‘Recently a woman came to see me with a difficulty in her life, which was that she was starting an affair with her husband’s best friend. She wanted me to take a position, but my response was the only one I can imagine: “Hm. Yeah. Ah. No kidding.” And there’s always “Wow.” I keep that right at the forefront of my arsenal of clever Zen responses. I mean this sincerely, in the sense of “Yes, I know what that’s like. A truly fine spiritual opportunity.”
What else is there to say? We talked about how she expected me to tell her that what she was doing was wrong and she should stop, and how she would then go ahead and do it anyway because nobody was going to tell her what was right for her. But because I did not tell her what to do, she was left with what she believes about it. There was no encouragement for her to do or not do anything. She got to hear her story, and that experience was like a mirror in which she could see herself in this situation.’ (Trying To Be Human)
My first thought, when I read this, was of how Daigaku, when he lived at Zen Center, would most often respond “Is that so?” to any kind of pronouncement – echoing the famous story of Hakuin. But then I also thought of how different teachers had responded to the times when I acted unskilfully – sometimes I would hear about it very clearly, sometimes I would be left to figure it out for myself. Probably I caused more damage than I might have because I was slow to learn and my habits were deeply ingrained, but the lesson is better learned from your own realisation than from the scolding of another, even one in authority.