Master Muso’s Forbearance


Translated By Tara Lau

The Zen master Muso Soseki once took a boat to cross a river. Shortly after the boat left the bank, a sabre-carrying general brandishing a long whip shouted, “Hey, wait a minute, Boatman! I want to cross the river too!”

All the folk in the boat advised in unison, “Our boat is already sailing. Don’t turn back.”

And the boatman replied loudly, “Just wait for the next one!”

To that, Master Muso said, “Boatman, our boat is not too far from the shore. Do him a favour and go back to pick him up!” Seeing that the monk looked kind and solemn like someone with high morals, the boatman listened to his suggestion and turned the boat around.

When the general boarded, he happened to be standing next to the Zen Master. Still in a rage, he whipped the monk on the head, demanding, “Move away, Monk! I want to sit in your place”. With the whipping, blood was oozing from the monk’s broken head. Yet, he stood up without saying a word and gave up his seat.

Seeing that the general was so vicious, everyone was too frightened to say anything, except some who whispered, “Look, the monk kindly asked the boatman to go back and pick him up, and for his kind gesture he got a whipping. Being kind is not rewarding”. Overhearing it, the general realized that the monk was the one who had made the boatman turn back and let him board.

Before long, the boat arrived and Master Muso followed others in disembarking. He then stepped to the water’s edge and quietly held up some water with both palms to wash the blood off his forehead. Feeling embarrassed, the rude general walked over and said, “Master, I’m so sorry”.

Master Muso replied calmly, “It’s OK. People on the road are often moody.”
This made the general even more ashamed. Not only did the master not tell him off for his assault, he even comforted him. He felt genuinely remorseful to the patient, gentle monk, and knelt before him by the waterside to apologize.

My friends, what in the world has the greatest power? It is forbearance. Other things such as foul language, curses, fists, swords or guns may scare people but do not subdue them. Only forbearance could bring an aggressor to his knees.

Leave a Reply