Monday Zen: Midnight Excursion

Many pupils were study­ing med­i­ta­tion un­der the Zen mas­ter Sengai. One of them used to arise at night, climb over the tem­ple wall, and go to town on a plea­sure jaunt.

Sengai, in­spect­ing the dor­mi­to­ry quar­ters, found this pupil miss­ing one night and al­so dis­cov­ered the high stool he had used to scale the wall. Sengai re­moved the stool and stood there in its place.

When the wan­der­er re­turned, not know­ing that Sengai was the stool, he put his feet on the mas­ter’s head and jumped down in­to the grounds. Discovering what he had done, he was horrified.

Sengai said: “It is chilly in the ear­ly morn­ing. Be careful not to catch a cold.” The pupil nev­er went out at night again.

The best way to teach is to hold up a mirror and wait for the student to see.

There is no scolding in this story. No raised finger. No ominous instructions and no, “see, I told you so.” Just a piece of advice from one humble man to another. A reminder to a friend. “I care about you. Don’t hurt yourself.”

We don’t need anyone telling us why what we’re doing is wrong. When we know, we always know. We need to start questioning why we’ve been allowing it to go on in the first place. All that takes is one small word, and the only one we’ll hear it from is ourselves: Why?

No one could architect a stronger shock to our system if they tried. So the master didn’t try at all. He looked out for his friend, and, in living by example, prompted him to think about the example he himself was setting.

The best way to teach is to hold up a mirror, but the best teachers don’t hold up any mirrors at all. They are the mirrors we spot our reflections in.

Don’t live through your words. Live through your actions.


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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