Sat 18 Mar 2006
Once upon a time there was a young Zen monk who lived in a small, old temple in the mountains studying with his old master, Tetsu-Jin. The temple was indeed old, poor and not well maintained. It was cold in the winter and hot in the summer, the roof leaked and the food was limited. The young monk didn’t like his temple, he felt sorry for himself and other monks that they have to practice in such misery. But though unhappy he never divulged his feelings to other monks and especially his old master, because he liked and respected him.
One day the master called him into his room and told him he decided the youngster needs to experience the practice elsewhere and that he will send him for a year to his old friend, Yutaka-Sou who was the master of a temple in the capital.
The next day the young monk left with his humble belongings in a small bundle and traveled, mostly walking, for two weeks until he reached the capital. There he found the temple – large and modern, standing in the middle of a huge, carefully tended garden. Yutaka-Sou welcomed him and accepted him as his student for a year.
The young monk loved the new temple, with comfortable monks quarters, warm in winter and cold in summer, with zendo so huge and quiet he found it at first unsettling. But without the everyday worries his mind relaxed, flowed easier and his practice deepened.
The time passed relentlessly and finally the year has passed. The day of departure came for the young monk. Yutaka-Sou bade him farewell but told him that he likes his concentration on practice and will accept him as a permanent student if he would choose to come back.
The young monk again took his bundle and walked away. He traveled with sunken heart, wondering what he will tell his old master, Tetsu-Jin when he gets back to the old temple.
After traveling (again mostly walking) for a week he stopped for the night at a temple in a town half-way from his destination.
There during breakfast the local head monk showed him a place at the table next to another young monk and told him he was also a traveler who arrived during the night. Naturally, the two talked and were both surprised for the other monk was a student of Yutaka-Sou, just returning from the little old temple in the mountains having spent a year there with Tetsu-Jin.
- It must be a great relief for you that now return to your great temple – said the young monk with envy.
- Not really, I don’t like it there – said the other monk sadly – I can’t stand the coldness of those clean rooms and corridors, this old temple reminded me of impermanence and my practice deepened. You are lucky that you can stay there all the time.
- Not at all, I can’t stand the disarray and the hardship it brings, your modern temple was a relief for my mind and my practice deepened. I was sure you consider yourself lucky to be able to stay there all the time.
The other monk just shook his head. For a while they sat in silence contemplating what just happened to them. Then they promised each other to stay in touch in the future, bowed and each went his way.
A week later the young monk finally climbed the side of the mountain to where the old temple stood and went straight to his old master. Tetsu-Jin greeted him warmly and the young monk recounted everything that happened to him including the meeting with the other monk. Then he asked his master to forgive him for not telling him how he felt about the old temple.
- I knew, my young friend, I knew all the time – said Tetsu-Jin smiling.
- Then this is why you arranged for my trip to the capital? And also the same happened to that other monk? – asked the young monk.
- Yes. – replied the master.
- I know there is an important teaching in this, but I can’t quite grasp it, master – said the young monk – and I don’t know what I should do now.
- As you know already, fundamentally there is no difference between this or any other place. But the teaching you both received is that you can look for places and things that would inspire you on your path to enlightenment. And that different places inspire different people – and that’s why there are different places. But at the same time you should remember all of them are essentially the same as there is only space.
- The form is empty, emptiness is form. – said the young monk.
Tetsu-Jin just smiled and said – Now rest a few days, then go back to the capital and study with Yutaka-Sou. And visit me once a year just to make your old master happy.