From earliest times thinkers must have perceived that on the one hand they could not think without words; on the other hand, words expressed only half the whole truth.
– Frederick Franck (Zen and Zen Classics)
[Sticky] Ikkyu-san and the Tiger
The story is perhaps not as overtly about Zen as some but there is something very much awake about Ikkyu-san. This is one of my favorite all time stories full stop and comes to mind regularly.
Once upon a time was a little monk named Ikkyu-san. Despite his tender age, he was renowned for his quick wit all around Japan.
Yet one Lord remained sceptical of Ikkyu-san’s talent:
This is just a mere boy. Is he really as clever as they all say?
The Lord decided to test him. One day, he summoned the little monk to his castle. As he sat regally in his audience chamber, he told Ikkyu-san:
Do you see this folding screen?
In the corner of the room shone an amazing screen with a rich gold leaf background. On it, a fearsome tiger lurked, barring wide fangs, and eyes cold and threatening in the candle light.
The lord continued, with mock worry in his voice:
Since I have bought this masterpiece, bad things happen in the middle of the night. I command you to tie up the tiger of my folding screen!
Ikkyu-san paused a moment. Then, he smile sweetly and said:
You are right my Lord, this tiger looks far too dangerous to be left free! It must be the cause of all your troubles!
The boy stood up and bowed:
I am going to tie it up and soon my lord, you’ll sleep well again. Please, give me a rope!
The Lord smiled behind his sleeve and ordered his servant to bring whatever Ikkyu-san would require.
When the night came, the boy rolled up his sleeves and tied a twisted towel around his head. He was ready for battle.
The servants brought the folding screen to the middle of the audience chamber. On the command of the Lord, everyone left the room.
Ikkyu-san squared his shoulders then he turned to the Lord:
I am ready my Lord. Please, make the tiger come out!
Taken aback by this unexpected demand, the Lord completely forgot his scheme and babbled:
What do you mean boy? This tiger is drawn on this screen! How do you want me to lure a painting out?
Ikkyu-san only answered:
So you mean this fearsome beast cannot come out the screen? Then we are all safe! This is such relief!