Sunday, June 9, 2013

Not Zen 62: See No Reason

A spiritual teacher had, as her worst student, her own son.

This teacher was a kind soul, known for being forgiving and generous. But her son rebelled against this gentleness. He despised it as a weakness and as a sign that his mother was mentally feeble. She gave up preaching to him about charity. Instead, she tried to show him practical things.

For a while, her appeal to his self-interests worked. Then he stopped listening to her at all. He refused to go to school. She tried to persuade him of the value of an education. Her arguments were seen as irrefutable to everyone else around her. Her son didn't agree. He rebelled against her reasoning even when it meant admitting that his own conclusions were nonsensical.

The next summer, a distant relative offered the boy a job as a laborer. He accepted although he understood that he would not earn enough to move out of his mother's house. Unfortunately, he was bad at the simple tasks he was assigned. He did not always show up for work on time. He did not work hard.  He didn't listen to his supervisors' instructions with care. He wasted his own efforts and the productivity of others with his sloppiness. Within a few weeks, he found himself out of a job.

“Now that you have time again,” his mother said upon receiving the news. “You should return to your studies.”

“I have no studies,” he said.

“I bought a book of logic for you.” She tried to put it into his hands. “Logic is good in every situation. Learning this would help you in all of your life, even in your jobs as a laborer.”

He pushed the book aside. “That is a waste. You are trying to teach me how to think. I see no reason to learn logic.”

“Like many things, this is a skill you will never understand the reason to learn,” she admitted, “until you have already learned it and put it to use.”


  1. I adore logic puzzles. I may work for weeks trying to figure them out and then one day my mind opens up and looks at everything in a new way and I am amazed at how simple the solution was.

    I hope the son in this Koan can change is POV or he may never reap the fruit of his Mother's teachings. But sadly I fear that he will not.

  2. I've been pleasantly surprised by folks who insist on ignorance up to a point; then the point comes and they're able to learn some of the time. The worst danger from deliberate ignorance though lies in aspects of knowledge or wisdom that we don't know we need. We can continue not to know, unhappier for the lack, for our entire lives.

    I've noticed that the problem doesn't seem to affect open-minded, generous people as much. Something inherent in generosity or in the impulse behind it may lend greater awareness of human limitations.