When an Insult becomes a Gift

Koan-Insult-becomes-GiftA Zen story that a teacher will tell to a student, so that the student can ponder the meaning behind the story. I love these stories, so much wisdom, so much useful thought and I can’t be wrong! – James


In ancient times, there lived a very great warrior who had grown old and now devoted himself to teaching Zen. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him. Despite his great age, it was said that he could defeat any adversary.

One evening, he was visited by a young warrior who was known to be unscrupulous and who was also famous for his technique of provocation.

He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed.

The young, impatient warrior had never once lost a contest. He knew the master’s reputation and had gone there in order to defeat him and thus enhance his own  reputation.

Despite his students’ protests, the old master accepted the warrior’s challenge. Everyone went to the main square in the village, and the young man began insulting the old teacher.

He threw a few stones at him, spat in his face, heaped every known insult both on him and on his ancestors. For hours, he did everything he could to provoke the master, but the old man remained utterly impassive.

By the end of the evening, the fiery warrior withdrew, exhausted and humiliated. Disappointed that their teacher had failed to respond to these insults and provocations, his students asked: ‘How could you put up with such indignities? Why, even though you risked losing the fight, did you not use your sword, rather than reveal yourself to us as a coward?’

The old master smiled and asked his students; “If someone comes to you with a gift, and you do not accept it, to whom does that gift belong?”.

“To the person who tried to give it,” replied his disciples.

“The same applies to envy, anger and insults,” said the teacher. “If they are not accepted, they remain the property of the person who carries them within himself.”