Emperor Kiso of the T‘ang Dynasty in China once made a visit to the Kinzanji temple on the Yangtze River. At the temple the scenery is exceptionally fine, and the throne was set at the top of the temple tower, giving the best view of the river. The emperor was conducted to his seat. He saw on the great river countless boats, some going up and some going down, some to the right and some to the left, so that it might almost have been mistaken for the sea. He was overjoyed to see the prosperity of the country he ruled: trade and commerce thus flourishing—what we should call today a fully developed country. At his side was standing the abbot of the temple, Zen master Obaku, and the emperor remarked to him: “How many flying sails on the river,
I wonder?” In other words, how many ships would there be on the water. The abbot smoothed his robe and replied respectfully: “Only two.” The emperor’s satisfied expression was wiped off his face. What did he mean, with his two ships? Even now in front of one’s very eyes were there not at least a hundred, perhaps two hundred? Two ships indeed! Was he making light of his emperor, laughing at him and making a fool of him? His face showed that the reply was not pardoned. “How two ships?” he asked. Zen master Obaku’s expression showed not the slightest disturbance. Respectfully he answered: “Here are only the ship of name and the ship of profit.” Name means seeking for reputation, and profit means seeking for gain. As Your Majesty sees, there are many ships on the river, but one half of them are sailing for fame, and the other half to make money.
The ship of name and the ship of profit, only these two are on the river. Pondering the thought, the emperor gave a deep, deep sigh. It was as the abbot had said. In administration, in economic strength, in industry, in education, the culture of the T‘ang dynasty can only be called brilliant. But what of the people who participated in that culture? If their motive was not name, it was money; if not money, then name. Apart from these two they cared for nothing. Then like thunder from a clear sky the emperor gave sweeping orders for reform. In that moment he saw the truth, and from his determined policy arose the famous culture of the great T‘angs.
The parallel is not far to seek: is not the condition of Japan today like that? There is unprecedented prosperity, and it must be called a brilliant civilization. But of the people, there are hardly any who are not wrapped up in money or fame. Those who have obtained them are regarded as well off and fortunate, and are flushed with pride, and those who haven’t them are disappointed and discouraged, writhing with hatred of everyone and curses on the world. Isn’t it so? This philosophy of name and money is an all-important problem; ugly and narrow as it is, people make it supreme in their lives and depend entirely on those two things for their support. But we have to think of our real nature and get a right understanding. We must not lose the Way here. If we are lost in these things, the rejoicing at hearing the Law will hardly arise and paradise will be far away.
In whatever age, the problem of name and money has always been the worst. It is on this point that we go astray or are enlightened, that we sink or swim. There are only two alternatives: to be a king who can use name and money, or to be a slave rushing about in pursuit of them. Many people are entirely the latter.
© Trevor Leggett