Zen Master and the Duty of Care

Zen literature presents the following description of a master’s care for his disciple:

“A monk once said to Ts’ao Shan ‘ I am sick all over. Cure me of my illness, Master’. ‘I shall not cure you’, declared Ts’ao Shan. ‘Why?’ asked the puzzled monk. ‘I want you yourself to experience what it is like to hover between life and death’ - was the reply”.

This koan appears on page 199 in Holstein’s book Pointing at the Moon, where he justifies that Master’s lack of care for his suffering disciple by the willingness to use his disciple’s pain to teach him a lesson about “the doctrine of emptiness”, understood - in this Zen perspective - as a state “where there is no difference between life and death’!

Needless to say, the humanistic concept of Duty of Care applies to the described situation.  A master has a personal responsibility for the safety, health and care of people in his/her surrounding.  It is in particular towards a suffering person, begging for help and for a cure, that one has a ‘Duty of Care’ to help ease pain and sufferings.

In this koan, the Zen master expressed a mentality of justification for putting his “educational views on emptiness” as his own priority, letting his disciple suffer without giving help.

The abovementioned koan had just the opposite spirit to the essence of Buddhism.

Shakyamuni started his long journey to find a cure to people’s sufferings, to enhance human compassion and to support suffering individuals.

Whether the mentioned koan - and similarly other kaons appearing in Zen literature - took place as real events, or it was used as a metaphor, it nevertheless remains an indication for questionable values, which were carried through generations of disciples without being questioned or challenged.  Such understanding of Buddhism allowed Zen masters to openly declare indifference towards the sufferings of millions of people during the Pacific War, which they fully supported:



                                              Zen & SGI Buddhism

               The Origin of Zen       Confession of a Zen Master      Ikeda on Zen 

                Chanting and silent Meditation       Why did Nichiren criticise Zen?


                        Dead cat’s head                                  Dog’s Buddhanature