Zen and the Overzealous Student

The textbook always has it right, even when it's wrong.

An AI-generated painting in traditional Japanese style of a class taking an exam.
A class taking an exam. Image generated with AI by DALL-E.

A student came to see a Master, who said: “My, you seem troubled. What happened to you?”

“I failed an exam, Master, and now my Teacher is displeased with me.”

“How did you fail your exam, my Son? Did you not study diligently?”

“I did, Master. In fact, I learned not only from our textbook, but also from the sources that it cites.”

“That seems thorough. So, what went wrong?”

“When the Teacher asked ‘What is the shape of the world?’, I answered, ‘It is round’.”

The Master raised his eyebrows. “Is it not?”

“The textbook says that it is flat. It is the sources that say that it is round.”

“How can the textbook contradict the very sources that it cites?”

“That’s what I asked, Master. My Teacher answered that the textbook looks beyond the petty details of individual sources, and instead considers the Full Body of Evidence. She said I’m ignorant and I must never consult the sources again.”

The Master was silent for a while, then said:

“There is no Enlightenment for you here, my Son. It is your Teacher who needs it, but she does not want it. There is nothing we can do.”

Stay informed of new posts?

Sign up below and you will receive a weekly digest of new posts.

If you change your mind, you can unsubscribe at any time. You will not be spammed, and we will keep your email address private.

Article index