The following anecdote is quoted from John Vorhaus and Tony Guerrera’s book on poker strategies (Killer Poker Short-handed, 2007). It illustrates the buddhist approach to value judgements. It also makes for interesting poker table banter.
The Abbot’s Gift
A Zen monk, early in his training, is preparing to leave the monastery and switch locations, for that is common in the Zen practice. Before he leaves he goes to the abbot of the monastery to say goodbye. He does so, but the abbot says he has a gift for him. Now, it is part of the Japanese way to accept gifts and be appreciative; to do otherwise is rude and, therefore, wrong. The abbot takes a pair of tongs and picks up a red-hot coal from the adjacent fire pit on which he has a teakettle.
The young monk starts to contemplate what he should do, and after a few moments, runs out of the hall distressed, for he cannot figure out how to act. He can take the coal and be burned, or he can refuse the gift of the abbot and be rude. Both in his mind, are things he cannot do.
He meditates on the problem for the next week, and comes back to say goodbye. However, the same scene is played again, and the same frustration blooms when he tries to figure out what the abbot wants him to do.
He meditates further on the subject and feels he has discovered how to respond to the abbot’s gift. He returns, for the third time, to say goodbye to the abbot, and as before the abbot picks up a red-hot coal and presents it as a gift to the young monk. The young monk simply replies, “Thank you.”
The abbot breaks into a grin, nods his head, and returns the coal to the fire pit. “You may go now,” he says.
Further reflection on this anecdote by Vorhaus and Guerrero:
Accept what is offered you, say the Buddhists. A thing is not a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just a thing that is. If someone successfully bluffs you off a pot, even if he gloats and taunts, simply accept the outcome, make appropriate adjustments, and move on. In the swirling dogfight of shorthanded poker, the minute you let your ego get engaged, you’re toast.