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Buddhists/Guidance on Zen story


Hi Joe,

I came across the following ZEN story, which had two possible endings. The 2nd ending was "changed" for westerners, and it's interpretation is straight-forward.

The original ending however baffles me, and the person who posted it, also did not know what the interpretation of message was.

Zen - Cliffhanger
One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice. As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine. Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was deadly poison.

So a series of what one might consider "bad things" happens to this person, that result in his death. (I assume)

My question is, what is the message or lesson to be learned from this story?

best regards,

Hello John,
  I found this question rather perplexing because both of my teachers were students of Suzuki for decades and never told me the alternative version you have here.  I did some research and asked a dear friend about it who had spent many years in Japan studying.  He felt, as I do, that this version is not true.  The only source I found for it was Thomas Cleary and D.T. Suzuki died when Cleary was still in high school so he didn’t get it directly from him.  My friend informed me that there are several versions of this story that predate Suzuki and said this, “ In my understanding there are many versions of the story. I am now, for example, reading Tolstoy's "Confession," where it's some drops of honey, rather than a strawberry, and a wild beast and a dragon rather than tigers, in what he called "an Eastern fable, told long ago."Tolstoy wrote this in 1882, when Suzuki was 12. "Long ago" makes the honey version even earlier: dacades? centuries? But 1882 already destroys the argument.”

So the version of Tolstoy’s also has the sweetness and not the ‘deadly poison’ and it was a known fable for a long time before D.T. and not something that Suzuki had any claim to.  As I said my teachers, Dr.DeMartino and Masao Abe, never mentioned a different version of this and never said Suzuki softened things for the West.  I have dozens of DT’s writings that Abe gave me and the alternative version is not in any of these writings.

So, my thought is, it’s just not true. By the way, a friend in Europe sent me a link to a lecture last year and one of the speakers attacked Suzuki viciously.  He quoted him on a Samurai story. The problem was that the quote was not Suzuki's at all and taken from a text in 1880 written by another man.  I have that text so this 'scholar's' entire argument was based on a false premise but the panel all believed it was a D.T. quote when it was not.  Unfortunately this happens quite a bit.

 Take care,


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Joe McSorley


I can answer questions dealing with Taoist philosophy and Zen and not the historicity and religion of Buddhism and its different schools. I studied under Dr. Richard DeMartino and Masao Abe of the Kyoto School of Zen.

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