Monday Zen: Is That So?

The Zen mas­ter Hakuin was praised by his neigh­bors as one liv­ing a pure life.

A beau­ti­ful Japanese girl whose par­ents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, with­out any warn­ing, her par­ents dis­cov­ered she was with child.

This made her par­ents very an­gry. She would not con­fess who the man was, but af­ter much ha­rass­ment at last named Hakuin. In great anger the par­ents went to the mas­ter.

“Is that so?” was all he would say.

After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his rep­u­ta­tion, which did not trou­ble him, but he took very good care of the child. He ob­tained milk from his neigh­bors and ev­ery­thing else the lit­tle one need­ed.

A year lat­er the girl-moth­er could stand it no longer. She told her par­ents the truth - that the re­al fa­ther of the child was a young man who worked in the fish mar­ket.

The moth­er and fa­ther of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his for­give­ness, to apol­o­gize at length, and to get the child back again.

Hakuin was will­ing. In yield­ing the child, all he said was, “Is that so?”

The most important sentences in life are those we never say. There are only six words of dialog in this story, and they’re the same, three-word statement, repeated twice.

But there’s so much more to it, isn’t there? So many thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, hopes, assumptions. None of which are ever expressed.

The parents thought their daughter was too young to have a child. The daughter knew it, and she knew the father was unfit. But she was desperate to take care of her baby, and she hoped blaming a good man would help. And it did. Of course, like all culprits plagued by their own conscience, eventually, she had to bring the truth to light herself.

Through all of this, the master remained impartial. He accepted what was without judgment or assumptions. He stayed unbiased and open to the idea that he too did not know the whole truth of the matter. Instead of worrying about his reputation, he saw the task at hand and did what was needed. A child needed care and so he provided.

How often in life do we insist on being right? How often do we demand the truth come out right now? Because we think it’s time we get what we “deserve?” But is that so?

What if we were patient? Accepting? Not worried about who we are or what we look like right now, but about what the world needs us to be right now.

Sooner or later, the truth will come out. We can’t know what we deserve, but whatever it is, we’ll get it when we’re ready. Until then, the only sentence we really need is a question that keeps our mind open. A simple, three-word question.

“Is that so?”


About Monday Zen: Most people hate Monday. Why? In a good life, it’s a day like any other. At the very least, it shouldn’t be worse by default. That’s what Monday Zen is for: To make sure you start the week with calm, poise, and determination.

Let’s not derail our trains of thought before they leave the station. Let’s enjoy the journey.

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