During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived - everyone except the Zen master. Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was. When he wasn't treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger. "You fool," he shouted as he reached for his sword, "don't you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!" But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved. "And do you realize," the master replied calmly, "that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?"
(other versions of this story then describe how the general, surprised and awed by the master, sheepishly leaves)
People's reactions to this story:
"Happy are those who do not fear death. They know no fear and therefore cannot be controlled."
"It takes a lot more strength and courage to be a non-violent person."
"The captain goes down with his ship, just like the zen master stays with the village and confronts the invaders."
"There is a similar idea in American Indian culture. When you were being tortured to death by your enemy, you could still defeat your enemy, and in a sense win the battle, if you showed bravery and didn't scream."
"STEELY RESERVE - I love it! This feat could only be accomplished by one who fears nothing and understands the course of life."
"There are certain kinds of people who get attacked more often than others. I would tell this story to children who are always being harassed by other kids."
"The sword does not make the man."
"Sounds neat, in a chivalrous kind of way!"
"I'm not quite sure of the meaning of this story, but I liked how the master replied."
"This Zen master obviously exists on a high spiritual level. His body is unimportant to him."
"I find this story a bit humorous. The master is quite a funny guy. It makes me wonder how the general replied. His mouth probably dropped!"
"This general is obviously a selfish man. Why else would he conquer all those towns? And then when he doesn't get what he wants, he childishly resorts to anger and violence."
"It's the master's wisdom and his possession of such a closeness with self that intrigues me. These attributes could allow you to touch the lives of an infinite number of people, as well as deal with any kind of adversity."
"I don't agree with the Zen master's decision to stay. I think his so-called 'wisdom' - or stupidity, will lead to his eventual downfall."
"He showed no attempt to defend himself or his village - that's kind lame!"
"The Zen master had the courage to stand up for what he wanted and wasn't afraid to die for it. Making a solid decision, that's what this is about. He proudly stood his ground and took responsibility for his actions, and I bet this probably warded off the general."
"Too many people let fear run their lives."
"You shouldn't flee from disputes, but rather face them head on with both eyes open."
"This story shows man's innate courage and unwillingness to be intimidated, something which in many of us is inherently absent."
"Self-control: it's not what you say but how you say it. The only time the general was intimidating and violent is when others allowed him to be."
"People instantly recognized someone who is internally strong."
"This makes no sense to me. I think that standing up to someone should be encouraged, but not when the consequences are that severe!"
"The master could be in complete control, or he could be insane."