The Master of Silence – A Zen Buddhist Spiritual Story

The Master of Silence - A Zen Buddhist Spiritual StoryPeople are so foolish. Either they are deceived by words or they are deceived by silence — but they are deceived either way.

There is a famous Zen story. I would like to tell it to you.

A monk called himself the ‘Master of Silence’. He was actually a fraud and had no genuine understanding. To sell his humbug Zen, he had two eloquent attendant monks to answer questions for him; but he himself never uttered a word, as if to show his inscrutable ‘silent Zen’.

One day, during the absence of his two attendants, a pilgrim monk came to him and asked: “Master, what is the Buddha?” Not knowing what to do or to answer, in his confusion he could only look desperately round in all directions — east and west, here and there — for his missing mouthpieces.

The pilgrim monk, apparently satisfied, then asked him: “What is the dharma, sir?” He could not answer this question either, so he first looked up at the ceiling and then down at the floor, calling for help from heaven and hell.

Again the monk asked: “What is Zen?” Now the Master of Silence could do nothing but close his eyes.

Finally the monk asked: “What is blessing?” In desperation. the Master of Silence helplessly spread his hands to the questioner as a sign of surrender.

But the pilgrim was very pleased and satisfied with this interview. He left the ‘Master’ and set out again on his journey.

On the road the pilgrim met the attendant monks on the way home, and began telling them enthusiastically what an enlightened being this Master of silence was.

He said: “I asked him what Buddha is. He immediately turned his face to the east and then to the west, implying that human beings are always looking for Buddha here and there, but actually Buddha is not to be found either in the east or in the west.

I then asked him what the dharma is. In answer to this question he looked up and down, meaning that the truth of dharma is a totality of equalness, there being no discrimination between high and low, while both purity and impurity can be found therein.

In answering my question as to what Zen was, he simply closed his eyes and said nothing. That was a clue to the famous saying:

‘If one can close his eyes and sleep soundly

in the deep recesses of the cloudy mountains

he is a great monk indeed.’

Finally, in answering my last question, ‘What is the blessing?’ he stretched out his arms and showed both his hands to me. This implied that he was stretching out his helping hands to guide sentient beings with his blessings. Oh, what an enlightened Zen Master! How profound is his teaching!”

When the attendant monks returned, the ‘Master of Silence’ scolded them thus: “Where have you been all this time? A while ago I was embarrassed to death, and almost ruined, by an inquisitive pilgrim!”

Osho – “Zen the Path of Paradox”

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What Is the Spiritual Moral / Meaning of “The Master of Silence” Parable?

Within this spiritual story, a figure dubbed the ‘Master of Silence' holds a facade, an illusion veiling the truth. With eloquent attendants to articulate his supposed Zen wisdom, this master himself remains in a state of enforced silence, a guise of inscrutability to cloak his lack of genuine insight.

In the absence of his articulate mouthpieces, a pilgrim monk arrives seeking the guidance of this ‘Master of Silence'. In the face of earnest queries about the essence of Buddha, the nature of dharma, and the meaning of Zen, the purported master falters, resorting to desperate gestures, seeking solace in the absence of words.

The pilgrim, seemingly content with this exchange, departs, and in his enthusiastic account to the returning attendants, extols the profundity of this ‘Master of Silence'. He attributes profound meanings to the gestures—each misstep of the master misconstrued as a revelation of higher truth.

To the pilgrim, the turning of the master's face symbolizes the quest for truth in directions external, beyond the confines of the east and west. The master's upward and downward glances signify an interpretation of the dharma, a realm beyond the dichotomies of purity and impurity, embracing the totality of existence.

The act of closing his eyes, perceived as an insight into Zen, is naively heralded as a testament to a monk's profoundness, misconstrued as an ode to slumbering tranquility amidst the cloudy mountains.

Finally, the outstretched arms of the master, an act of surrender, are lauded as a gesture of guidance and blessings extended to all sentient beings.

Yet, in the aftermath of this misinterpretation, the ‘Master of Silence' chastises his attendants for their absence, blaming their delay for his embarrassment and near ruination at the hands of an inquisitive pilgrim.

Beyond the surface, this tale isn't just a narrative of miscommunication but a reflection of a profound truth—one that transcends words and gestures. It unveils the pitfalls of misinterpretation that shroud authentic understanding.

In essence, this parable delves into the realm of perception—the fallibility of human comprehension and the layers of misunderstanding that obscure truth. It's a cautionary tale, highlighting the dangers of attributing profound meaning to gestures and actions bereft of genuine understanding.

At its core, this story beckons us to seek a deeper comprehension beyond mere appearances, beyond the illusionary veils. It invites us to pierce through the layers of misinterpretation that cloud our perception, urging us to uncover the truth that transcends gestures and words.

In this saga, the ‘Master of Silence' isn't just a character; he's a symbol—an emblematic representation of the perils of superficial comprehension and the misplaced reverence for the misunderstood. He stands as a reminder to delve deeper, to seek understanding beyond the illusions that captivate our senses.

Ultimately, the “Master of Silence” parable invites us to embark on a quest for authentic wisdom, urging us to look beyond the facades and delve into the depths of genuine understanding—an understanding that surpasses the limitations of words and gestures, guiding us towards the illumination of truth.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. Reflect on the concept of the “Master of Silence” and his fraudulent approach to Zen. How does this narrative prompt contemplation on authenticity, genuine understanding, and the contrast between appearances and true wisdom?
  2. Explore the role of the attendant monks as mouthpieces for the Master of Silence. How does their absence during a crucial moment reveal the vulnerability and limitations of relying on others to convey spiritual teachings?
  3. Consider the pilgrim monk's questions about Buddha, dharma, Zen, and blessing. How do these inquiries encompass fundamental aspects of spiritual inquiry and the quest for deeper understanding?
  4. Reflect on the Master of Silence's desperate attempts to answer the pilgrim's questions in the absence of his attendants. How might this portrayal evoke thoughts about the challenges of maintaining a facade and the consequences of relying on external props?
  5. Ponder the pilgrim monk's interpretation of the Master's gestures in response to his questions. How does this interpretation reveal the pilgrim's own insights and understanding, and how might it challenge your own preconceptions about communication and enlightenment?
  6. Explore the pilgrim monk's enthusiastic description of the Master of Silence as an enlightened being. How does this portrayal invite contemplation on the potential for misinterpretation, the influence of perception, and the quest for profound teachings?
  7. Consider the contrast between the pilgrim's positive perception of the Master and the Master's scolding of the attendants upon their return. How does this disparity prompt reflection on the complexity of spiritual authority and the unpredictability of human interactions?
  8. Reflect on the symbolism of the Master's gestures and responses to the pilgrim's questions. How might these symbolic actions convey deeper meanings about the nature of Buddha, dharma, Zen, and blessing?
  9. Ponder the irony of the Master of Silence scolding his attendants for leaving him embarrassed by the pilgrim's questions. How does this ironic twist prompt reflection on the unpredictability and challenges inherent in spiritual interactions?
  10. Consider the overall message of the story and its relevance to your own spiritual journey. How might this narrative encourage you to question external appearances, seek genuine understanding, and navigate the complexities of communication and authenticity in your quest for wisdom?