Lorenzo (dmt81) wrote,

Ummon & his Abbot

In ancient China there was a Zen master who had been the abbot of a large monastery for some twenty years. During all that time he had not appointed a head monk. Whenever his monks questioned him about this he would reply cryptically, "My head monk has not yet become a novice." One day he announced to the assembly, "Today my head monk took the vows of a novice." Upon being asked when his head monk would arrive at the monastery, he simply said, "My head monk has not yet received the full monastic ordination."

Several years passed and the monks had all but forgotten the elusive head monk when the abbot announced, "My head monk was fully ordained today!" Again the assembly was mystified. Two more years passed and then one day the abbot said, "My head monk will arrive at the main gate at noon today. Strike the bell and send a delegation to welcome him." This sounded very strange,as had everything else the abbot had been saying about his head monk throughout the years, but at the appointed hour the monks nevertheless went to the main gate. There stood a monk who had just arrived, and he was none other than Ummon.

When Ummon came before the abbot to profer his greetings, he asked, "How could you have known that I would arrive today? I told no one I intended to come here." Smiling, the abbot said, "Many, many lifetimes ago--during the lifetime of the Buddha himself--you and I were brother monks. We both trained very hard and developed remarkable samadhi powers. But in a subsequent life you were reborn into royalty and led a self-indulgent, worldly life. Consequently you lost these powers. I, on the other hand,continued to train and discipline myself through many more lifetimes; therefore these powers were strengthened. Thus I knew when you had become a novice monk, when you had been fully ordained, and when precisely you would arrive at this monastery".

Psychic abilities in one degree or another are the natural by-products of persistent zazen and an awakened mind; as such they are not regarded in Zen as exceptional or wonderful. Zen masters never make a vain display of psychic powers, nor do they set out to cultivate them for their own sake. They are in fact looked upon as makyo--a subtle variety, but still makyo--which is to say, something other than enlightenment.
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