In the Blink of an Eye An Inspiring Story About Having Nothing to Lose

During the feudal Civil Wars of the nineteenth century, an army took over the control of a small and peaceful Japanese village. All of its inhabitants ran away – all, except an aged Zen master.

The general of the conquering army was amazed to hear this and ordered his soldiers to spare his life and lead him to meet the brave man as soon as possible.

It didn’t pass long before he entered his monastery.

“Good evening,” he said. “I just wanted to meet the brave man who remained in the village even though everybody left it.”

The Zen master paid no attention to the general and went on putting out the candles.

The general grew more irritated: “Hey, old man, are you deaf or something? Show some respect!”

The Zen master looked at the general for a second, then turned his back, sat down, closed his eyes and started meditating.

“You fool!”, shouted angrily the general, drawing the sword from the sheath. “You stupid, old fool! Can’t you not understand that I am the one who spared your life? Are you not aware that you are standing in front of a man who can slay you in the blink of an eye!”

The Zen master remained as calm as ever.

“And are you not aware,” he mouthed disinterestedly, “that you are standing in front of a man who can be slayed in the blink of an eye?”

The lesson:

  • Baltasar Gracián was a famous Spanish philosopher who lived in the 17th century. His are the famous words: “Never contend with a man who has nothing to lose.”
  • What is more important than this is to be aware that, sometimes in life, there are moments when each of us has nothing to lose.
  • Strangely enough, these are the moments when we can win the most as well.


  • “Without Blinking an Eye”, Zen Stories (Vladimir Martinovski & Vladimir Jankovski), 2013, p. 166
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