Stingy in Teaching

A young physician in Tokyo named Kusuda met a college friend
who had been studying Zen. The young doctor asked him what Zen was.

“I cannot tell you what it is,” the friend
replied, “but one thing
is certain. If you understand Zen, you will not be afraid to

“That’s fine,” said Kusuda.

“I will try it. Where can I find a teacher?”

“Go to the master Nan-in,” the friend told

So Kusuda went to call on Nan-in. He carried a dagger nine and
half inches long to determine whether or not the teacher was afraid to

When Nan-in saw Kusuda he exclaimed: “Hello, friend.
How are you? We haven’t seen each other for a long

This perplexed Kusuda, who replied: “We have never
met before.”

“That’s right,” answered Nan-in.
“I mistook you for another physician who is receiving
instruction here.”

With such a beginning, Kusuda lost his chance to test the
master, so reluctantly he asked if he might receive Zen instruction.

Nan-in said: “Zen is not a difficult task. If you
are a physician, treat you patients with kindness. That is

Kusuda visited Nan-in three times. Each time Nan-in told him
same thing. “A physician should not waste time around here.
Go home and
take care of you patients.”

It was not yet clear to Kusuda how such teaching could remove
fear of death. So on his fourth visit he complained: “My
friend told me
when one learns Zen one loses the fear of death. Each time I come here
all you tell me is to take care of my patients. I know that much. If
that is your so-called Zen, I am not going to visit you any

Nan-in smiled and patted the doctor. “I have been
too strict with
you. Let me give you a koan.” He presented Kusuda with
Joshu’s Mu to
work over, which is the first mind enlightening problem in the book
called The Gateless Gate.

Kusuda pondered this problem of Mu (No-Thing) for two years.
length he thought he had reached certainty of mind. But his teacher
commented: “You are not in yet.”

Kusuda continued in concentration for another year and a half.
mind became placid. Problems dissolved. No-Thing became the truth. He
served his patients well and, without even knowing it, he was free from
concern over life and death.

Then when he visited Nan-in, his old teacher just smiled.

This story can be found in a book entitled Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, a translation of a 13th century work entitled Collection of Stone and Sand.

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