The Gift of Insults


Prof. Dietrich Fischer – TRANSCEND Media Service

A great Samurai warrior, now old, had decided to teach Zen Buddhism to young people. Despite his age, the legend was that he could defeat any adversary.

One afternoon, a young warrior – known for his complete lack of scruples ‑ arrived there. He was famous for using techniques of provocation: he waited until his adversary made the first move and then swiftly counterattacked, skillfully taking advantage of any slightest mistake his adversary made. He had never lost a fight. Hearing of the Samurai’s reputation, he had come to defeat him, to increase his fame.

All the students were against the idea, but the old master accepted the challenge. All gathered on the town square, and the young man started insulting the old master. He threw a few rocks in his direction, spat in his face, shouted every insult under the sun ‑ he even insulted his ancestors, something inconceivable in Japan. For hours, he did everything to provoke him, but the old man kept smiling calmly and ignored his insults.

At the end of the afternoon, by now feeling exhausted and frustrated, the young warrior left. Disappointed that the master had received so many insults and provocations, the students asked:

“How could you bear such indignity? It would have been better to fight, even if you lost, instead of displaying such cowardice in front of us all!”

“If someone comes to you with a gift, and you do not accept it, to whom does the gift belong?” asked the Samurai. “To the one who tried to deliver it,” replied one of his disciples.

“The same goes for envy, anger and insults,” said the master. “When they are not accepted, they continue to belong to the one who brought them.”


Dietrich Fischer (1941-2015) from Münsingen, Switzerland, got a Licentiate in Mathematics from the University of Bern 1968 and his Ph.D. in Computer Science from New York University 1976. 1986-88 he was a MacArthur Fellow in International Peace and Security at Princeton University. He has taught mathematics, computer science, economics and peace studies at various universities and been a consultant to the United Nations. He was co-founder, with Johan Galtung, of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment in 1993.

Excerpted from Dietrich Fischer’s Stories to Inspire You – TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Apr 2017.

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One Response to “The Gift of Insults”

  1. rosemerry says:

    Thank you. That is worth remembering.