My Favorite Zen Story

Posted: Mon Jun 26, 2006 9:34 am
Post subject: My Favorite Zen Story

Dear Honored Guest,

In a remote village in Japan there lived a Zen master named Hakuin. He practiced the pure and simple life of a monk.

One day, a beautiful, unmarried girl in the village fish market was discovered to be with child. As it was a conservative village, the family was furious. The girl refused to say who the father was, but under pressure, she finally admitted that the father was the master Hakuin.

In great anger the family confronted the master. They asked him, “How could you have betrayed our trust so badly?” Hakuin’s only response was to say gently, “Is that so?”

Hakuin’s reputation was destroyed, but he did not appear to mind. When the baby was born it was brought to Hakuin. He took great care of the child, though he now had to beg to survive. The villagers would scorn him, saying, “We will never forget that you betrayed our trust, you miserable man.” Each time, Hakuin replied gently, “Is that so?”

Several years later, the young mother confessed the truth: the baby’s father was not Hakuin, but another young man from the village who had not been willing to accept his obligation, so she had accused the monk knowing that he would do the right thing.

The villagers went to Hakuin to request the return of the child, saying, “We are so sorry, how could we ever have believed this of you?”

Giving back to the family the child who had become his own, Hakuin said gently, “Is that so?”

Respectfully submitted,

Patrick M. Byrne

  1. I punched in the key words to my favorite Zen story, and noted your heading. I don’t remember where I read it – Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, perhaps – but I retell it from time to time and wished for you to know that the story has spoken to others deeply as well. Thanks for posting it.

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