Every Now and Zen


Periodically, I get the urge to explain why I’m always talking “stuff” instead of mainly about technique. Well, such lessons go way beyond “emptying tea cups”, and I’ve never known a student, new or old, who, ultimately, lasted long without learning – and living them. Eventually, even wiz-bang techniques get old, but life, especially your own, is endlessly interesting! Here are just a few I like:


Three Kinds of Disciples

An 18th century Zen master named Gettan used to say: “There are three kinds of disciples: Those who impart Zen to others, those who maintain the temples and shrines, and then there are the free-loaders and clothes-horses.”


This also works for instructors, too : There are those who teach to enrich lives; those obsessed with practice and custom, and those who are all sizzle and no steak.


Another master, Gasan, expressed the same idea. When he was a student, his teacher, Tekisui, was very severe. Sometimes he even beat him. (Ah, for the good old days!) While other students wouldn’t stand for this and quit, Gasan remained saying: “A poor disciple utilizes a teacher’s influence. A fair disciple admires a teacher’s kindness. A good disciple grows strong under a teacher’s discipline.”


My teacher, Mr. Jenkins, once told a student, “You can get buddies anywhere, but you only have one teacher. Which do you want me to be?” Learn this one for sure! The very best of my own students have always understood this. Those who later forgot it became strangers: to me, to their study, and to themselves. What a waste.


Just Two Words

There once was a very strict monastery. Following a vow of silence, no one was allowed to speak at all – with one exception: Every ten years, the monks were permitted to speak just two words. After his first ten years at the monastery, one monk went to the abbot who said, "It has been ten years. What are the two words you would like to speak?"


"Bed... hard..." said the monk.


"I see," replied the abbot.


Ten years later, the monk returned. "It has been ten more years," said the abbot. "What are the two words you would like to speak?"


"Food... stinks..." said the monk.


"I see," replied the abbot.


Yet another ten years passed and the monk once again met with the abbot who asked, "What are your two words now after these past ten years?"


"I... quit!" said the monk.


"Well, I can see why," replied the abbot. "All you ever do is complain."


Mr. Jenkins used to say, "Two men looked out from prison bars. One saw mud, one saw stars." Sometimes students forget that they are not in the dojo for them to make their mark on it, but for it to make its mark on them!



When the teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, a cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. One day the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice.


Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.


A lot of cat tying gets passed off as martial arts training.




© 2005 Salvatore T. Musco. All Rights Reserved.