Gutei's Finger



Whenever anyone asked him about Zen, the great master Gutei would quietly raise one finger into the air. A boy in the village began to imitate this behavior. Whenever he heard people talking about Gutei's teachings, he would interrupt the discussion and raise his finger. Gutei heard about the boy's mischief. When he saw him in the street, he seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and began to run off, but Gutei called out to him. When the boy turned to look, Gutei raised his finger into the air. At that moment the boy became enlightened.


People's reactions to this story:
"I don't get this at all."

"I guess Gutei doesn't believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

"I like this story, for some reason, but I don't know what it means."

"Gutei is just trying to dominate and control the kid."

"Whose finger did Gutei hold up at the end - the boy's or his own?"

"Did the boy become enlightened because of Gutei, or just because his finger got cut off."

"This story hurts!"

"Yuck!"

"Weird!"

"You can't imitate or own enlightenment."

"Imitation is no substitute for real knowledge and truth."

"When you lose the single most important thing that means enlightenment to you, maybe that's when you REALLY become enlightened."

"You don't know what you've got till it's gone."

"I don't entirely understand this story, but I do believe that the finger pointed in the air might represent "one", as in "not two"..

"In the end the boy realized Gutei uses his index finger, not his middle finger. Gutei took exception to the boy using his middle finger."

"I sense that this story does tell a great truth, but I just can't see it in the darkness inside my head. I guess if I were enlightened, I could."

"When you can no longer point at truth, maybe that's when you see it most clearly."

"Stories like this make me want to lash out. Gutei becomes the enlightener, when maybe he should just lighten up. Now we know the reason for lawyers, To sew crazy old self appointed wise men that carry pocket knives."


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John Suler, Ph.D. 1997 All rights reserved.