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A white feather falling in a black abyss

The Art of Winning Without Fighting (A Zen Parable)


Among the warrior’s greatest virtues is an ability to defeat the opponent with a maximum economy of resources.

Stories from the Zen and Sufi traditions that are heard in the West are often enacted by fierce and fearsome warriors who make a fuss with their weapons. These are witnessed by stolid, elderly teachers who observe their displays as a child watches a terrible storm through the window.

One such story tells of a famous warrior who had ridden through countless cities and conquered vast territories without ever having been defeated. Such was the horror he provoked in the people that when they learned that the army of the famous warrior was heading toward their country, everyone left – up to and including the rulers. Empty houses were left with pots still boiling on the stove, such was the flight.

Everyone fled but the Zen master who lived modestly on the side of a steep mountain.

When the army took control of the capital, the famous warrior went to the cabin of the Zen master to see with his own eyes. Coming before him, he saw that it was a simple old man who’d not even stood up to beg for his life. The warrior burst out with insults.

“Old fool!” he said, drawing his sword, “don’t you realize you’re facing a man who could cut you in half in the blink of an eye?”

The teacher remained motionless and replied:

“Don’t you realize you’re facing a man who could be cut in half without blinking?”

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