The Gift of Insults

There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.

One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. 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. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.

Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior's challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.

Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. "How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?"

"If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it," the master replied, "to whom does the gift belong?"

Comments on the story:

"This story reminds me of the question, "If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?" The same question can be asked in this story, paraphrasing "If an insult falls on deaf ears, who is insulted?"

"This is one of the best illustrations of Zen stories because it illustrates a universal principle (read "truth"). The setting for the story is appropriate because its lesson is a two-edged sword: there is the obvious consequence of the elder warrior refusing to accept the younger warrior's "gifts," and also the more subtle but implicit idea that a gift cannot be accepted without quid pro quo. The old warrior also had gifts to bestow -- knowledge of his skill and his weakness. The younger man, because he focused only on weaknesses was blind to the older warrior's proffered "gift," and therefore refused it. So the elder retained his strengths while the younger went away empty-handed."

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