Zen Dialogue

Eyes closed in a crossed-leg repose, the elderly monk attuned himself to the sound of steps drawing closer. When the footsteps ceased, there was a plop on the cold, unyielding, damp floor. A huff of air floated like a balloon up the shrine to the man’s ears. Insecurity filled his wilting half-shells like a tenacious mosquito. With his own breath he asked, “What, young apprentice, is the sound of one hand clapping?”

A bald young man in an orange and yellow robe looked for his answer on the ground. “Master, I have studied this problem. The answer is that the question is not meant to be answered.” A bead of sweat formed above his brow.

With eyes still closed, aged, crooked fingers curled like a snake around a long staff.  “Incorrect. Now I must hit you with my stick.”

“Master, no!” the younger monk petitioned. “I have read the scrolls of the Ancients. There can be no other interpretation!” The bead of sweat from his brow splattered the monastery floor.

“You think you understand the Ancients yet you dishonor them with words. Perhaps the force of my blow will teach you to mind your tongue.” The business end of the old man’s cane sailed through the air with the force of a man much younger behind it.

“Ow! Master, please!” came a cry for mercy as a blow landed against the student’s arm. “If that is not the answer, then what is? Please, guide me,” the student’s tortured grimace implored deaf eyes.

“You have answered the riddle, yes, but in answering the riddle you have not answered the riddle.” The priest returned the stick to his side exactly as before without giving a look.

Settling into his own crossed-leg repose, the orange and yellow robed novice spoke with an air of insight. “I think I see the answer now, master. The answer is silence.” His eyes went wide and wild as he gazed upon his own soul.

The senior monk let this man his junior reflect upon this discovery for a moment but no longer. “I am not convinced that you understand. Shall I strike you with this stick once more?” His fingers wrapped around the staff like a thousand times before and he unleashed a second thrashing.

“Master, no! But I understand now. Ow!”

“Go now, young apprentice,” the revered – or was it feared – cleric spoke flatly. “The question has tired of hearing your eager tongue.”


All Rights Reserved © June 2016 John J. Vinacci

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