Sunday, February 7, 2010


A Japanese zen master came to the college and delivered a lecture as part of a series on spirituality and the modern world. A large crowd was in attendance. The master brought a younger monk with him, and the two men stood together on the stage. Although the master was more or less fluent in English, he used the younger monk, an American, to translate for him at certain points as he spoke.

The lecture covered a wide range of topics having to do with practicing the teachings of the Buddha in a post-industrial world wrought with stress, confusion, and moral ambiguity. He made the point that these sorts of difficulties had always been present, and that every society had had to learn how to exist with them. He reminded the audience that the Buddha had become enlightened when he realized that life was suffering. He also told them that enlightenment was not an escape from the harshness of the world.

"Just because you have reached enlightenment," he said, "doesn’t mean that you no longer suffer. Just because you have reached enlightenment, doesn’t mean you are freed from the demands of work.

"Always remember: Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water."

After about an hour, the lecture ended, and the younger monk came to the podium and announced that the master would now entertain questions.

There followed the usual awkward rustling while members of the audience formulated their questions. This awkwardness was augmented considerably when the zen master sat down, took a cigar out of the pocket of his robe, lit it, and began to smoke.

No one knew what to do. There was much uncomfortable murmuring. Eventually, someone stood and approached the audience microphone.

"If the Buddha saw you smoking that cigar," the audience member asked, the contempt obvious in her voice, "do you think he would approve?"

"Absolutely not," replied the master. He paused and looked out into the tense auditorium for a moment or two.

"It is a good thing," he continued, "that he does not appear to be with us, this evening."


  1. Stop trying to pretend that you are a damned Buddhist. What you don't realize is that the Buddha is always with us. You are the Buddha, man!!!

  2. I like to think that the zen master here was saying the same thing. There is no one Buddha. And to ask what he would think about smoking a cigar would be a rather misguided tangent. Indeed, The Buddha was not there.

  3. Interesting and ofcourse funny too !