Say What? Masters, Students and You

Of the three major conceptual influences on the Eastern martial arts, Zen Buddhism. is perhaps the most notable and profound. Its lessons, a primary element in budo training, are often transmitted in stories.


Here’s one that I’ve always enjoyed which doesn’t involve emptying teacups. Provided he makes and wins an argument about Buddhism with those who live there, any wandering monk can remain in a Zen temple. If he’s defeated, he has to move on.




At  a temple in northern Japan, there once lived two monks who were brothers. The elder one was learned, but the younger one was stupid and had but one eye.


A wondering monk came and asked for lodging, properly challenging them to a debate about the sublime teaching. The elder brother, tired from a long day of study, told the younger one to take his place. “Go and request the dialogue be in silence,” he cautioned fearing his brother might be outwitted otherwise.


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


Shortly afterwards the traveler returned and said, “Your young brother is a wonderful fellow. He defeated me so easily!.”


“Please relate the dialogue  to me,” asked the astonished monk wiping spilt tea from his jacket.


“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 a harmonious life. Then he shook his fist in my face, indicating that all three come from one realization. What insight! Thus he won and so I have no right to remain here.” With that the traveler left.


“Where is he?! Where is that fellow?” demanded the younger brother storming into the room.


“I understand you won the debate,” congratulated the elder one.


“Won nothing. I’m going to beat him up!”


Now totally confused, the elder brother asked what had happened.


“Why, the minute he saw me he held up one finger, insulting me because I have only one eye. Since he was a stranger, I thought I’d be polite to him, so I held up two fingers, congratulating him on having two eyes. Then the impolite wretch held up three fingers, suggesting that between us we only had three eyes. So I got mad and when I went to punch him, he ran off!”



Now, we always hear that “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”. After reading this, I’d suggest that when the student isn’t ready, the teacher should disappear — and fast!




© 2002 Salvatore T. Musco. All Rights Reserved.