building that they were sitting in was a seven story building, and they were on the seventh story so life was in danger. Everybody tried to escape. The host, running by, looked to see what had happened to the master. He was there with not even a ripple of anxiety on his face.
With closed eyes he was sitting on his chair as he had been sitting before.
The host felt a little guilty, he felt a little cowardly; it does not look good that a guest is sitting there and the host is running away. The others, the other twenty guests, had already gone down the stairs but he stopped himself although he was trembling with fear, and he sat down by the side of the master.
The earthquake came and went, the master opened the eyes and started his conversation which because of the earthquake he had had to stop. He continued again at exactly the same sentence – as if the earthquake had not happened at all.
The host was now in no mood to listen, he was in no mood to understand because his whole being was so troubled and he was so afraid. Even though the earthquake had gone, the fear was still there. He said: Now don’t say anything because I will not be able to grasp it, I’m not myself anymore. The earthquake has disturbed me too much. But there is one question I would like to ask. All other guests had escaped, I was also on the stairs, almost running, when suddenly I remembered you. Seeing you sitting here with closed eyes, sitting so undisturbed, so unperturbed, I felt a little cowardly – I am the host, I should not run. So I came back and I have been sitting by your side. I would like to ask one question. We all tried to escape. What happened to you? What do you say about the earthquake?
The master said:
I also escaped, but you escaped outwardly, I escaped inwardly.
Your escape is useless because wherever you are going there too is an earthquake, so it is meaningless, it makes no sense. You may reach the sixth story or the fifth or the fourth, but there too is an earthquake. I escaped to a point within me where no earthquake ever reaches, cannot reach. I entered my center.
This is what Lao Tzu says, hold firm to the basis of quietude. If you are passive by and by you will become aware of the center within you. You have carried it all along, it has always been there, only you don’t know it, you are not alert. Once you become alert about it the whole of life becomes different.
You can remain in the world and out of it because you are always in touch with your center.
You can move in an earthquake and be unperturbed because nothing touches you.
In Zen they have a saying that a Zen master who has attained to his inner center can pass through a stream, but the water never touches his feet. It is beautiful. It is not to say that the water never touches his feet – the water will touch them – it is to say something about the world within, the beyond within. Nothing touches it, everything remains outside on the periphery, and the center remains untouched, pure, innocent, virgin.”