Mar 19, 2021
Martin Goodson

The 'Way' of Living

What is the way?

A Samurai seeking the way get’s more than he bargains for when he approaches a Zen Master for advice.

Samurai in armor in the 1860s; hand-colored photograph by Felice Beato


<a href="">Felice Beato</a>, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Way is very big in China and also in Japan and not just in Buddhism. The Tao is often called the Way. The classic text in Taoism, the Tao Te Ching means ‘The Way and its Virtue’.  The way to be, is a central preoccupation. Interestingly enough we have it in the West too. When I was at university I studied philosophy and one of the big concerns in philosophy was ethics. Ethical philosophy is all about the right way for people to live. So this is something that has preoccupied our minds in both the East and West. 

There’s another story of a samurai who was deeply interested in The Way. He had studied the Way, but it wasn’t clear to him, so he decided to ask somebody about it.  He went to the local Buddhist monastery and there he gained an audience with the abbot, who sat him down and enquired what he’d come about.  The samurai explained: 

“As well as being a samurai, I’m a scholar and I study the Way, and I’m curious to find out what is your Way”. At this point, the master leant over the table and slapped the samurai full in the face. The samurai was so shocked that before he realised what happened, the abbot had grabbed hold of him, picked him up and marched him to the door, pushing him out. The master slid the door closed and the flustered samurai found himself outside the interview room, red-faced and furious. 

At that moment, a young monk walked by and saw the samurai, who was already beginning to unsheathe his sword. The young monk asked what happened. Samurai belonged to the nobility in Japan so the samurai replied:

 “Your master has just given me the grossest insult – me, a samurai. How dare he! He will be taught a lesson”. 

The young monk said:

“I cannot pretend to understand the lesson that my master is trying to give you, but no doubt it will become clear in time. Perhaps in the meantime I can offer you a cup of tea?” 

The samurai, although still fulminating and complaining, allowed himself to be led away by this young monk. They went to the tea house and sat down. In the formal way the monk boiled the water, laid out the cups and prepared the tea, and still the samurai was ranting away:

 “How dare he?  I’ve never been so insulted in all my life…”

Finally the young monk indicated that the tea was ready and would the samurai please like to try it? The samurai said yes, picked up the tea, and was just lifting it to his lips, when the young monk leaned over and nudged his elbow, spilling the tea all down the samurai’s front. The samurai was speechless. He could not believe what had just happened. At this point, the young monk, looking the samurai straight in the face, asked:

 “Now, what is the Way?” 

All the samurai could say was “I don’t know”. 

And so the young monk said:

 “Then please allow me to show you our Way.” 

He picked up a cloth, got down on his knees, and began mopping the tea up off the floor, and off the samurai. And he said:

“This is our Way”. 

And suddenly the penny dropped for the samurai, because he was a very genuine and sincere man. What he realised is that in all his reading and in all his books, he had been looking for his Way in some far off philosophical place, in some other realm or at some other time, when actually The Way was right before him all the time. 

From the series

What is the Way?

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