Published September 17, 1996
University of Southern Mississippi
Hattiesburg, MS USA
In Buddhist traditions, young acolytes travel from temple to temple seeking a place to camp out and study with established masters.
At each stop, the would-be apprentice must engage in a philosophical parole with one of the established monks.
At one such temple a monk was assigned the duty of engaging any passing acolytes. But since the temple was full, he was instructed to carry on only speechless dialogues admission.
This particular monk had only one eye.
No sooner had the one-eyed monk taken up his watch than a young acolyte – we shall call him Grasshopper – approached.
Upon introducing himself and receiving no reply, Grasshopper held up one finger and thrust it toward the one-eyed monk’s face. the one-eyed monk held up two fingers and thrust them with equal vigor toward the visitor, to which young Grasshopper responded by holding up three.
At this point the one-eyed monk held up his fist and shook it at the youth. Pausing and contemplating the one-eyed monk, Grasshopper hung his head and walked away.
As the dejected youth passed by on the way out, the master inquired as to what had transpired?
“Oh, Master,” moaned Grasshopper, “I have been shown the inadequacy of my thinking by an intellectual better.”
“How is this so?” asked the master.
“When I realized our discussion was to be speechless, I held up one finger to represent the Buddha. Your monk then held up two fingers to signify the Buddha and his teachings, to which I held up three to show the Buddha, his teachings and his followers. He trumped me by holding up his fist, demonstrating that the Buddha, his teachings and his followers are all one and the same.”
As the master watched the acolyte walk away, he was approached by the one-eyed mond, who was clearly agitated.
“What has upset you so?” asked the master.
“When the impudent wretch discovered that our conversation was to be speechless, he held up one finger to show that I had only one eye. I then held up two fingers to commend him on his good fortune at having two eyes, to which he held up three fingers to demonstrate that between us we had three eyes. That’s when I held up my fist to inform him that he was a half-wit and if he didn’t get out of my face I would punch his lights out!”
Everywhere you look today, people are talking past one another. Not so much talking as shrieking, whining, threatening, jabbing each other in the chests and beating each other silly with placards.
Seems you can’t have a conversation with anyone anymore without their becoming incensed at some perceived affront and going ballistic.
The new academic year gives us each the unique opportunity to change the nature of the debate. We can stand on the side of civility and treat those with whom we differ with dignity and respect, or we can snarl and tear at one another like a pack of wild pigs.
For intellectuals like ourselves the choice is clear. Be civil, or I’ll beat you up.