Early in this century a Japanese Zen master who lived in a temple in the country had as his pupil the wife of the greengrocer of a near-by village. Among his other pupils was a Cabinet Minister, who used to visit him once a week to sit in meditation for two hours and then have an interview. A newspaper sent a reporter to visit this teacher, and the pressman remarked, ‘Why do you waste yourself in a remote place like this? Wouldn’t it be better to come near the capital? Then instead of the greengrocer’s wife, you could have more pupils like the Cabinet Minister.’
In his article, the reporter described ruefully how the teacher had scolded him for this remark. ‘It is not a question of being the greengrocer’s wife or being a Cabinet Minister, but of not being a greengrocer’s wife and not being a Cabinet Minister. We teach archery here. She has to shoot herself out of being the greengrocer’s wife into the Buddha-nature which she really is, and he has to shoot himself out of being a Cabinet Minister into the Buddha-nature which he really is. And it may very well be,’ added the master, ‘that it will be easier for her to shoot herself out of being “only the greengrocer’s wife” than it will be for him to shoot himself out of being “His Excellency the Cabinet Minister”.’
In the nineteenth century, merchants were not highly regarded; in particular it was thought that they lacked spirit. Some of them naturally resented this and sought to prove to themselves that it was not so. One merchant of the time took lessons at a school of the martial arts in what was then called torite, mainly methods of disarming and arresting an assailant. He made remarkable progress, and finally took the degree of chudan, which represented an expert skill in the art.
One night, a thief broke into the merchant’s house. Brandishing a knife he demanded money. The merchant refused. The thief, who was a down-and-out samurai, came at him in a fury: ‘What, a rat of a merchant standing up to me! I’ll rip you open!’
At the words ‘rat of a merchant’, the householder broke into a sweat. His knees trembled, and he was about to ask for mercy.
Then his wife said, ‘You’re not a merchant, you’re a chudan of torite.’
Suddenly he felt his body straighten up and his legs full of energy He jumped at the thief, disarmed him, and threw him out of the house