Thursday, 24 March 2016

Myoan Eisai

                Myoan Eisai brought Rinzai Zen to Japan and established a temple in Kamakura. In contrast to the luxury of other Buddhists temples in the area, Eisai’s was relatively poor. At one point, his monks had nothing to eat for several days. Then a Buddhist devotee came to the temple and asked that the monks chant sutras on his behalf. In payment for this service, he presented Eisai with two rolls of silk. The monks were elated, confident that the silk would be sold and the money used to resupply their larder. However, when a beggar came seeking alms, Eisai gave him the rolls of silk. The monks were disappointed but, seeing that the master was eating no better than they were, kept their anger in check.
                Then a second beggar came to the monastery. Because there was nothing else to offer, Eisai had the gold leaf stripped from the Buddha image and presented to the man. This time the monks, already irritable from hunger, protested what they considered amounted to an act of sacrilege. Eisai countered by telling them, “You’re familiar with the stories told of the Buddha’s prior lives before being born as Gautama Siddhartha. And you remember how time and again he gave up his life in order to help others. If he was so willing to do that, how can you imagine that he would object to giving up his halo for this man?”

[Myoan Eisai – Zen Masters of Japan: 36-42, 47]

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