Friday, March 07, 2014

Meaning? Then?

More Zen stories:

Once here were two brothers who decided to become monks. The older brother was the smart one and the younger brother wasn't as quick, and he had only one eye. They started a little monastery high in the mountains where they grew up.

They were doing ok, but it wasn't always easy to have enough to eat. Plus there was always a wall to fix, or a roof to patch, and the temple was rickety and the wind blew through the walls in the winter. Then times began to be especially tough -- there was a famine, and a war had started.

One night, after a very long day of taking care of things, a wandering monk dressed in rags knocked on the door of the monastery.

"I'd like to have an interview with the abbot of the monastery," says the shabby monk.

When the older brother heard this, he was depressed because in his mind they were having a tough time feeding the other monks at the monastery, and this monk dressed in rags would just be another worry for him. If a wandering monk could to defeat the abbot of a monastery in debate on Buddhism, they could stay.

"Tell him to wait in the vestibule of the Temple, and I will be down to see him." said the older brother. Then he turned to his less-smart younger brother, missing an eye.

"I'm too tired to debate this wandering monk, so you'll go in my place. Do your best, and because you aren't as smart as me -- tell the monk you want to do the debate in silence. I'll wait in the courtyard."

The younger brother agreed, and he walked down to the Vestibule where the raggedy monk was waiting. The older brother sighed and figured it was a lost cause, his younger brother wasn't a debater and they'd have to find a place for the monk to sleep.

By the time the older monk got to the courtyard, the monk in rags was already there and bowed to him.

"Well, I'll be on my way. Your brother monk has a deep and sublime understanding of the Dharma -- he is really quite amazing!"

"Please tell me what happened!" said the astonished older brother.

"When your brother monk appeared in the Vestibule, he motioned that he wished to do the debate in silence, and so I agreed. I started the debate by holding up one finger -- there is one truth, the holy Dharma."

"And then?"

"Your bother quickly held up two fingers!" laughed the wandering monk. "The second truth -- there is the Dharma AND the Sangha. You can't have the teachings without the community of people that practice it."

"Then what?"

"I of course held out three fingers! There is the Dharma, the Sangha, and the Buddha. We cannot have the first two without the addition of the one who taught -- this is the third truth."


The raggedy monk laughed. "Brother monk instantly held up his fist to me -- in my face -- he is really quite good! There are the three truths --  the teachings, the people who follow the teachings, and the sublime teacher -- and they are undeniably, primordially ONE! At that point the debate was conceded. Brother monk had won. I got up and left, and so I will be on my way now. Thank you for the sublime fortune to have such a wonderful elucidation of the Way."

After the monk had gone out the main temple gate, the older brother re-entered the courtyard. There he ran into his younger brother, who was clearly quite agitated.

"Where is that wandering monk! Where did he go!"

"What do you mean?" asked the older brother.

"I'm going to beat the shit out of him!"

"You won the debate!" said the older brother. "He's gone!"

"What debate? There was never any debate!"

"Please tell me what happened!" said the astonished older brother.

"Fine! What can I say? So I go down to see this monk and when I get to the vestibule I don't like the look of him -- he looks like a criminal or a common thief in those rags, but the rules are the rules -- and we'll have our debate. I bow and he understands the debate will be without words. Then he starts off being totally insulting!"

"How so?" asked the older brother.

"He holds up one finger. The nerve! He's saying I have only one eye. So I immediately hold up two fingers."


"I'm saying, see the good circumstances for him to have two eyes. I am not so fortunate. Then the bastard goes and holds up three fingers! Three! And I know what he's getting at: Between you and me, we only have THREE eyes."


"I was ready to punch him -- then he suddenly bowed and ran away!"

Written from recollection from a collection of Zen stories from Paul Reps

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