Thursday, 15 September 2011

Koan: Where's The Fire?

The master fell asleep in the meditation hall one day, and, being a monk of surpassing discipline and experience, was able to hold such perfect posture as he slept, that none of his students knew he was asleep.

As they were all facing the wall, they also didn't know that the altar flowers had fallen across the meditation candle and caught fire.

The flames spread to the altar cloth, then to the altar, and then to the Buddha, who was made of teak. Stillness reigned in the zendo as the fire advanced to the front wall, then the floorboards, then the ceiling.

By the time the fire brigade arrived, all of the monks were dead except for the most junior, who had been sitting nearest the door. Why, asked the fireman who revived him, hadn't he saved himself?

"Well," he answered, "I could see the black smoke and feel the fierce heat at my back, but I was not authorised to say why."

Japanese firefighter Wu Ya's commentary: "Any one of those monks could have saved them all."

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo of Japanese fireman courtesy of Wikimedia and 時野.)
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