In school I studied Philosophy, one of my required classes was an Asian religions class that has stayed with me to this day. I learned so much about people and about life, but I probably learned most about myself. I have taken lessons I’ve learned there and have applied them in my every day life ever since. While studying Buddhism we traveled into the world of Zen. We would read cautionary tales from different books. One of my most favorite Zen stories was the story about The One-Eyed Monk . The story is called “Trading Dialogue for Lodging” and it goes like this:
Trading Dialogue for Lodging
Provided he makes and wins an argument about Buddhism with those who live there, any wondering monk can remain in a Zen temple. If he is defeated, he has to move on.
In a temple in the northern part of Japan two brother monks were dwelling together. The elder one was learned, but the younger one was stupid and had but one eye.
A wandering monk came and asked for lodging, properly challenging them to a debate about the sublime teachings. The elder brother, tired that day from much studying, told the younger one to take his place. “Go and request the dialogue in silence,” he cautioned.
So the young monk and the stranger went to the shrine and sat down.
Shortly afterwards the traveler rose and went in to the elder brother and said: “Your young brother is a wonderful fellow. He defeated me.”
“Relate the dialogue to me,” said the elder one.
“Well,” explained the traveler, “first I held up one finger, representing Buddha, the enlightened one. So he held up two fingers, signifying Buddha and his teaching. I held up three fingers, representing Buddha, his teaching,
and his followers, living the harmonious life. Then he shook his clenched fist in my face, indicating that all three come from one realization. Thus he won and so I have no right to remain here.” With this, the traveler left.
“Where is that fellow?” asked the younger one, running in to his elder brother.
“I understand you won the debate.”
“Won nothing. I’m going to beat him up.”
“Tell me the subject of the debate,” asked the elder one.
“Why, the minute he saw me he held up one finger, insulting me by insinuating that I have only one eye. Since he was a stranger I thought I would be polite to him, so I held up two fingers, congratulating him that he
has two eyes. Then the impolite wretch held up three fingers, suggesting that between us we only have three eyes. So I got mad and started to punch him, but he ran out and that ended it!”
This story is about two things for me: being self conscious and being self absorbed. Those two don’t usually go together in people’s minds because we think of someone who is self absorbed as having uber confidence, but it can apply to people with a lack of confidence, too. You hear people whispering and you just assume they are talking about you. Your friend is in a bad mood, and you assume it’s because you did something to cause their bad mood. The hope is that you grow out of that inward thinking, and begin to think outward. Move away from the Me and move towards the I.
The traveler didn’t see the young brother as a one eyed man, he saw him as a monk, the fact that he had one eye didn’t define him. The young brother was so focused on his eye, on his self, that he couldn’t crawl out of that and engage the traveler in conversation. People don’t see your imperfections, and the quicker you learn how to not let those things you deem imperfections define who you are, the quicker you will be a more empathetic, loving, and confident member of society.