Sunday, May 19, 2013

Not Zen 59: Parroting the Instructor

A sailing instructor on an island doubled as the chaplain and meditation tutor for a resort hotel.  As he matured, he worked less as a sailor and more as a religious mentor.  With an eye to entertaining his tourist clients, he trained his pet parrot to repeat the phrases, "one hand clapping," "chop wood, carry water," and "dog has buddha nature."  Morning and evening, visitors entering his imitation pagoda attached to the hotel were greeted by "chop wood, carry water" or some similar phrase until they grew tired and asked the instructor to put the bird away in a separate room, which he always did.

Another employee of the resort hotel stopped by one day.  The parrot's cage rested at the front of the chapel and the green bird in it rocked back and forth on its perch. 

“Sound of one hand,” called the parrot.  “Sound of one hand.”

The visitor put his hands on his hips.

“Why in the world did you teach it to say things like that?” he asked.

“Ah.”  The chaplain tapped his nose.  “I teach classes on Zen, you know.  I find that the parrot discourages students from repeating my words.”

“Is that all?”

“No.  More accurately, the benefit with students is a side effect.  Years ago, I trained the parrot to say catch phrases of wisdom in order to keep myself from repeating them.  It worked.  Of course, it keeps my clients entertained, too, but the purpose of the bird is to make me a better teacher.”

“I don't get it.”

“Every time I find myself using stock phrases with my students instead of putting things in my own words, I'm forced to ask myself, 'Do I know as little of Zen as my parrot?'”

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