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Short story: The chess playing Zen master.

(This is a story about a Zen master who played chess, or was it more really about a chess master, who understood Zen?)

Zolza Zozonor was the Zen master of the Shozo Zen Monastery.

He loved to play a game of chess with all prospective new students.

The outcome of the game determined if he would accept this student as a new student into his monastery.

Before the game started, he would say to the student.

“You come here to learn how to subdue your mind, but you still need a good mind, if you are going to learn to do that. Let’s see just how good your mind is now.”

The Zen master was a skilled and gifted chess player, but his aim was not just to win the chess game.

He wanted to check on the personality of the student.

Would he humbly sit down to play?

Would he ask what was the purpose of this?

Would he want to know why he is being required to play a game of chess to be assessed?

The Zen master was a master at reading someone’s body language, which also helped him in his chess-playing, funny enough too.

Nobody could hide their true personality from him.

Funny enough, though, amongst the already enrolled students, they snickered amongst themselves, jokingly, saying to each other,

“What would happen if our master ever loses. Perhaps, he would need to appoint a new Zen master for us then, for we might lose our faith of him as our right master then too.”

And so, then, one day, another new prospective student arrived at his monastery, and he too, was invited to play a game of chess with this Zen master, already old now.

(Our Zen master was so old now, that he had thought of retiring from his role, and appointing a new master now in his place.)

(Zolza, the old Zen master, was old and tired now, and indeed he was ready to bow out, to lose his final game of life, and to hand over his chess-set to another person instead. He just had to find a way to lose his game, and his life, in the right way.)

This time, though, the new student was a grandmaster of chess, and it was he that won the game, though, after a good struggle.

The Zen master said after his loss,

“You have bested me in the game. Now answer me this question. Why do l require my incoming students to play a game of chess with me?”

The would-be student said:

“Yes, you do that because you are not a chess master, nor are you a real Zen master. You seek play, when you should be seeking love.”

“Instead of testing personality, you should check how much the student loves the game, not the winning.”

The Zen master smiled and died. He had lost the game, now his life.

This new student took over the monastery, and he became its new Zen master.

He too, though, continued to use this same tactic of playing a game of chess with all prospective new students too.

The application is not greater than the applicator.

The method should not be dropped for wrong reasons. 

This new master could still use the merit of good intent in the old master’s method too.

But, he knew that the goal of any method should never be greater than love; the love behind the goal must always remain intact.

The goal should not become more important than the loving intent behind it.

(At least, our new Zen master could see this, as he perhaps, really knew what had happened in the game of chess too, between himself, and the old master, who really did die, in a Zen masterly way.)

Photo Credit: The photos used in this article were all sourced from the free media site, pixabay.com

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Written by The Dunce

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      • I joined a chess club, but I found that a lot of chess players were also smokers.

        I could not take it, with my asthma, and health conditions, so I gave chess away, as a result of that experience, although, I still play sometimes against a computer program, which do not smoke over the board, unless there is something drastically wrong with my computer…lol…

    • Yes, I agree entirely.

      Perhaps, both Zen masters in my story, were trying to apply this ultimate test to their students in their own ways, so that the students might have a chance of applying themselves towards “passing” this ultimate test too.

      1
        • Yes, but I see it from oneness down like this:

          In the greater expanse of all is only oneness.

          God created duality when he created, and so split this off (creation) from himself.

          The real comparison is then between God and his creation, and each member has the chance to completely rejoin oneness, consciously choosing to do so, or to just remain a non-consciously functioning part instead.

          Consciousness, in its way, achieves nothing in oneness, except for the conscious itself.

          Consciousness itself grows and understands, and so the oneness builds mountains on its own sand-hills, but being sand, these mountains collapse and rise again over time too.

          1
          • The guru sat on the mountain polishing a stone.
            the student climbed the hill and standing by the master he asked: “why do you polish the ugly stone?”
            The master smiled and said, “it is the move from the imperfection of me, to the perfection of what could be.”

            1
        • I would add that each guru is given stones to polish, but the polish must come from love to be really able to shine the stone, otherwise, it just abrasives it, so to speak, damaging it, so it loses shine, rather than enhancing its own natural shine.

          A guru must bring out the best in his student, with the student’s help, of course too.

          Perhaps, only love does this best.

          1
          • very much so, the master sees within the stone and like a great artist sees the possible future shape.

            When the student appears the master can only pass along the information that the student is prepared to receive.

            1
        • Thanks. We have reached a great agreement point there. I agree with what you said about the master and his/her student.

          It was said of Michelangelo, that he saw the future sculpture in the stone, before he even started sculpturing it.

          1
          • yes it is the great legend of the statue of David, that he saw that in the stone block.

            i have found many masters over the years. I find my need changes as I get older, and I seek more and different advice.

            🙂

            1
        • It’s funny my Dad went through a lot of the same stuff that I did too. He joined the Rosicrucians in the 1960’s, and was in the Masonic lodge too.

          When he was older though, he ditched all of his teachers, clinging on to this verse from the Christian Bible:

          1 John, chapter 2, verse 27. (These are a few different translations of this verse)

          “You have no need for any man to teach you.”
          “You do not need anyone to teach you.”
          “You have no need that anyone should teach you.”
          “As long as his Spirit remains in you, you do not need anyone to teach you.”

          He self-taught himself from then on, studying his dreams, and working out his own answers, from within.

          I am doing the same now too. I am not in any teaching now at all.

          1
          • my dad struggled for most of his life. He was raised a Lutheran, but when we went to Thailand, Buddhism opened his mind (mine as well) he and i often discussed the feeling of peace we got from learning more.

            It is a difficult thing, in a Christian nation to move forward.

            1
        • Yes, I think that it is impossible to stay where we are too.

          Some part of us is growing, even if we think that it is not.

          I have not changed much for many years.

          I am still the same personality, have the same weaknesses, have the same lack of awareness’s in the same areas, but I am more refined in my understanding of these things, even if on the surface, I am still not courageously strong enough to change them yet, outwardly, I understand them more deeply at some level of myself, I am sure, in at least some new ways.

          When I have seen the same thing in one thousand different ways, the one thousandth and one way, I might finally change, but the preparations are still going on until, then, I would say.

          1
        • Is it better to show a shiny coat, than a dirt crusted one instead?

          Should we show people what lies underneath, even if it is lies too, or is it better to put on a brave face for now, and shine forth, with what we think is right to shine forth with?

          Perhaps, this is like wearing a shiny cover over our sins, being a sheep in wolve’s clothing, but what is it better to be, a sheep in wolf’s clothing, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

          1
          • That is the question – the Dalai Lama wrote that what we see (surface) is never what is real.
            But what is real is contained in what we see.

            I struggle with that reality. Vanity calls for conformity. Conformity leads us astray.

            1
        • Yes, a new thread, but if you could find that lost one, I am sure you would appreciate it. It is about Zen understanding.

          I will stitch it in here again though….

          Of course, you make a solid move there, on our chessboard…I will get someone else to make the move back to you here.

          This is well-written, and something that I found on the Internet:

          Hunan Studies 14: 287-309, 1991.
          From 1991 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

          The problem of communicating Zen understanding: A
          microanalysis of teacher-student interviews in a North
          American Zen monastery.

          RICHARD BUTINY
          Department of Speech Communication, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244
          THOMAS L. ISBELL
          Department of Speech, Central Arizona College, Coolidge, AZ 85228

          Sometimes the dialogue which you read in koans or
          the dialogue that takes place in the interview room
          doesn’t make sense, it’s not intended to make sense
          because it’s not a rational, linear sequential thing, this
          Bodhidharma, whatever you think it is, it’s not.

          It’s not an idea, it’s not a concept, it’s alive and it’s
          working. How to see that, how to express that, is what
          the dynamics of interview, of Dharma talk are about.

          1. Introduction.

          This explanation from a Zen teacher to his students embodies the well-
          known precept that Zen knowledge cannot be conveyed rationally or
          verbally. Language use is not everywhere valued as a vehicle for expressing
          knowledge.

          This point is depicted in recent studies of Athabaskan native peoples (Scollon and Scollon, 1981), Quakers (Bauman, 1983). Trappist monks (Jaksa and Stech, 1978), and North American, Zen Buddhists (Preston, 1988).

          In Zen, silent meditation, or zazen, is a central practice for
          training the body/mind for enlightenment. However, Zen practitioners are
          not continually silent. Talk occurs during teacher-student interviews,
          though we will see that this talk is of a very distinctive variety. During these
          interviews, the teacher often calls upon the students to express their
          understanding of Zen.

          This “call” creates conflicting demands on the
          student; on the one hand, speech is proscribed as a way of knowledge, but
          on the other hand, the teacher requests the student to convey understanding.
          The ability to communicate one’s understanding of Zen is a basic problem
          for practitioners, especially for the newer students.Report

          1
          • i hadn’t read that – interesting. I need to spend some time wallowing in the thinking there.

            i love the concept of call causing conflict in the student…

            1
    • Love shines on the surface and from deep within.

      There is no place where it cannot shine.

      We dull our surface at times, but love still shines on it, just the same.

      The surface is merely our own way of sliding through life; if it is shiny, we slide more easily.

      1
      • the light eternal, the basis of JRR Tolkein’s exceptional book the Similarrion, where light and song are the creative force of the universe.

        With two hands behind his back, the master asked the student to choose. The student stopped and finally said,
        do your hands have to be behind your back?
        the master smiled and brought his closed hands in front of him.
        Do your hands have to be closed, the student asked.
        The master smiled again and opened his hands.
        The student choose wisely.

        1
        • Ha, ha, yes, I like that reading from that book.

          We are not completely in the master’s hands then; he is actually in our hands too, that is, if we are smart/aware enough, to realise that fact.

          1
          • Of course, you make a solid move there, on our chessboard…I will get someone else to make the move back to you here.

            This is well-written, and something that I found on the Internet:

            Hunan Studies 14: 287-309, 1991.
            From 1991 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

            The problem of communicating Zen understanding: A
            microanalysis of teacher-student interviews in a North
            American Zen monastery.

            RICHARD BUTINY
            Department of Speech Communication, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244
            THOMAS L. ISBELL
            Department of Speech, Central Arizona College, Coolidge, AZ 85228

            Sometimes the dialogue which you read in koans or
            the dialogue that takes place in the interview room
            doesn’t make sense, it’s not intended to make sense
            because it’s not a rational, linear sequential thing, this
            Bodhidharma, whatever you think it is, it’s not.

            It’s not an idea, it’s not a concept, it’s alive and it’s
            working. How to see that, how to express that, is what
            the dynamics of interview, of Dharma talk are about.

            1. Introduction.

            This explanation from a Zen teacher to his students embodies the well-
            known precept that Zen knowledge cannot be conveyed rationally or
            verbally. Language use is not everywhere valued as a vehicle for expressing
            knowledge.

            This point is depicted in recent studies of Athabaskan native peoples (Scollon and Scollon, 1981), Quakers (Bauman, 1983). Trappist monks (Jaksa and Stech, 1978), and North American, Zen Buddhists (Preston, 1988).

            In Zen, silent meditation, or zazen, is a central practice for
            training the body/mind for enlightenment. However, Zen practitioners are
            not continually silent. Talk occurs during teacher-student interviews,
            though we will see that this talk is of a very distinctive variety. During these
            interviews, the teacher often calls upon the students to express their
            understanding of Zen.

            This “call” creates conflicting demands on the
            student; on the one hand, speech is proscribed as a way of knowledge, but
            on the other hand, the teacher requests the student to convey understanding.
            The ability to communicate one’s understanding of Zen is a basic problem
            for practitioners, especially for the newer students.

        • Why is there a need for both a student and a teacher role in us?

          Does God play both roles at times too then, or not?

          Is God also a student of sorts too, or is that a nonsensical question?

          The fact is that there are no students and no teachers.

          All is just what it is.

          God created all perfectly from his own perfection, which exists because it exists.

          Nothing else but perfection can ever exist; if non-perfection existed anywhere, it would mean that perfection doesn’t exist either.

          1
          • i strongly believe that the teacher is less a metaphor and more a state of being. You feel it when someone says “how do I get from here to XYZ location). Some point – it is that way. Some give directions.
            Others say you are going to pass a huge red barn. Then at the 2nd stoplight after the red barn turn right.

            In the process of teaching, we are able to commit what we know to others. It is the connection of the universe.

            To teach is to lvoe.

            1

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