The Pupil Who Would Be Cast Out: A Zen Tale of Right and Wrong

“In the kingdom of love there is no competition; there is no possessiveness or control. The more love you give away, the more love you will have.” ~ John O’Donohue

In Ancient Japan there lived a great Master, Bankei, who was known across the land for his teachings. Whenever he held his meditation retreats, students from all across the country came to attend.

During one of these gatherings a pupil was caught stealing. The matter was promptly reported to Bankei with the request that the culprit be expelled. Bankei, however, ignored the case.

A few days passed, and when the same student was caught in a similar act, Bankei again disregarded the matter. This caused a lot of upset among the other students, angering them and prompting them to draw up a petition requesting the dismissal of the thief. If not adhered to, it stated, they would all leave the retreat.

Bankei read the petition and called everyone before him.

“You are wise, my brothers,” he said. “All of you who wrote this petition know what is proper. You are very clear on what is right, and what is not right. Yet this poor brother, who drove you to create and issue me this ultimatum, and who you would see cast out the doors of this retreat, does not. Who will teach him if not I?”

There was a prolonged moment of silence, during which Bankei examined closely the eyes of each of his students. They stirred uncomfortably, yet remained without speaking.

Finally, he continued. “You may all go somewhere else to study if you wish. I am going to keep him here, even if all the rest of you leave.”

Suddenly the pupil in question burst into tears, weeping uncontrollably. Slowly, a great understanding began to fall upon the rest of the students. It was clear that the tears being shed were of a genuine and cleansing nature. There was no mistaking it. All desire to steal, they knew, had vanished from their brother.