Zen stories are entertaining in their content, but they really are about the reader. This story is an invitation to see our own situations from a fresh perspective. Although they can be read for a moral or a point, a key aspect is to experience how the story resonates with our own situations.
“Hakuin and the Baby” or “Is That So?” can be found in many versions, both on the web and in print (Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Paul Reps)
There was a monk named Hakuin who was well respected for his work among the people.
In the village, there lived a young woman, the daughter of the food sellers. The young woman became pregnant by her boy friend who worked nearby in the fish market. When the parents found out about this, they were very angry and pressured her to reveal the name of the father. She wanted to protect the young man and blurted out the name of Hakuin as the father.
After the baby was born, the parents took the baby to Hakuin. They told Hakuin that he was responsible for the baby and left the infant with him. He responded: “Is that so?” And he simply accepted the responsibility for the child without further reaction.
The monk had no experience with babies. But he began to care for its needs, finding food, clothing, and warm shelter. The other villagers became very angry with Hakuin for his offense and his reputation was trashed. These comments did not affect Hakuin, who continued to put his effort and attention into the care of the baby.
After several years, the young woman was filled with remorse. She confessed to her parents the name of the true father. They immediately went to see Hakuin, apologized, and took the baby back with them. Hakuin watched as they returned to there home with the child he had cared for since birth and replied “Is that so?”
“Is that so?” reflects the acceptance of what the moment brings. Acceptance in the sense that one responds appropriately to the situation with a calm mind and spirit. There are no calls of fairness or unfairness, of being experienced in the task or not, of complaining about a lost reputation, of wishing that it were different. The needs of present are simply addressed.
More than the physical situation, it is the spirit of the monk’s mind at the initial instant that the situation arises that makes his actions so compelling.It is not passive acceptance; there is direct action here.The calm mind allows effort to be fully directed to the situation without dispersal of energy.
The same tasks of caring for the baby could also be done with resentment or a turbulent mind. Then, there is room for fairness and unfairness, complaining and wishing it were different. Same tasks, but the energy is completely different.
All of these stories are about the reader, not a fiction story about the monk. The situation may be one at work, home, or with a friend that brings the same apparent unfairness and inconvenience to an individual at the moment. Responding with a calm or turbulent mind makes all the difference.
The calm spirit is within the potential of all humans.