Tea or Iron



The Zen master Hakuin used to tell his students about an old woman who owned a tea shop in the village. She was skilled in the tea ceremony, Hakuin said, and her understanding of Zen was superb. Many students wondered about this and went to the village themselves to check her out. Whenever the old woman saw them coming, she could tell immediately whether they had come to experience the tea, or to probe her grasp of Zen. Those wanting tea she served graciously. For the others wanting to learn about her Zen knowledge, she hid until they approached her door and then attacked them with a fire poker. Only one out of ten managed to escape her beating.


People's reactions to this story:
"I guess if you really want to understand Zen, you better be very alert!"

"There's more to learn about Zen from drinking tea, than discussing it."

"Maybe there's something important to learn about Zen by being whacked with a poker... beats me what it is, though."

"People often have ulterior motives - sometimes good, sometimes bad."

"The old woman didn't like nosy people, did she?"

"The woman wanted company, not people looking to believe in something."

"We look to others not for who they are and to truly experience their talents and abilities, but often 'to get what we can' out of them.... I would probably have been attacked with the poker, unfortunately."

"She didn't like being used for her knowledge of Zen. Maybe that's what she was trying to convey to the students. You can't take Zen from someone else."

"The old woman's lesson is very evil."

"She was a strong woman, for keeping her secret."

"The tea represents good, and Zen represents evil. People are forever faced with this choice. I think she used the poker to persuade people to want the tea."

"Why wouldn't she want to tell people about Zen? Why be so violent and secretive?"

"This reminds me of fairy tales where there is a wicked old woman. It's just another story that portrays women in a negative light."

"All your possessions can be taken from you, but they can never steal your knowledge."

"I don't get this one..... I REALLY don't get it!"


|| Full Awareness || Gutei's Finger || Learning the Hard Way ||



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