The Four Monks

flickering candle

My brother Divonte is in the Air Force.  About seven years ago, I wanted to keep in touch with him by sending him emails with brain teasers and koans.  A koan is a riddle or story that Zen masters would tell to their students to help promote Zen principles.  I recently went through some of those emails and came across this koan. 


The Four Monks

Four monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks.  By nightfall on the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out.  The first monk said, “Oh, no! The candle is out.” The second monk said, “Aren’t we not supposed to talk?” The third monk said, “Why must you two break the silence?” The fourth monk laughed and said, “Ha! I’m the only one who didn’t speak.”


This story has been on my mind for a little while today.  The way I see it, each monk broke the silence for a different reason, each of which is a common stumbling block to peace and meditation. The first monk became distracted by an element of the world (the candle) and so lost sight of his purpose. The second monk was more worried about rules than the meditation itself. The third monk let his anger at the first two rule him.  And the final monk was lost in his ego.

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