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 a battle of wits and 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 monk was learned and wise, but the younger monk was stupid and had just one eye.
A wandering monk came and asked for lodging, properly challenging them to a debate about spirituality.
The wise elder monk was fatigued and tired that day from too much studying so he told the younger one-eyed stupid monk to take up the challenge.
am tired and want to sleep,” the elder learned monk told the stupid one-eyed younger monk, “I don't want to hear any noise 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 monk, bowed his head in reverence, and said: “Your young companion is a brilliant scholar. He thoroughly defeated me.”
The wise elder monk was sure that the younger stupid one-eyed monk would be defeated in the battle of wits, so, on hearing that result was the opposite than he had expected, the astonished elder monk said to the visitor, “Please relate the silent dialogue to me.”
“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 bowed in reverence once again and left the Zen temple.
Suddenly the stupid one-eyed younger monk came storming into the room and asked the wise elder monk, “Where is that fellow...?”
“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...? Trash him...?” the perplexed elder monk exclaimed, “tell me what happened...relate the silent dialogue to me...”
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.