Gutei's One Finger Zen

Zen Master Gutei raised his index finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A young novice began to imitate him in this way. When Gutei was told about the novice's imitation, he sent for him and asked him if it were true. The novice admitted it was so. Gutei asked him if he understood. In reply the novice held up his index finger. Gutei promptly cut it off. The novice ran from the room, howling in pain. As he reached the threshold, Gutei called, "Boy!" When the novice turned, Gutei raised his index finger. At that instant the novice was enlightened.

However good an imitation is, it is still an imitation and not the genuine thing. Raising a finger is not Zen. What that finger stands for is the important thing. Like the novice, we often see the surface, or form, and fail to see the truth. The novice depended on one finger. When it was gone, there was no finger to show Zen. As long as one depends on something, he never becomes free and independent. Enlightenment is to take away all dependencies and attachments and attain a new perspective, a new life.


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