Sunday, March 5, 2017

Battle of Wits

Here is one of my favourite teaching stories called Battle of Wits 

Whenever anyone asks me the meaning of the term COGNITION – I tell 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 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 he 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. 

“I am tired and want to sleep so you go and debate with the visitor,” the elder learned monk told the stupid one-eyed younger monk, “I don't want to hear any noise so request the dialogue in silence and have a silent debate...”

So the young one-eyed monk and the stranger went to the shrine – and they sat down to debate in silence.

Shortly afterwards the traveller rose – and he went in to the elder monk – he bowed his head in reverence  and he 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 of the debate was the opposite of what he had expected  the astonished elder monk asked the visitor: “Please relate the silent dialogue to me.”

The traveller explained what had happened during the silent debate: 

“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 – all three 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 the debate – and so – I have no right to remain here...” 

With this – the traveller bowed in reverence once again – and he 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 that insolent stranger and thrash the hell out of him...” the young one-eyed monk shouted in anger.

“Beat him up...? Trash him...?” the perplexed elder monk exclaimed, “you tell me what happened and you 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. 

So  I got mad – and I started to punch him  but the coward ran out  and that ended the debate...”  

This story exemplifies communication mismatch that can occur when you indulge in non-verbal communication (maybe in sign language) with someone who does not understand your language” owing to cultural or cognitive reasons. 

This non-verbal communication mismatch can sometimes have hilarious results and occasionally may have not so hilarious consequences as well.

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