How to Spell “Buffalo” from The Long Path to Wisdom

It happened at a time when the newly founded kingdom of Ava was in an uproar. The king was deeply concerned about the conditions in the country; strife and dissension were flaring up everywhere. In many places even the teachings of the Buddha seemed no longer to hold sway.

Therefore the king sent his monks out to all the villages to listen to the people and urge them not to forget the words of the Enlightened One.

One of these monks and his escorts arrived in a village in the northeast, near the border with China. The people there greeted him kindly, but were quick to tell him that they considered his presence unnecessary. In their village the religious duties had never been neglected; the monastery had always been in the hands of capable monks and abbots. Thus the villagers

received this missionary from the distant capital with respect, but also with a certain reticence.

Finally, they came to the visitor with a question. “We do not believe that you are as learned and pious as our abbot, Your Honor,” they said to the monk. “Would you be willing to settle this question in a religious debate?”

The monk agreed and the villagers made preparations for the competition. The plan was for the scholars to ask each other questions about their religion. The opponent would have one minute to answer. Whoever exceeded the allotted time or failed to give a satisfactory answer would be the loser.

When the appointed day came, the villagers led their visitor into a specially prepared hall. The abbot was ceremoniously ushered in and the spectators cheered. They sat face-to-face on two ornate chairs adorned with velvet and gold.

The village chief sounded a loud gong, and in the solemn silence that followed he said: “Let the dispute between our abbot and the monk from the royal city begin! The host will ask the first question.”

The king’s delegate leaned back in his chair tensely and waited with furrowed brow for a difficult first question. After a short silence the abbot leaned forward and said in a loud voice: “How do you spell the word ‘buffalo’?”

Surprised and speechless, the monk shook his head. Were these people really expecting an answer to such an elemental, ridiculously simple question? He could not believe it. He stared at the abbot, expecting an explanation or a further question, but the man across from him remained silent. His gaze wandered over to his escorts from Ava, but they looked just as surprised.

The monk smiled and cleared his throat as he racked his brain in search of a clever answer to this stupid question. Just as he finally started to speak, the chief ’s gong rang out. The allotted time had expired, he announced. He declared the abbot the winner.

While the villagers boisterously celebrated their victory and carried the abbot back to his monastery, the monk and his companions left the village, unsure what to tell the king.

Courtesy of Other Press.