When the tea was poured, the older man took the blue tea cup. The younger man nodded and took the red. The older man always took the blue tea cup, so the younger man always took the red.
This came as little surprise to the younger man; after all, so many stories are told about the older man. And if the younger man didn’t believe the stories, why come here?
They say that he would tell you instantly the answer to any question, if you didn’t already know it. But if you asked a question and you already knew, he’d make you wait a week. Was that true? The younger man didn’t know. But then, that was the heart of the whole thing, wasn’t it?
They say he always takes the blue cup, and indeed there he was, cradling the blue cup in his hands. They say the blossoms grow truer at his retreat than anywhere else in the land, and that appeared to be true. They say that no animal can die at his retreat, and perhaps that’s true as well. Who could say?
They say that the path up the mountain to his retreat could only be travelled by the worthy, that the unworthy could walk and walk for weeks and months and never reach the top. The younger man believed that, in his way; he knew how hard it could be to do something you believed was impossible. Perhaps the trail was a koan for the legs.
The younger man was thinking now, as he sipped his tea, about the koans he had given students over the years. “What is the most important word?” “What color are your thoughts?” “Why are there mountains?” Dozens now, hundreds. Thousands? Could it be thousands? So many people had come to see the younger man, he supposed it could be thousands. He didn’t know.
“You have come all this way,” said the older man, “you have been here a week, and you have not yet asked me a question. I do not think you have come here just to watch the blossoms and drink tea from a red cup.”
“Tell me please,” said the younger man, “is it possible for a man to know he is enlightened, and to say he is enlightened, and to remain enlightened?”
There was a pause then, just the length of a hummingbird’s heartbeart; maybe another man would not have even noticed it.
But the younger man did notice, and he was looking the older man in the eye when the answer came.
“A handful of flax”.
And though the flicker in the older man’s smile was almost imperceptible, and though the tea cup steaming in his hands never wavered, the younger man knew.
The older man was bluffing.