Ryukan’s Dark Night

Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life
in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening
a thief visited the hut only to discover there was
nothing to steal.

Ryokan returned and caught him. “You may have come
a long way to visit me, ” he told the prowler, “and you
should not return empty-handed. Please take my
clothes as a gift.”

The thief was bewildered. He tool the clothes and slunk away.

Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,”
he mused, “I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”

Pete’s commentary:

Ryokan made the thief’s last day worse. Earlier, his lover
and accomplice had left him taking his dog, weapons,
and loot.

He went out to find someone to beat up and rob. He
always felt better about robbing if they resisted.

He was a Ronin (an unemployed samurai) who had
taken to banditry to eat) in the pity in the old man’s
eyes, he saw for the first time, how low he has sunk.
On being handed the faded robe, the ronin felt like a
beggar. It was the classical last straw.

He went out, and used the monk’s robe as a rope to
hang himself.

Next Morning, Ryokan found the body hanging from
the tree next to his hut.

After he had handed the thief his robe, he had felt such
happiness. He was sure his act of selflessness would
change the thief’s life. How could it not? His love
for the man was equal to a Buddha’s love.

A deep sense of failure, a painful guilt descended
on him looking in disbelief at the body swaying in
the winter wind . He hugged the cold corpse and
cried as if his only son had died.

He was sure this poor thief had killed himself
because of him. A deep gloom descended on him.
It lasted for many months in which he asked himself
what went wrong. Then, one day, in a flash, he saw
how spiritually proud he had been to think that
his theatrical act of giving a tattered robe to a
man who was better dressed than him would be
seen as a gift, rather than an insult. He saw he was
equally proud in blaming himself for the man’s
suicide, as if his opinion could have been so
important to the thief. He saw clearly that the
consequences of acts, like everything could
change from good to bad, and back again.

He saw that fate had sent the thief as his
teacher, and not the other way around.
He understood now, that although he
was detached from all earthly goods, he
had been holding to his virtue as a miser
to his gold. He had been as much a slave
to feeling virtuous as a rich man is to wealth.
Yes, to claim ownership to good acts was
spiritual greed, one must act without
attachment to results.

All of a sudden, he felt as free as the fall’s
breeze. He went to the thief’s grave, that he had
dug himself, and vowed deeply, as he did
golden leafs rained on his head.

Pete

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