Monday, September 28, 2009



A Story



Some students asked me the meaning of the term COGNITION.

As I was in no mood to pontificate, I told them this story:

Once upon a time only two monks were permitted to stay in a Zen Temple.

If any other wandering monk wanted to stay in the temple he had to engage in verbal duel defeat a resident monk in debate.

If the new monk won the argument he took the place of the defeated resident monk who then had to leave the temple and move on. If the resident monk won he continued to stay in the temple and the wandering monk had to go away.

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 just one eye.

A wandering monk came and asked for lodging, properly challenging them to a debate about spirituality.

The elder brother, tired that day from much studying, told the younger one to take up the challenge.

“I am tired and want to sleep,” the elder learned monk told his stupid one-eyed younger brother, “so you go and request the dialogue in silence.”

So the young monk and the stranger went to the shrine and sat down to debate in silence.

Shortly afterwards the traveller rose and went in to the elder brother, bowed his head in reverence, and said: “Your young brother is a brilliant scholar. He thoroughly defeated me.”

“Relate the dialogue to me,” the astonished elder monk said to the visitor.

“Well,” explained the traveller, “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. In reply 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 traveller left.

“Where is that fellow?” asked the younger monk, running up to his elder brother.

“I understand you won the debate,” the older learned monk said.

“Debate? What debate? There was no debate and I won nothing. I am going to beat him up and thrash the hell out of him,” the young monk shouted in anger.

“Beat him up?” the perplexed elder monk said, “tell me what happened.”

This is how the stupid one-eyed younger brother described his version of the silent debate:

“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 scoundrel 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 the debate.”

Dear Reader, I am sure you are now enlightened about the concept of cognition. If not, I’ll have to tell you another story!

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