Oranges (A joke to lighten things up)

There’s this wonderful story about the first meeting between Kalu Rinpoche and Zen master Seung Sahn:

The two monks entered with swirling robes – maroon and yellow for the Tibetan, austere gray and black for the Korean – and were followed by retinues of younger monks and translators with shaven heads …

The Tibetan lama sat very still, fingering a wooden rosary (mala) with one hand while murmuring, ‘Om mani padme hung,’ continuously under his breath. The Zen master, who was already gaining renown for his method of hurling questions at his students until they were forced to admit their ignorance and then bellowing, ‘Keep that don’t know mind!’ at them, reached deep inside his robes and drew out an orange. ‘What is this?’ he demanded of the lama. ‘What is this?’

This was a typical opening question, and we could feel him ready to pounce on whatever response he was given.

The Tibetan sat quietly fingering his mala and made no move to respond.

‘What is this?’ the Zen master insisted, holding the orange up to the Tibetan’s nose.

Kalu Rinpoche bent very slowly to the Tibetan monk next to him who was serving as the translator, and they whispered back and forth for several minutes. Finally the translator addressed the room: ‘Rinpoche says, What is the matter with him? Don’t they have oranges where he comes from?’


  1. Thanks for the fun story. I also had the experience of biking near the Kyichu, the river just outside Lhasa. I exclaimed to a Tibetan I’d been chatting with on the bike next to me that the Kyichu is really beautiful. He said, “Don’t you have rivers where you come from?”

    The same thing happened when I was on my way to Tsurphu with several Yinji travelers. They all got really excited to see a well dressed Tibetan man leading an extremely wellgroomed yak. They screamed to the Tibetan driver to stop so they could take pictures. He said, “Don’t you have yaks where you come from?”

    Neither one of these persons was supposed to be a spiritual teacher, but I guess there was a point to what they were saying anyway. Don’t they have funny stories where you come from?

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