The Zen Monks and
The Governor
In South Korea there is a famous mountain called Ji Ri Sahn Mountain, and on this mountain there is an ancient Zen temple, called Chon Un Sah Temple. It has been there for many hundreds of years, and was built even before Zen was a great movement in Korea. For centuries, the temple was supported by the devoted lay Buddhist people in the area, and also by the region's governor, who was a devout Buddhist himself.

One year, a new governor was appointed to that region. He was a Confucian, so he didn't like Buddhism at all. Buddhism had been a national religion in Korea for many centuries when Confucians took power during the Chosun Dynasty (1492-1910), and Buddhism was often repressed by different kings and local officials. Buddhist monks in particular had a very difficult situation.

So in those times it was quite usual for the new governor to make trouble for the people who had anything to do with the temples in his district. One day. he summoned the temple's abbot. When the monk arrived at the regional office, the governor didn't say a word, and simply hit him on the top of his head very hard. "Why did you hit me?" the abbot asked.

"You're very bad," the governor replied. "Your students don't do any work. They only sit in that meditation room all day, doing nothing for hours on end. I see all these hardworking people give them food, and the monks only eat, lie down, and sleep. I don't like that! They're all a bunch of rice thieves! Everyone in this world has to work, but not these monks of yours. So now you must pay higher taxes to the government." Then he hit the abbot a few more times.

"OK, we will of course pay these new taxes," the abbot said, even though his temple was small and very poor, and had never had to pay taxes before. He left the governor's office and went back to the temple. When he arrived, the kitchen master saw the abbot's face. He saw that he was very sad.

"What happened with the governor?" he asked, and the abbot told him everything that had befallen him at the governor's office. When the abbot had finished, the monks fell into a long silence together.

After a few minutes, the kitchen master's face suddenly brightened up. "Waah, I have a good idea! We'll invite the governor over. Tell him how poor we are, and that we have no money --- but tell him that we have all of these valuable antiques and ancient works of art. Tell him that if he likes any, he can take one." The kitchen master knew that the governor was very, very corrupt, and that these things were better than money for him.

"That's a wonderful plan. But there is only one problem," the abbot said. "We don't have any antiques. We don't have any priceless works of art. How are we supposed to give him such things if we don't even have them ourselves? Are you crazy?" He looked very confused.

"Don't worry, don't worry," the kitchen master said. "You just get him to come over. I'll take care of the rest."

"OK," the abbot said, squinting narrowly at his crafty kitchen master. He had known this young monk since he had entered the temple. The kitchen master practiced meditation very hard, so maybe he had some special plan . . .

The kitchen master prepared lots of good food and drink. He sent several monks to the garden to collect the freshest vegetables. Special rice cakes were rolled out, sliced, and dusted with pine-nut powder. They baked and fried the most delicious temple delicacies, things eaten only on special days, like Buddha's Birthday. Everyone was very excited! They were also very curious about the kitchen master's plan.

After a short while, the abbot returned, with the governor right behind him. The governor rubbed his hands, and his eyes glanced nervously from side to side. The monks put all of the delicious food out for him, and invited him to eat.

But the governor did not seem to be interested in food at all. He was only interested in seeing where the beautiful antiques were, and what he could choose for himself. As the monks tried to make him comfortable, he grew impatient. "Abbot, I want to see those antiques! Where are they?"

The abbot called out, "Kitchen Master!"

"Yes, sir?"

"It's time to bring out the antiques!"

"Yes, sir! Coming right out!" the kitchen master yelled back, and went into the kitchen for a minute. All that was heard was the sound of various objects being tossed hither and thither, an empty jar falling down, a glass bottle breaking. Everybody was very nervous!

When he finally came out, he was carrying only a broom!

Bowing deeply at the waist, with a grand gesture he offered it up to the governor.

The governor got very angry. "You stupid monk! Who do you think I am? That's just a broom! That can't be more than a month old!"

The kitchen master looked genuinely surprised. "But that's not true, Your Excellency! This is a very valuable and powerful treasure."

The governor exploded into rage. "Do you take me for a fool? I am governor of this whole area! Who do you think you're talking to?"

All the other monks trembled in fear, because this man was very, very powerful. But the kitchen master wasn't afraid at all. With his eyes closed and chin out slightly, he had a broad, confident smile on his face. "This broom is very, very old. It was made many thousands of years ago. If you ride this broom even once, you can fly through the sky!"

"Fly?" The governor looked at him. "Is that true?"

"Yes, Your Excellency. That's true."

"OK," the governor said. "Then you try it first."

"No problem, I'll go first. But you must not think anything about what you see. Don't think good and bad. Only keep a clear mind!"

"OK," the governor replied.

So the kitchen master put the broom between his legs and --- ppssheewww!! --- flew off into the sky! He circled the temple once and landed in front of the governor. The governor couldn't believe his eyes --- the monk had really flown through the air! The governor rubbed his hands together and said, "Ahhhh. I must have this broom!"

But the kitchen master only looked at him, "Your Excellency!"

"Yes?" he replied, very afraid now of this monk.

"It's your turn. Try it once."

"Is it possible?"

"If your mind is good, then riding this broom is possible. If your mind is bad, then it will be impossible to move even one inch."

"But my mind is not bad!" the governor said.

"We know that, we know that," the kitchen master said, smiling. "But this broom understands your mind. So try for yourself."

The governor put the broom between his legs, squeezed his eyes tight, and jumped. And jumped. And jumped. But he didn't go anywhere!

"You're no good, Your Excellency," the kitchen master said. "You're always doing many bad actions, so you cannot fly anywhere on the broom. Everybody else can fly except for you. I am only the kitchen master at this temple, and even I can fly it. The abbot flies on it all the time." The governor was speechless, completely stuck.

Then the kitchen master pointed in the direction of the main meditation hall. "There are many monks over there, and they have special energy. They can just point at you, and --- boom! --- they can give you an electric shock! All they do all day is meditate. Anytime you do some bad action, no matter how small, they can perceive it. Sometimes they wake up if they sense you doing something wrong, and they can send electricity over to shock you. So you must keep a clear mind. Do you want to see inside the meditation hall?"

"Yes, sir. Yes, sir," the governor said.

"Then come on over. We can't open the door. But just wet your finger and push it through the rice-paper window, like this, and look inside." When they peered into the room, they saw the monks sitting in many different positions. Some sat slumped forward, their chins resting against their chests; some sat with their heads tilted way back and to the side; while another sat slumped over to the left. They sat all different kinds of ways. The governor asked, "Those people sitting slumped forward --- what kind of meditation is this?"

"That's perceive-the-ground meditation," the kitchen master replied.

"And what kind of meditation is this, the ones with their heads falling backward with their mouths wide open?"

"That's perceive-the-ceiling meditation."

"And that guy slumped over to the left?"

"That's dancing meditation."

"Oh." the governor said, "How wonderful! There really are many kinds of meditation!"

"Of course!" the kitchen master replied. "These great monks use any kind of meditation only to help this world. When they finish one kind of meditation, they go on to an-other kind. My style is only broom-riding meditation. I don't use anything to do this: the body disappears and becomes smoke, and can come and go anywhere with no hindrance. When you return home, if you do some bad action, these meditation monks' bodies can also change, become smoke, and go into your room and kill you."

"OK! OK!" the governor shouted. "No taxes for this temple! Before, I didn't understand these people, but now I'll only support you! I'll do anything I can; anything at all." So the governor left and went back to his palace. He never bothered the meditating monks of Chon Un Sah Temple ever again.

--- From Wanting Enlightenment
Is a Big Mistake

Teachings of
Zen Master Seung Sahn
©2006 Shambhala Publications
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