Sunday, December 22, 2013

Not Zen 90: The Laughing Master

“Why do you laugh so much?” complained a disciple to his roshi. “Other devotees are much more strict than you.”

“I am not a master in a temple,” replied the teacher, “and that is one reason. Also, I am strict when there is a need, which is fairly often. When I do not have cause, I see no need to hide my joy. I learned this view from my teacher. When I was young, I felt he was far too carefree."

“You also had a master who laughed too much?”

“He laughed when it rained. He laughed when it snowed. He laughed when a cloud passed over the sun. He laughed when the sun reappeared. He laughed at butterflies. He laughed at his foolish students. Sometimes, I thought, his wanton mirth was simply too much. One person should not be so happy all the time. Such happiness could be a sign of foolishness instead of wisdom.”

“Exactly.” The disciple nodded. The other students of Zen, all seated around a table eating their lunch, did the same.

“I prepared a short speech on the subject, which I dared to give in the dining hall." The roshi smiled at the parallel since his group of students was seated. "But thankfully before I could give my speech, one of the other students, a fellow who had been ordered to bring our food, slipped. He was carrying four small tureens of soup. Each tureen had a lid. When he went down, the containers and lids flew up. The soup flew out. Of course, the pots and utensils came back to earth. They made a lot of noise. A spoon hit the poor student. Then a tureen landed on his head like a dunce cap. A lid clanged off the tureen while it was still on his head.”

The roshi’s students began to giggle at his story.

“Yes, it was very funny. I had never seen anything quite so funny looking. And then a second lid came down, too, and hit him on the head almost where the other one had hit. My fellow students burst into laughter. We fell almost in tears with laughter. Only one man did not laugh.”

“The student who fell?”

“My master did not laugh. He had not been standing close to the spill but he nonetheless arrived in time to catch the second lid before it hit the floor. He set it aside gently and checked to make sure that his student was not hurt. Truly, none of the rest of us wanted to see that fellow bruised or burned. He was a friend to us all. But his fall … to this day, the memory of it can make me smile. Then I think of my old master. He, who took joy in nearly everything, had simply taken action. Who can doubt that he was right?”

The students turned back to their places at the table and ate their lunches in silence.

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