Finding a Diamond on a Muddy Road
Zen master Gudo was once the Shogun’s teacher. Frequently he would be absent from the Capital however, as he undertook to travel alone as a wandering mendicant.
Once when he was on his way to Edo, the cultural and political center of the Shogunate, he came upon a small village named Takenaka.
It was evening and the heavy downpours which persisted all day long soaked Gudo to the very marrow. His wet straw sandals were in tatters.
As he was cold and hungry and exhausted from the long arduous trek, he decided to seek shelter if only for the night. Fortunately he spotted a modest farmhouse near the village and furthermore, noticed four or five pairs of sandals in the window. He at once decided to buy some dry ones and inquire about a night’s lodging.
The kindly women, seeing his dire straits, gifted him the pair of sandals and graciously invited him into her humble home to share their meager repast and pass the night.
Gudo thanked her and entered the dwelling. Going straight to the family shrine, he bowed his thanks and recited a sutra. He was then introduced to the women’s mother, and to her children. Observing that the entire family was depressed, Gudo asked what was wrong.
“My husband is not a bad man but he has a vice of gambling and is a drunkard,” the kindly woman after momentary hesitation decided to unburden herself to him. “When he happens to win he drinks and becomes abusive. When he loses he borrows money from others. Sometimes when he becomes thoroughly drunk he does not come home at all. We are all aggrieved but what’s to be done?”
“I will help him,” said Gudo. “Here is some money. Get me a gallon of fine wine and something good to eat. Then you may retire. I will meditate before the shrine.”
When the man of the house returned about midnight, quite drunk, he bellowed: “Hey, wife, I am home. Have you something for me to eat?”
“I have something for you,” said Gudo. “I happened to be caught in the rain and your wife kindly asked me to remain here for the night. In return for the night’s lodging I have bought some wine and fish. There is plenty remaining so you might as well partake.”
The man was delighted. He drank his fill of the wine and ate the food after which feeling lethargic, reclined on the mattress in deep slumber. Gudo forsaking sleep sat in meditation beside him.
In the morning when the husband awoke he had forgotten about the previous night. “Who are you? Where do you come from?” he asked Gudo, who was still meditating.
“I am Gudo of Kyoto and I am going on to Edo,” replied the Zen master.
The man was utterly ashamed. He apologized profusely to the teacher of his Emperor.
Gudo smiled. “Everything in this life is impermanent,” he explained. “Life is very brief. If you keep on gambling and drinking, you will have no time left to accomplish anything else, and you will cause your family to suffer too.”
This simple fact awakened the husband’s good sense. “You are right,” he declared. “How can I ever repay you for this wonderful teaching? Let me see you off and carry your things a little way.”
“If you wish,” assented Gudo.
The two started out. After they had gone three miles Gudo told him to return. “Just another five miles,” he begged Gudo. They continued on.
“You may return now,” suggested Gudo.
“After another ten miles,” the man replied.
“Return now,” said Gudo, when the ten miles had been passed.
“I am going to follow you all the rest of my life,” declared the man.
Modern Zen teachings in Japan spring from the lineage of a famous master who was the successor of Gudo. His name was Mu-nan, the man who never turned back.