Once upon a time there was a Zen master noted for his great privation. He had few comforts and lived on very little. The master even gave half of what little bit of food had away each day.
He was outwardly compassionate and cheerful. Yet inside inside he was intensely troubled because after years, he had still not attained full awakening.
One day a disciple was going on a journey to the city so the Master asked him to do him a favor. “Please stop by to see my old master who lives in the city” he said. “Ask him why I have still not attained full awakening.” The disciple agreed and went on his way.
The city was a a beautiful place. All around were delightful smells, lovely sights, and wonderful things to do. The disciple was completely awe struck. When he reached the home of the old master, he was even more stunned by the beauty that surrounded him there.
The temple was magnificent and held luxurious gardens with all many of exotic plants. The walls were brightly painted with exquisite works of art. The monks were dressed in silken robes and wore golden chains. But when the disciple was shown to the master’s chamber he was shocked by the opulent display of riches. The brightly polished floors were strewn with jewels, and silken pillows, the master himself dressed in saffron robes reclined on an overstuffed divan while beautiful young women fed him from tables overflowing with costly delectables.
The disciple could hardly speak. When he was somewhat recovered, he asked his master’s question. “Why has my master not yet attained full awakening?”
The old master paused from his repast for only the briefest second and then said: “It’s simple – he is too materialistic.”
The disciple could hardly believe what he heard but bowed respectfully and left the temple. Upon returning to his master, the master said to him, “Well,”what did he say?”
The disciple hesitated. He didn’t want to repeat what he’d heard, but his master insisted. “He said you are too materialistic,” responded the disciple.
“Ah, yes,” said the master. “Of course; it’s true. I should have known this. Wonderful!”
“But Master,” said the disciple. “You are the least materialistic person I’ve ever known! You have only one robe to wear summer and winter; you sleep on the ground with only a worn-thin blanket for warmth; you allow yourself only one bowl of rice a day and then you give half of that away to the poor. How can you possibly be materialistic?”
The master sighed and closed his eyes. “At night before I go to sleep … I think about the rice I’ve given away.”
Great teaching stories need no commentary. I hope this one was inspiring.