is that so?

Image by Oberazzi via Flickr

A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter’s accusation, he simply replied “Is that so?”

When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. “Is that so?” Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.

For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened. “Is that so?” Hakuin said as he handed them the child.



13 thoughts on “is that so?”

  1. A months old child?

    Any “attachment” (interesting word on a Buddhist theme) would have been Hakuin’s.

    From a non-allegorical standpoint, one could argue that Hakuin knew that eventually the girl would be back for the child and that any argument on his behalf would have devolved into “he said/she said” and that would have been very un “Zen Master” like.

  2. This is a great parable to illustrate Buddhism’s central value of love. Not the ‘eros’ love of the flesh, the ‘philia’ bond of friendship, or the ‘storge’ love of family/affections (though all of those are evident, just not something to fixate on), but the “Agape” love for humanity and all living things. Hakuin’s “agape” love was so strong that he let himself be the whipping boy for a while (also he wasn’t too attached to his reputation either) – AND he had so much faith in the “agape” love inherent in all ppl that he believed that the girls goodness would win out in the end.

    As a parable, the baby is just a symbol of pure love. Hakuin was worthy of it and accepted the baby when pure love when the girl believed that it was too much for her to bare. When she embraced goodness (and therefore was brave enough to tell the truth), the baby was returned to her.

    Okay, ‘nuf interping….

    1. Exactly what I was thinking. I read through about 3 or 4 of the first books in the series years ago and kept scratching my head because I’d seen/heard the events from other places… it’s a great read for a “Eastern Philosophy 101” type of extended parable.

  3. This is fun. I love how different people can interpret a story/event in different ways.
    I don’t look at Hakuin as a whipping boy. I see him as a Buddhist, living in the moment. He let’s the “perfection of the universe” unfold, and goes with the flow. He chooses to accept things as they are, in the moment. He believes what ever the outcome, it’s the way of the universe.

    1. That’s the interp I was working with too Dave. Hakuin’s ‘grander view’ allowed him to accept the role that the villagers were putting on him of “whipping boy” (and the mother of the baby). It’s an act of faith on Hakuin’s part to trust in the ‘universal love’ that resonates in all things to steer ‘fate’ into the right outcome.

  4. The thing to remember is that these legendary Zen masters were still just people.

    The popular myth of the Zen master is much like that of the Martial Arts master…expanded in the telling and mystified by time, exotic trappings and the listener simply wanting to believe it’s so.

    IMO, if this story was indeed true and not simply a parable/metaphor, I’d wager that Hakuin acted as he did based on a combination of factors; both philosophical (“going with the flow of the universe” etc.) and “strategic”. The story is told as if Hakuin had no clue what was going on and simply accepted the baby with no other information because of his Zen outlook. But who is to say that Hakuin didn’t hear through the grapevine that the girl was “gettin a little somethin somethin” with the local boy. Or perhaps he had a “hunch” about what was really going on here and simply “went with it” knowing it was likely that the truth would eventually come out?

    The first option plays into the “Zen Master” meme with is “accepting the way of the universe”, while the second seems more mundane and perhaps cynical. But it’s my belief that separating the two only goes against the reality of the human situation.

    1. I agree. Even a “Zen Master” would be aware of what is happening in the ‘real world’ and would not be so removed that he (Hakuin) wouldn’t know the local gossip (thus the “Whipping Boy” reference). At the most basic (and still humane/’loviing’) motive may have been to accept the baby with the logic that there might be a risk of neglect/abuse/infanticide if the child was left in such an emotionally charged environment. Remember that infant survival rates in less ‘technical’ ages was pretty low already. Add to that some “bastard child” stigma and it isn’t impossible a consideration…. that is if the story is rooted in some basic reality and not just some story built around the legend status of Hakuin…

    1. The basic goal of these parable/allegorical stories is to use the storytelling tool as a way of transmitting some kind of value/quality/lesson through the actions/interactions of the characters. The psychological criticism approach is a fairly modern/science based approach and wouldn’t really be part of the Buddhist/Zen tradition of parable/storytelling – much like Judeo/Christian/Islamic stories or any other ‘pre-scientific’ wisdom discipline.

      Given the story we are dealing with (and the mixed bag of other stories and writings about and from Hakuin), I’d say there’s no way to really know what was going on in his psyche. Heck, even if it was true and there was an eye witness account of the events, I don’t think it would be too reliable to say that an outside interp of what Hakuin was thinking would be reliable.

      Ultimately, as a transmission of wisdom tool, I think the barebones lesson is that the ‘truth’ or ‘justice’ are in the hands of time and the healthiest way to survive adverse times is to remember to do good during the bad times and have faith in the benevolent love in the universe – basically “the truth (and universal love) will out”….

      just my take.

      1. Sorry for the double whammy, but one thing I forgot to mention that relates to what may (or may not) be “Hakuin” or even “Zen/Buddhist” is that he didn’t just sit back and reject the world when his reputation/standing/influence in the community was at risk AND the welfare of a girl and her ‘illegitimate’ child were on the line – he acted with ‘minimal invasive’ choices. He didn’t argue or fight the crowd attacking him AND he took the child in.

        If there is any way of figuring out what might be going on in Hakuin’s mind, I’d say it’s in examining those acts.

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