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51 Zen Stories: A Buddha

The noble-minded are calm and steady. Little people are forever fussing and fretting.


In fact, this “noble-mindedness” is an essential characteristic of a Zen Mind. However, one familiar with Aristotelian Ethics may, based on Aristotle’s realisation that “we cannot always control our own moral environment“, enquire: How can we preserve this steadiness when our foundations are being disturbed?. Perhaps, the legitimacy of this question was substantiated by the Meiji era.

Meiji Era (1868-1912) was a period where a series of drastic changes transformed an isolationist, feudal Japan into an industrialized world power. But amidst this “westernization” of the country, great hardships were faced by the orthodox monks. And the two guiding lights, for them, were Hara Tanzan (原坦山, 1819-1892) and Shaku Unshou (釋雲照, 1829-1909).

Both Unshou and Tanzan denounced the erstwhile Buddhism as being far from ideal. Tanzan called for restructuring of Buddhism based on the adoption of scientific experimentalism and rationalism while, Unshou encouraged a “return to the ancient ways” wherein the strict observance of precepts was the means to reinstate the ideal form of Buddhism. Despite the differences, both had mutual respect and admiration for the other and visited each other occasionally.

Image Credit: Kevin Bluer

On one such day, a cold night in Tokyo, Unshou decides to meet Tanzan. He arrives at the latter’s abode and makes his way into it.

Tanzan, occupied with serenity and solitude, sat on a wooden floor with a cup half-filled with wine and a bottle of the same, gazing at the moon.

‘Hello brother,’ an ecstatic Tanzan greets Unshou. ‘Won’t you have a drink?’

‘I never drink!’ exclaims Unshou solemnly.

‘One who does not drink is not even human,’ asserts Tanzan.

‘Do you mean to call me inhuman just because I don’t drink intoxicating liquids!’ replies Unshou in anger. ‘If I am not human, what am I?’

‘A Buddha.’ answers Tanzan.

Commentary: One who is a Buddha sees a Buddha in everyone else!

4 thoughts on “51 Zen Stories: A Buddha

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  1. 9.0/10: Great way to start a story. Such starts make readers think about the story on a more fundamental level. Adding commentary is what sets this apart.

    Liked by 5 people

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