Exchanging Discourse for Lodging
Monks, especially wandering monks, do not carry cash on their person; therefore a custom was developed for the provision of adequate lodging. The traveller was required to undertake and win a debate about Buddhism with the inhabitants of the temple. In the event of a rare defeat he will have to move on. For this reason most temples only made a token attempt at winning the debate thus preserving the custom.
It so happens that in a temple at the far reaches of the country there dwelt two brother monks, passing the days in perfect harmony. This despite the fact they were vastly different in temperament and intelligence. The elder one was quite learned and wise, while the slow-witted younger one was unpredictable, moody and had only one good eye.
At dusk on a tempestuous day, when the sky was riddled with ominous clouds that threatened downpours any minute, a wandering monk knocked at the gate, seeking refuge for the night. A novice showing him to a room carried his proper challenge to a debate about the sublime teachings back to the brother monks.
The elder brother was much fatigued from diligent study of the scriptures and his heavy chores on that day, so he asked his younger brother to take his place this once. On the point of exiting the room however, not entirely trusting in other’s abilities, he cautioned, “Request the silent discourse.”
Nodding, the young monk left. Meeting the traveller at the shrine later, he sat down and started the silent dialogue.
Sometime later the traveller rose with resignation and sought the older monk to offer his farewells. “Your younger brother is a truly wonderful fellow. He defeated me proper.”
The weather outside had gotten worse as the torrential rains, driven by high winds, shook the walls of the temple. The elder brother was sorry to see him go but was at the same time amazed at the unexpected outcome. He quietly said. “Can you relay the dialogue to me?”
“Well,” explained the travelling monk, “first I held up one finger, representing Buddha, the enlightened one. Your younger brother held up two fingers together, signifying Buddha and his teaching. I held up three fingers, representing Buddha, his teaching, and his followers, living the harmonious life. He’s truly brilliant; your brother is, for he then shook his clenched fist in my face, indicating that all three come from one realization. Thus he won the debate fair and square and so I now take my leave.” With this, the traveller reluctantly rose and left the premises.
“There is more to this than meets the eye.” The elder monk mused when, just then, his younger brother burst into the room.
“Now where is that fellow!” He asked irately.
“Calm yourself brother,” The elder indicated the seat across, “I understand you won the debate fair and square.”
“Won nothing!” The other huffed, “As soon as I catch him, I am going to give him a sound thrashing!”
“Is that any way to be?” The elder chastised him gently, sporting a bemused smile. “Come now, take a long breath, sit down and calmly tell me what was said.”
After a brief hesitation the younger brother did as he was bid. “Why, the second he saw me he held up one finger, insinuating that I have only one eye. As if I needed to be told. Since he was a stranger, wanting to be polite, I overlooked this and held up two of my fingers, congratulating him that he has two eyes. But the ill-mannered wretch held up three fingers, suggesting that between us we have three eyes. Would you believe it! I was so enraged that I held up my fist, in readiness to punch him, but the lout ran out and that ended it!”