The Honest Poverty Of The Zen Monk And The Samurai





Secondly, the so-called honest poverty is a characteristic of both

the Zen monk and the Samurai. To get rich by an ignoble means is

against the rules of Japanese chivalry or Bushido. The Samurai would

rather starve than to live by some expedient unworthy of his dignity.

There are many instances, in the Japanese history, of Samurais who

were really starved to death in spite of their having a hundred

pieces of gold carefully preserved to meet the expenses at the time

of an emergency; hence the proverb: The falcon would not feed on the

ear of corn, even if he should starve. Similarly, we know of no

case of Zen monks, ancient and modern, who got rich by any ignoble

means. They would rather face poverty with gladness of heart.

Fu-gai, one of the most distinguished Zen masters just before the

Restoration, supported many student monks in his monastery. They

were often too numerous to be supported by his scant means. This

troubled his disciple much whose duty it was to look after the

food-supply, as there was no other means to meet the increased demand

than to supply with worse stuff. Accordingly, one day the disciple

advised Fu-gai not to admit new students any more into the monastery.

Then the master, making no reply, lolled out his tongue and said:

Now look into my mouth, and tell if there be any tongue in it. The

perplexed disciple answered affirmatively. Then don't bother

yourself about it. If there be any tongue, I can taste any sort of

food. Honest poverty may, without exaggeration, be called one of

the characteristics of the Samurais and of the Zen monks; hence a

proverb: The Zen monk has no money, moneyed Monto[FN#82] knows

nothing.





[FN#82] The priest belonging to Shin Shu, who are generally rich.





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