Saturday, July 26, 2014

Talking at cross-purposes

Let us eavesdrop a moment on the "peace" talks, you know, the meetings where diplomats and mighty poo-bahs with testosterone-fueled egos sit around tables in fancy hotels and give fancy speeches, and pretend to listen to each other, all with the aim of stopping the armies, the bombs, the bazookas and tanks, the slaughter of women and children.  If we could hear what actually goes on I imagine it is exactly as this old story told of two debating monks.


Provided he proposes and wins a debate about Buddhism with the monks who live there, any wandering monk can enter and remain in a Zen temple. If he is defeated, he has to move on.

In a small temple in northern Japan two monks dwelt together as brothers. The elder one was learned, but the younger one was stupid and had but one eye.

A wandering monk came to the door late one day and asked to enter their temple, properly challenging them to a debate. The elder monk, tired and aching in his old bones, told the younger monk to take his place. "Go and debate him, but request the dialogue take place silence," he cautioned.

So the young monk and the stranger went to the shrine and sat down.

Shortly afterwards the traveler rose and went in to the elder brother and said, "Your young brother is a wonderful fellow. He has defeated me."

The elder monk was astonished. "Relate the dialogue to me," he said.

"Well," explained the traveler, "first I held up one finger, representing Buddha, the enlightened one. So he held up two fingers, signifying Buddha and his teaching. I held up three fingers, representing Buddha, his teaching, and his followers, living life in harmony. Then he shook his clenched fist in my face, indicating that all three come from one realization. Thus he won and so I have no right to remain here. I will travel further." With this, he bowed and took his leave.

"Where is that insolent fellow?" asked the younger one, running in to his elder brother.

"I understand you won the debate."

"Won nothing! When I catch him I'm going to beat him up."

"Tell me the subject of the debate," asked the elder one.

"Why, the minute he saw me he held up one finger, insulting me by pointing out that I have only one eye. Since he was a stranger I thought I would be polite to him, so I held up two fingers, congratulating him that he has two eyes. Then the impolite wretch held up three fingers, laughing that then between us we have three eyes. So I got mad and was going to punch him, but he jumped up and ran away from me, and that ended it!"

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