The Drunken Zen Master


Hui-k’o, the Second Patriarch of Zen passed on the bowl and robe to his successor, the Third Patriarch, Seng-ts’an, signifying the transmission of the Dharma.

Hui-k’o, who had received the seal of approval from Bodhidharma himself, then went everywhere drinking and carousing around like a wild man and partaking in the offerings of the brothel districts. When people asked how he could do such a thing, being a Patriarch of the Zen school and all, he would respond with:

“What business is it of yours?”


3 thoughts on “The Drunken Zen Master

  1. Variations on that theme are often in our newspapers and on tv. A celebrity (sports figure, entertainer, politician etc) does something that is culturally frowned upon on and, when questioned, will respond in much the same manner. We are told that “it’s their life”, or “their private life is not our business” etc. etc.
    My initial reaction was to agree that they are indeed entitled to a private life and what they do with same is their business only however, the more I think about it, the more I would challenge that rationale.

    If you chose a career path which could potentially offer a celebrity status, should you not accept responsibility for all that status entails? A celebrity, by definition, will forfeit much of their privacy by their own actions but, more importantly, a celebrity status dictates that you have the ability to influence others. It is this influence which, to me, gives us every right to expect that our celebrities behave responsibly.

    It can of course be argued that they only have as much power over us as we give them, but try explaining that to parents of teenagers who are having serious issues because of their celebrity role-model. How can one expect honesty and transparency from large corporations when the Government totally contradicts those philosophies? How can one expect a law abiding community if the local law enforcement operation is crooked? How can we expect our children to learn compassion, tolerance and understanding if examples are not set by their teachers?

    To Hui-k’o’s question “What business is it of yours?”, I would answer “It is my business because I care about maintaining decency and civility in our culture. You are held in high esteem and, as such, are looked up to for guidance. When you set the example that drinking and carousing etc are ok for a man being a Patriarch of a Zen school, then you are telling our men that a drinking and carousing lifestyle is okay. It is my business because I care about the future of our people.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Colin for a very thoughtful comment! I certainly agree with all you said.

      However… The context of this Zen story is on a different level. Hui-ko is a recognized enlightened Zen Master from many centuries ago up to the present. His unconventional behavior, which he showed only after he relinquished his formal responsibility as the Second Patriarch of Zen, did not destroy or diminish his reputation being a real master.

      If we accept the premise that he is indeed enlightened, as known among the Buddhists, then it means he was fully conscious of his acts. If he was fully conscious of his acts, there are several possible reasons why he did what he did. At the moment, I could only think of two possible reasons:

      First, he was satirizing or making fun the accepted norm in the spiritual community which dictates that one has to act in a certain “acceptable” way, dress in a certain way, obey rules, dogma, tradition; and has to appear somewhat muted and somber, in order to be validated or considered spiritual.

      Second, engaging himself (with full conscious awareness) in such “unacceptable” acts, could be a statement of his spiritual freedom: he was unafraid to be criticized, labeled, and judged, as he actively sought to challenge the spiritual status quo. He had no fear of public opinion as his spiritual enlightenment makes him confident and secure within himself.

      But of course, there are many religious and spiritual leaders who do the opposite of what they preach. But the difference is, these leaders are not as enlightened as Hui-ko and it shows as their staying powers do not last as long as Hui-ko’s because they are destroyed by their own debasing activities. Unlike Hui-ko, these leaders are the kinds who try to do their unacceptable acts in utmost secret, which means they are hiding something, because they are guilty.

      Liked by 1 person

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