L E T T E R from Jac – Which side did you place your umbrella? – The Broad Place

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L E T T E R from Jac – Which side did you place your umbrella?

One of my favourite Zen fables, that I will alter for more colour, goes like this. 

A very young monk wished to study and reside with a prestigious older monk. The older monk refused him, saying he needed many more years study before he would take him on, but to keep in touch with letters and then one day he might invite him for an interview. Many decades past, many letters exchanged, before finally, the older monk, now a respected Zen master wrote to the younger monk, who was now not so young at all, to come meet with him.

The younger monk set out on the three day pilgrimage to visit the Master at his old temple up in the mountains. Arriving on foot, exhausted and drenched from the rain, the front office quietly told the monk that the Zen Master was waiting for him in the dojo down the path. The monk hurried up the path, shook the rain from his coat, removed his clogs, and rested his umbrella on the decking, gathered himself with a deep slow breath, and entered. 

The older monk was sitting silently drinking tea. The younger monk entered, sat with him and was served tea. Unsure what to do in the silence that ensued, the younger monk began to explain all the things he had learned from all the wonderful Zen masters he had studied with. 5 years here, 6 years there, 2 years with this master, 7 years with another and so on. And he proudly and rather excitedly shared all the knowledge and techniques he had gained. The Master sat listening until the younger monk eventually completed his long monologue.

The Master quietly asked, ‘Is it raining outside just now?’. The monk paused, confused. ‘Yes’, he replied, ‘it’s been raining all day’. The Master paused and then asked, ‘when you entered earlier, did you place your umbrella to the left or to the right of your clogs?’. The now blushing monk, furiously trying to remember, admitted he was unsure.

The Master responded, ‘still so much Zen study to be done’.

If we’re too busy acquiring all the techniques and knowledge, but missing the integration of the wisdom, and are not present to every moment of our lives, we’re totally missing the point. 

Which side did you place your toothbrush earlier this morning after brushing your teeth? How did it rest? 

Do not, miss the point of your wonderful life.

With love,

Jac x

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