Basho Does Not Teach

A monk asked Basho, "If there is a person who does not avoid birth and death and does not realise Nirvana, do you teach such a person?' Basho answered, "I do not teach him." The monk asked, "Why?' Basho replied, "This old monk knows good and bad."

This dialogue was reported in another monastery, and one day Tendo said, "Basho may know good and bad, but he cannot take away a farmer's ox or a hungry man's food. If that monk asked me such a question, before he had half finished, I would hit him. Why? Because from the beginning I do not care about good and bad."

This koan shows the different methods of Zen teaching. The monk asked Basho an impossible question; for how can there be a person who is neither deluded nor enlightened? Basho uses a gentle and gradual method and is sensitive to the time and situation. He is like a knowing physician who diagnoses the illness and prescribes the proper medicine for cure. Tendo's methods are rough and abrupt, like shock treatment. He would take the ox away from the plower and the food from a hungry man. He does not consider the relative value of good or bad, right or wrong, but attacks from the absolute point of view. His forceful way is very conspicuous and dramatic, and people tend to view it as heroic. Basho's way is not flamboyant, but it is a sure way of teaching nevertheless. Both ways need well-developed discipline, deep intuitive wisdom, and noble character on the Master's part.


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