Oh Really?

This is my retelling of an old Zen story. I tell it from time to time, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

There was an old Zen monk in hermitage who was revered and widely praised for living a pure, holy, and good life. 

One day, a young lady from a neighboring village discovered she was pregnant. She was terrified. She did her best to disguise the pregnancy, but soon, the baby began to show. Her parents were furious.

They demanded she name the father. At first she refused. But the more she did, the angrier they got, and the more pressure they applied to her. Eventually she cracked, and named the old monk.

The parents grabbed their daughter by the hand and took her to him. “Old man!” They didn’t bother to refer to him by his honorific. “Get out here right now!”

The old monk came out, smiling. He asked what was the matter.

The father pointed to his daughter and said, “that! That is the matter!” 

“Oh really.” 

”Yes, really! You did this! She told us everything!” 

“Oh really,” was all the monk said.

The family went home and told everyone about the monk. At first, people had trouble believing them. But very quickly, word spread that the monk was not who he seemed to be, and that he was a very, very wicked man indeed.

Some months later, the child was born. The parents took the infant to the monk, who was no longer welcome in the village. They demanded that he raise the child, since it was his. 

“Oh really,” said the monk, as he accepted the child.

A few more months passed. Then, almost a year to the day they first came to the monk, the family returned. The daughter was ashen. 

“Master, we are so very sorry.” 

“Oh really.” 

“Yes. Our daughter finally confessed and told us the truth. You are not the father. It is a young man from a neighboring village.” 

“Oh really.” 

“May we have the child back and raise him with us, his true family?” 

“Oh really,” said the monk as he handed the child back without hesitation. They were both smiling.