Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Zen Parable: The Story of the Student and the Thief.

There is a Zen Koan which goes something like this:

Once there was a Zen student who was meditating in his room. A robber broke in while he was meditating on the floor, put a knife to his back, and demanded money. "I keep the money in the jar over on the table." The student said without opening his eyes. The robber went over to the table and took the money from the jar. "They are coming around in the morning to collect taxes." said the student. "Leave a little money so I will have enough to pay them." So the robber put some money back into the jar, and turned to leave the room. "Don't you say 'Thank You' to someone who gives you a gift?" asked the student. So the robber thanked the student, and left the room.

After some time, the robber was caught by the police. He confessed to many crimes, among them the robbery of the Zen student. The police went to the home of the student to seek his testimony against the robber. The student refused to testify. "The man came in, I gave him some money, he thanked me, and that was that." is all the student would say about the robbery.

Eventually the robber was convicted of his many other crimes, and spent several years in prison. When he was released, he went back to the Zen student. "Will you accept me as your disciple?" the man asked.

This story points to a truth that is found in both Buddhism and in Early Christianity; that of Universal, Unconditional Love. Love of friend and foe alike. Indeed the student in this story is unable to distinguish between friend and foe. He treats the robber as he would an old friend asking for a loan. He does not seek to recover any of the money that was lost, with the exception of the small amount of money needed to pay his taxes; the same amount of money which the robber put back voluntarily into the jar. This same teaching, in different words, can be found in the Sermon On The Mount: "Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; pray for your persecutors." And again, "If someone takes from you your coat, give him your shirt as well." An early Christian document known as the Didache (The Teaching Of The Twelve Apostles To The Nations) is even more to the point, "If someone takes anything from you, do not ask for it back, for indeed you can not." The lesson contained here is clear; Love is more important than property, even the Love of one's enemies.

The effect of such Love is clearly shown in the above story. After seeing the error of his ways, the man returns to the student, much as the Prodigal son returns home to the Father. "Will you accept me as your disciple?" The young Zen student suddenly becomes a Master! All though the simple act of teaching from one's life example.

This is a lesson we all can learn from today. Today, if a Temple or Church is broken into, more often than not the people of that Temple or Church wish to demand "justice". They take the offender to court and seek restitution. A few years ago a local church was broken into by a man who was high on drugs and alcohol. He ransacked the Pastor's office looking for money, finding none. In the process, however, he caused considerable property damage. The man was arrested by police who responded to a silent alarm. The Pastor of that church wished to forgive the incident completely. Insurance would cover the damage. All he wanted was for the man to get addictions counseling and become a better husband and father in the process. A church elder, who was also the county prosecutor, would not hear of such a plan. He sought to make an example of this thief who broke into and damaged "his" church. What lesson was taught to this man and his wife and his four children? Basically this; that the church is no different from any other institution. Cross the church and you pay a price equal to, if not greater than, offending any other "worldly" organization. As far as the church is concerned, money and property are always the bottom line. As Christians should we not strive to be better than this? As Paul once wrote, "If you share in blessings that are imperishable, how much more should you share in the perishable things?" Jesus sums it up well in this commandment, "Be Perfect (in Love) as your Heavenly Father is Perfect." Let us live as our Saviour and Master demands.

With Metta in Christ,