Mutual Understanding

Recently, I have been in conflict with some people. Without going into any detail, the conflict has reminded me of a Zen Koan. Koans are teaching stories designed to provoke thought.

In some regions of Japan it was the tradition that a traveller could request lodgings overnight at a Buddhist temple. The only condition was that the traveller should have a debate with one of the monk and show skill at the art of debate.

It so happens that at one small temple there were two monks. One was fast-witted, the other, who only has one eye, was much slower than his brother.

Late one evening they hear a knock at the door. The quick-witted monk was feeling tired and so asked the other to deal with the stranger. The one eyed monk said, "But brother, I cannot defeat the traveller as you could. Tell me what I should say". "That is easy, if you do not know what to say, tell the traveller that he must debate in silence and that he must start the debate. That way, whatever happens, the traveller will have think hard and almost certainly will lose".

The newcomer is admitted and goes off to a private area with the one-eyed monk. A short while later, he is at the door, ready to depart. As he is leaving the other monk stops him and asks, "why are you leaving?".

The reply comes, "I was asked to debate in silence, so I thought for a while and held up one finger, to represent the oneness of Buddha. The monk frowned as he thought hard and held up two fingers, representing the division between Buddha and the material world. I considered for a moment before holding up three fingers, to show that between Buddha and the material world stands the third of humanity that can bridge the gap. Instantly, the monk grasped the concept and held up no fingers, showing that all these differences are of no significance. Defeated, I leave".

The bright monk was impressed until his brother reappeared, asking where the visitor might be. The obvious question was asked to which the debating monk replied, "First the traveller tried to provoke me by holding up on finger, to indicate that he felt I was inferior because I only have one eye. I responded by holding up two fingers to compliment him on still having both of his. His response was to hold up three fingers to say that we still only have three eyes between us. I am afraid I lost my temper and raised my fist to hit him, but he ran away. Where is he? He has defeated me in debate and I must apologise to him for my loss of control."