The Most Important Teaching
A renowned Zen master said that his greatest teaching was this: Buddha is your own mind. So impressed by how profound this idea was, one monk decided to leave the monastery and retreat to the wilderness to meditate on this insight. There he spent 20 years as a hermit probing the great teaching.
One day he met another monk who was traveling through the forest. Quickly the hermit monk learned that the traveler also had studied under the same Zen master. "Please, tell me what you know of the master's greatest teaching." The traveler's eyes lit up, "Ah, the master has been very clear about this. He says that his greatest teaching is this: Buddha is NOT your own mind."
People's reactions to this story:"The most important teaching is to think for yourself. Unfortunately, the poor pathetic monk wasted 20 years of his life to learn it. If you're going to mediate on a philosophy for 20 years, it better be your own!"
"One's own mind is just that - what you believe, not what someone else said."
"I think the second monk was wiser than the first. We are our own teachers, and he saw this rather than passively accepting the truth, like the first monk."
"What is mine isn't yours and my mind is not Buddha for you - or something like that. I believe this story conveys knowledge that I don't have. I think I identify with the first monk."
"What the Zen master was trying to get his students to understand is that what HE said to them was not important. He wanted to get them thinking for themselves."
"Don't be so quick to believe everything you hear."
"Even the greatest teachers and experts make mistakes. Be your own teacher and evaluate what is important to you - never take a teaching at face value!"
"How can you have any coherence in your teachings if you keep changing your ideas?"
"Great masters can make mistakes that waste or even ruin the lives of their followers."
"I don't believe that the monk wasted his time at all. As with everything, there must be a balance....."
"It just goes to show you how ambiguous people can be."
"I feel a bit confused or frustrated yet find it funny. It reminds me of that Saturday Night Live bit where the person in charge of the nuclear reactor tells his underlings that before he leaves he has just one thing to tell them and it's very important: 'You can't have too much water in a nuclear reactor!"
"I found this story confusing - I guess the truth is confusing."
"This story is much like something I was once taught in Freshman Physics:
Q: Is light a particle or a wave?
"Bob Dylan Wrote a song titled Serve Somebody, I think if the Monk only had a CD player he might have had maybe one more option. Twenty years?"
"The story was predictable, and reminded me of a joke I once heard, but I can't seem to remember what it was."
"The irony of this story is more powerful than the message - but, to be honest, I'm not sure what the message was."
"We all interpret things according to our own personality and desires."
"It's amazing how people interpret the same message in totally different, and sometimes totally opposite, ways. We are all individuals who find different paths to enlightenment."
"This story is an excellent overview of today's society - of how one missed word can greatly change the meaning of one's life. Had the hermit heard the word 'not' the first time 20 years earlier, his life would have been layed out completely different."
"Teachings change all the time, no matter how profound they may seem at the moment. We have to remain flexible to change as ideas change - which is a fact of life that itself will no doubt change."
"Everyone's views on things are constantly changing, so it's important to keep up and in contact with our ever-changing world. 20 years ago the Zen master believed that Buddha is your own mind. Now he believes it is not. So the hermit lost 20 years of his life to an old theory."
"I can't see how anyone could spend 20 years of their life probing one great teaching. He missed so many life-experiences by hiding out in the wilderness."
"I think the monk found buddha within if he truly spent twenty years meditating on what is buddha and what is your mind. The not is incidental."
"25 years of meditation are worthy if they are realy spent in the search of Light. It doesn't matter much if the catalyser of the meditation is a particular statement or its opposite."
"The story is not about the monks, their lives or the specific 'truths' that masters impart. It is about enlightnment - which lies outside the realm of the conceptual. To trick your mind into letting go, the master sets up a paradox. The opposite 'truths' exist at the same time in the same place which snaps logic's grip on your mind and releases you to clear perception. Zen / Not-Zen, at the same time in the same place!"
"There is no single concept that can be expressed to encompass buddha\truth. paradox rules. deal with it."
"While Buddha is not your own mind, your own mind is Buddha."
"Perhaps this story means that one needs experiences to feed the mind, and by becoming a hermit, the monk lost his mind."
"Too bad he didn't have any books to burn"
"I'd be real pissed off if I was that hermit!"
"The hermit's problem is that he has been carrying around that teaching as words. But he never realized what the teaching meant to him. You may be able to recite the words, but if you don't know what they mean, what's the use?"
"People tend to jump head first and follow an idea without seeing it through. This person meditated for 20 years only to learn that the greatest teaching is NO teaching at all."
"(1) I think he would have gone up and meditated for 20 years on anything the master said (or what he thought he said). (2) Maybe the second monk was just a prankster looking for something to do. (3) Is this guy a sloooow learner or what ?"
"This story should make people realize what a crock some religions are. There are so many religions, cults, and followers nowadays that it makes me want to kick someone's ass - especially those who exploit other people who are naive and gullible. No, I take it back, maybe they deserve it for being so stupid!"
Reminds me of something one of my teachers once said: "Everything is black or white. Nothing is black or white."
"I don't believe that the 20 years the first monk spent on this koan was wasted (incidentally, several respondents assumed that the second monk had been given the "right" koan - why?). All of us spend any 20-year span in the presence of our own minds, and perceive the world through this personal filter. So, if the monk had been an astrophysicist or an NBA forward, could his time truly have been spent any more usefully? I don't think so."
"The Zen Master needs to get a real job and buddha is just a marketing idea which changes to suit the consumer."
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John Suler, Ph.D. © 1997 All rights reserved.