The Bridge

Tosui was a seventeenth-century Japanese Zen master who taught in various temples and provinces. The last temple he visited attracted so many mediocre adherents that he decided to stop teaching entirely. He advised them to disperse and go wherever they desired. Then he disappeared.
Three years later one of his disciples discovered him living with some beggars under a bridge in Kyoto. He implored Tosui to teach him.‘If you can do as I do for even a couple of days, I might,’ Tosui replied.

So the former disciple gathered a few things and joined him. The following day one of the other beggars died. Tosui and his pupil carried the body away at midnight, buried it on a mountainside and returned to the bridge.

Tosui slept soundly the remainder of the night, but the disciple lay awake. When morning came Tosui said: ‘We don’t have to beg for food today, our friend has left some over there,’ but the disciple was unable to eat.

‘I said you couldn’t live like me!’ exclaimed Tosui. ‘Go away and don’t bother me again.’

Re-written from ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones’ by Paul Reps.


In seventeenth-century Japan, Zen was dying.

Some believed it was already dead, but they were looking a little into the future. They could see the writing on the wall.

It is the way of the spiritual world: the glories are in the past. The heights of Siva and Parbati 5,000 years ago have not been equalled since.

Gautama Buddha himself was a beggar. Many masters were killed, many have suffered. As the Sufis say; “The Truth is hidden and hidden and hidden.”

There was a time when it didn’t need to be hidden, but that was thousands of years ago.

Now is the Age of Kali, the time of destruction. Politicians rule the world. There is a spiritual vacuum and it has sucked the life out of humanity.

Look at the number of refugees, the homeless, the insane. It is an unprecedented crisis. ‘Spiritual leaders’ are not respected or trusted, and it is just as well for they are a very poor bunch.

But, I digress. Back to the story.

Tosui has something of the temperament of Bodhidharma. He doesn’t have all day to chat with ignorant people who have not meditated and done the hard yards of self-discovery.

Tosui calls a spade a spade. Better still, in the immortal words of Osho, he calls a spade a fucking spade. If he has to live with people, let it be poor people. Destitute, desperate people, because those people, for all their faults, have certain qualities. They are authentic, honest, down-to-earth people.

They are not pretenders, they are not conceited and false, and they are social failures. They also have freedom of thought and expression, limited only by their poverty.

And why were there homeless people in 17th Century Japan? Why are there homeless people in 21st Century Australia? These are rich societies, highly developed, technologically adept. Why has this crushing poverty accompanied wealth and progress?

Tosui has had enough. It is time somebody stated the obvious truth of the matter; society is not progressing, it is retrogressive, degenerate.

The rising militarism of Japan in the 17th Century, the ruthless war-mongering of the 20th Century, and the 21st, the unconsciousness of modern humanity, all are part of one theme; the deterioration of civilisation.

Tosui made his protest, unhappily, at the cost of an easy life, but he made his statement. It is time we should listen to him.

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