by Matthew Daniell
(Published in the Newburyport Daily News newspaper, January 30th, 2016)
One of my favorite Zen stories is of a man named Paul Reps who many decades ago was on his way to study with a famous Zen master in Korea, and stopped in Japan to get an entry visa. When he went to the visa office in Korea he was told the bad news that a war had just broken out and no visas were being issued.
Mr. Reps didn't immediately leave but rather took a seat in the waiting area. As the story goes he mindfully opened up a thermos and poured himself a cup of tea, noticed its swirling steam, and enjoyed an unhurried sip. After his tea was finished he took out a slip of paper, wrote something on it, walked back up to the customs official, and handed him the paper. The official carefully read the note and then issued him an entry visa and stamped his passport. Reps' trip was successful and he went on to be one of the pioneers in bringing Zen Haiku poetry to America. This is what he wrote that changed the official’s mind:
Sipping a Cup of Tea I Stopped the War
The story is dear to me not only because I went on a spiritual sojourn which led me to Japan where I lived for some years practicing Zen in some of the same traditions and places that had inspired Reps decades earlier, but more fundamentally because the poem touches a universal theme that is just as relevant today as it was in the 1950's.