Saigyo at the Ferry

September 14, 2021

an arrow to navigate down the page

Saigyo, a 12th-century haiku poet and Buddhist priest of Japan, was traveling with his

disciple, Saio. Each morning, they set out at sunrise and, upon dark, they would stop at an inn,

temple, farmer’s house or the home of a poet and spend the night. When there was no place

nearby, they slept outdoors beneath the stars.

The two travelers came to the Tenryu River and boarded the ferry to cross. Just as the ferry was

about to leave, a samurai came running up, shouting, “Stop! Wait!”

The boatman bowed to the samurai. “As you can see, the boat is already full,” he said quite
humbly. “Will you please wait for the next one?”
“Impossible!” roared the samurai. “Me wait? Never! Get someone else off the boat. Hey you,”
he shouted at Saigyo. “You leave!”

Saigyo just sat there and looked out over the water. It was as if he had not heard the order at

all. Then, the samurai charged at Saigyo and struck him on the forehead with a large folded fan.

Blood gushed from the cut, but Saigyo seemed unmoved. Saio, who knew how strong his

master was, and who also knew that Saigyo had once himself been a famous samurai, sat in

expectation. Any minute now, Saigyo would certainly stand up and throw the samurai

overboard. Saigyo did nothing of the sort. Instead, he simply rose and got off the boat silently,

followed by the unhappy and disappointed Saio. With a triumphant sneer, the samurai got on

board and the boat left the shore.

“Why didn’t you say anything when he treated you like that?” asked Saio, “Aren’t you angry

with him?”

“No,” answered Saigyo.

“But why?” demanded Saio in frustration .

“There is nothing to be mad about,” answered Saigyo.

“But he hit you and made you leave the boat,” Saio said.

“I have been hit before; is that reason to hurt another? No life was at risk, only ego. As for

getting off the boat that was my own choice,” Saigo replied.

“But you can knock down three or four of him,” said Saio. “Don’t be silly,” said Saigyo. “What

would that prove?”

“But I was so disappointed,” exclaimed Saio, near tears. “Everybody was laughing at us.”

“Must I be foolish just because others are?”

“Then you are a coward,” pronounced Saio.

“Really, don’t be silly. Monks and warriors have to endure such trifles. There is a time to stand

your ground and a time to walk. You must learn this if you are to advance,” said Saigyo.

“Anyone would say that it was right to beat such an intolerable fellow,” insisted Saio.

The master was silent. When the next boat came he boarded it. Saio too got on. He was not

exactly sure of why his teacher did what he did but he knew a few things; Saiyo was a good

man, he was brave and he could fight. His reasoning was still a bit much for Saio, but that is

why he was the student.

A time to stand your ground and a time to walk.

It is always your choice.

Saigyo, a 12th-century haiku poet and Buddhist priest of Japan, was traveling with hisdisciple, Saio. Each morning, they set out at sunrise and, upon dark, they would stop at an inn,temple, farmer’s house or the home of a poet and spend the night. When there was no placenearby, they slept outdoors beneath the stars.The two travelers came to the Tenryu River and boarded the ferry to cross. Just as the ferry wasabout to leave, a samurai came running up, shouting, “Stop! Wait!”