Nature never deceives us; it is we who deceive ourselves.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau


Master Of Silence

People are so foolish. Either they are deceived by words or they are deceived by silence — but they are deceived either way.

There is a famous Zen story. I would like to tell it to you.

A monk called himself the ‘Master of Silence’. He was actually a fraud and had no genuine understanding. To sell his humbug Zen, he had two eloquent attendant monks to answer questions for him; but he himself never uttered a word, as if to show his inscrutable ‘silent Zen’.

One day, during the absence of his two attendants, a pilgrim monk came to him and asked: “Master, what is the Buddha?” Not knowing what to do or to answer, in his confusion he could only look desperately round in all directions — east and west, here and there — for his missing mouthpieces.

The pilgrim monk, apparently satisfied, then asked him: “What is the dharma, sir?” He could not answer this question either, so he first looked up at the ceiling and then down at the floor, calling for help from heaven and hell.

Again the monk asked: “What is Zen?” Now the Master of Silence could do nothing but close his eyes.

Finally the monk asked: “What is blessing?” In desperation. the Master of Silence helplessly spread his hands to the questionnaire as a sign of surrender.

But the pilgrim was very pleased and satisfied with this interview. He left the ‘Master’ and set out again on his journey.

On the road the pilgrim met the attendant monks on the way home, and began telling them enthusiastically what an enlightened being this Master of silence was.

He said: “I asked him what Buddha is. He immediately turned his face to the east and then to the west, implying that human beings are always looking for Buddha here and there, but actually Buddha is not to be found either in the east or in the west.

I then asked him what the dharma is. In answer to this question he looked up and down, meaning that the truth of dharma is a totality of equalness, there being no discrimination between high and low, while both purity and impurity can be found therein.

In answering my question as to what Zen was, he simply closed his eyes and said nothing. That was a clue to the famous saying:

‘If one can close his eyes and sleep soundly in the deep recesses of the cloudy mountains he is a great monk indeed.’

Finally, in answering my last question, ‘What is the blessing?’ he stretched out his arms and showed both his hands to me. This implied that he was stretching out his helping hands to guide sentient beings with his blessings. Oh, what an enlightened Zen Master! How profound is his teaching!”

When the attendant monks returned, the ‘Master of Silence’ scolded them thus: “Where have you been all this time? A while ago I was embarrassed to death, and almost ruined, by an inquisitive pilgrim!”

Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves. – Eric Hoffer


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