A young girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who the father was. At first, there was a resistance to confess. Eventually, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter’s accusation, he simply replied, “Is that so?“
When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. “Is that so?” Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.
For many months he took excellent care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the birth father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies, they explained what had happened. “Is that so?” Hakuin said as he handed them the child.
We all have responsibilities. Sometimes others create them for us.
We then have a choice to accept these responsibilities or create an opposition. The Zen master in this story sees the greater good in carrying the responsibilities that he did not ask for and chooses that option rather than to oppose it.
“Is that so?” is both a passive challenge to the accusers and an invitation to look more deeply into the matter. The Master wisely declines to force the issue, accepts the minor injustice, and getting his reputation dragged in the dirt while avoiding greater disharmony. It’s a wise choice. Only a Master Mind could respond with such calm equality and radical acceptance to both accusation and apologies like these.
By doing so, he teaches the villagers that it’s possible to achieve complete acceptance of every person, situation, and emotion. Accusers or not. The Zen Master had no fear of being unjustly labeled since he had gone beyond the idea of an ego to defend. He received the child with utter care and later gave it up with the same peace of mind when asked to do so. He was beyond attachment to anything and anyone jet capable of acting from a place of love, peace, and compassion in any given situation.
The Master in the story thereby taught the village accusers that perception is a relative phenomenon. They were given a chance to understand that truth simply is what it is despite how anyone labels it. Since any public criticism is a means for those who do not know themselves well enough to point a finger towards others, they, at the same time, mindlessly points three fingers back at themselves.
Of course, we are all free to tell the mountain that it is too high, the road that it winds too much, and the ocean that it is too wet. But will that change the height of the mountain, the curves of the road, and the wetness of the ocean?
Even a large boulder can not stop a river. Its resistance only marks its demise.