The gift of insults

Near Tokyo, there lived a very great Samurai who, now an old man, devoted himself to teaching Zen Buddhism to the young. Despite his great age, it was said that he could defeat any adversary.

One afternoon, he was visited by a warrior who was known to be entirely without scruples. This warrior was also famous for his technique of provocation; he would wait for his adversary to make the first move and then, using his exceptional intelligence to assess any errors made, he would launch a lightning counter-attack.

The impatient young warrior had never once lost a contest. He knew the Samurai's reputation and had gone there in order to defeat him and thus enhance his own reputation.

Despite his students' protests, the old Samurai accepted the warrior's challenge.

Everyone gathered in the city's main square, and the young man began insulting the old teacher. He threw a few stones at him, spat in his face, heaped every known insult both on him and on his ancestors. For hours, he did everything he could to provoke the Samurai, but the old man remained utterly impassive. By the end of the afternoon, the fiery warrior withdrew, exhausted and humiliated.

Disappointed that their teacher had failed to respond to these insults and provocations, his students asked:

'How could you put up with such indignities? Why, even though you risked losing the fight, did you not use your sword, rather than reveal yourself to us as a coward?'

'If someone comes to you with a gift, and you do not accept it, to whom does that gift belong?' asked the Samurai.

'To the person who tried to give it,' replied his disciples.

'The same applies to envy, anger and insults,' said the teacher. 'If they are not accepted, they remain the property of the person who carries them within himself.'