Is That So?
Zen Master Hakuin was praised and respected by his neighbors for his simplicity, virtue and the purity of his life. Near the place where he lived there was a food store. The owner of the food store had a beautiful unmarried daughter.
One day she was discovered to be pregnant. Her parents flew into a rage. They wanted to know who was the father, but she would not give them the name. After repeated scolding and harassment, she finally confessed to them that Hakuin was the father of the unborn child. The parents were furious that the holy man they had respected all this time had turned out to be such a charlatan and imposter.
They along with a host of villagers went to the Hakuin and roundly abused and scolded him.
All he said in response to their angry accusations was:
"Is that so?"
When the child was born the family and villagers again went to Hakuin, and after cursing and scolding him with foul tongues, and they left the new born infant with him.
The Zen Master again just said:
“Is that so?”
This was his only response.
He accepted the child. He started nourishing and taking very care of the child. He requested milk from neighbors and everything else he needed to care for the infant. By this time his reputation had long come to an end, and he was an object of mockery. Days ran into weeks, weeks into months and months into a full year.
Now there is something called conscience in human beings, and the young girl was tortured by her conscience. One day she could not hold it in any more and disclosed to her parents the name of the child’s real father. She told them that a man who worked in the fish market had been her secret lover and she had falsely accused Hakuin to conceal his identity.
The parents were aghast at this revelation and were filled with deep remorse, sorrow and regret. They along with dozens of villagers rushed to the Hakuin, tearfully bowed and repeatedly begged for his forgiveness as they narrated the whole story.
Hakuin listened to them and simply responded:
“Is that so?"
He returned the infant to its mother with the same graciousness and poise as he had accepted it from her.
This story teaches us many powerful life lessons. Here are a few of them...
True inner peace comes when we can respond to success and failure, praise and criticism in the same balanced way. The Zen Master did not allow this unfair and unpleasant event to disturb his peace and happiness. This shows that real happiness is a state of inner equilibrium that does not depend on the actions and opinions of others.
Whatever life throws at us, we need to drop resistance and accept the circumstances that we have no control over. The only things we are responsible for are our own state of being and responses. Non resistance is the foundation for genuine acceptance and positive actions that lead to long lasting wholesome outcomes.
True character is both forged and revealed in the process of responding to difficult challenges. When we can't change the situations of our life, it may mean that they are here to change us in some way.
We should avoid jumping to conclusions on people’s character. There is often a lot more going on than meets the eye. People of shallow wisdom are quick to judge and slow to forgive. Those of deep wisdom see everything as a process, are quick to forgive and hold no judgements - or any judgements that may arise lightly, not tightly. They are willing to update their perceptions rather quickly.
We can never be happy when we ignore our conscience - that incorruptible inner voice that knows what is true despite a million justifications. Listening to this voice, following its nudges and making amends where needed is the way to peace and fulfillment.
This story leaves us with a powerful mantra, "Is that so?" This mantra reminds us of this inspiring story and evokes the qualities of acceptance, curiosity, openness, equanimity, leading to ripened wisdom.
What other lessons can we learn from this story?
Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku (1686 – 1768) helped revitalize Zen Buddhism encouraging meditation and the use of Zen Koans (impossible questions that lead to awakening).
To learn more about his life which mirrors many of the common doubts, challenges and trials of seekers, read the book: "Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin", translated by Norman Waddell or search for "Hakuin Ekaku" on Wikipedia.
This is said to be a true incident from his life.