Ikkyu’s Poison

The truly skilful are able
to correct the unskilful
without antagonising the latter.

— Stonepeace | Get Books

When Zen Master Ikkyu was still a child, he began to study Zen in a monastery. Ikkyu’s master had a jar of candy that he was particularly fond of and, to keep the novices from eating it, he told them that the jar was filled with poison. Ikkyu, however, was not fooled.

One day  he opened the jar and ate some of the delicious candy. It was so good that he shared it with the other novices. They all enjoyed the candy very much and ate every last piece. Ikkyu then dropped the jar and broke it. When the master returned, Ikkyu went to him and said, ‘Master, I dropped your favourite jar and broke it.’ ‘Well’ said the master, ‘all things must pass. It’s good you told me. Where is the poison that was inside?’

‘Oh Master,’ said Ikkyu, ‘when the jar broke I felt so bad about it that I ate the poison. I thought it a fitting punishment. But strangely, nothing has happened to me.’ The master looked suspiciously at Ikkyu, but the boy just stood there quietly. ‘Er, yes. hummph,’ said the master. ‘Very strange. You are a lucky child, after all.’ And, still somewhat confused he let Ikkyu go. [Of course, Ikkyu’s theft and deceit shouldn’t be emulated, though he did practise some generosity and teach us some lessons indirectly. It would be better to do so without breaking any precepts at all.]

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  • I can understand a bit about the moral of skilfully correcting others and not incur any resulting antagonism.

    However, the first thing that came to my mind was, isn’t that stealing?

    That reads like ‘skilfully’ getting off the hook for stealing.

  • Definitely is stealing, and lying too. But Ikkyu probably felt it’s worth the effort, and was willing to bear any negative karma created? Wouldn’t know now. No one can read his mind.

  • In that case, this doesn’t sound like a good Buddhist teaching material to be put online without qualifying statements.

    If there are people who thinks it’s alright do something unwholesome as long as one is willing to bear any negative karma created, then we should be careful when publishing and forwarding such articles, isn’t it?

  • The story is a witty one. Why miss the point and do fault-finding? There are faults with almost every joke in the world, even those cracked by Buddhist teachers.

    We all know Ikkyu was a mischievous kid… unless some don’t. Who in the right mind will emulate Ikkyu’s theft and deceit? Ok, maybe the editor should add a clause about that?

  • The point about correcting others in tactful way is not missed. The point about lying and stealing is, however, seems to be conveniently missed. Pointing out faults to be recognised and change for the better is not equal to fault-finding.

    Whether there will be people emulating Ikkyu’s theft and deceit, or whether we all know he was a mischievous kid or not, should not prevent us from pointing out unwholesome behaviour.

    Likewise, no one in his right mind will go about killing when he sees one killing right in front him or is about to get off the hook for killing through ingenious ways. That does not mean we should not point out that killing is wrong.

    I do not remember the Buddha cracking any jokes that have obvious behavioural faults such as these. There might be, but from what I can remember, he didn’t frame it in the form of a joke.

    If the Buddha is our perfect model and perfect teacher, then let’s concentrate on that and not try to propagate jokes with obvious behavioural faults by any other Buddhist teacher.

  • Practising generosity after or in the midst of doing something wrong is not the kind of generosity practise we want to encourage, I think.

    But I thank the Editor for his time and efforts to qualify the article.

  • The message is in the master’s hypocracy and deceit. Once the boy exposed the poison as a lie, the master was in no position to punish him. Use honesty to guide or expect dishonesty in return.

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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