The Man On The Hill

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As you know, if we see a snowflake in the UK the whole country grinds to a halt, and today we have a little more than that (hope you like the pics and short video of my back garden).  So, it is appropriate, that since my place of work sits up on high ground six miles from here, and my place of work is shut because of the snow, I have got the chance to write a blog post called, “The Man On The Hill”.  It is an old Zen parable, but I have put my own spin on it and will relate it in my own way of speaking.

Three friends were out walking, and in the distance, high up on a hill, they could see a man, seemingly just standing there.  As they walked, they started to speculate amongst themselves as to what he was doing.  The first man said, “I think he is looking for his dog”.  The second man said, “no, I think he is looking for his friend”.  The third man said, “no, you are both wrong, I think he is just getting some fresh air”.  As they walked, they continued to have the discussion and eventually they found themselves following the path leading up the hill.

After a while they reached where the man was standing and curiosity got the better of them.  “Excuse me”, said the first man, “but we couldn’t help but wonder what you are doing, are you looking for your dog”?  “No, I’m not”, came the reply.  The second man spoke up, “then are you looking for your friend”?  “No”, came the reply again.  The third man then asked, “are you just enjoying the fresh air”?  For the third time, the man answered, “no I’m not”.  The three friends, completely baffled, then asked, “If you are not engaged in any of those things can you please tell us what you are doing”?  “I’m just standing”, replied the man.

“Just standing”, could be “just chopping wood”, “just washing up”, “just cutting the grass”, but what the man is really saying is, “I’m just being”.  The three friends are typical of the monkey-like chatter of the egoic mind.  It didn’t even occur to them that the man could be “just standing”, they had to pigeonhole what he was doing.  So, they created several imaginary stories as they speculated their way along the path.  It is no    coincidence that there are three of them; the three friends being symbolic of the holy trinity of the physical world.  We can also relate the three friends to the three states that we experience in this world of matter; waking, dream and deep sleep.  The man “just standing” represents the “God-state” of Turiya, which exists beyond all triads.

This is what makes Zen so wonderfully unique in relation to other religions.  Zen, “The Experience of Pure Knowing”, will awaken within you when you are ready.  A Zen master will simply give you the key to open up the knowing that has always existed within you.  Whereas, a teacher of religion will fill your head with knowledge based on the past.  Knowledge = Non-sense; Knowing = God-sense.

I will just finish off by sharing with you something rather ironic that occurred to me as I was pondering writing this post.  All the great spiritual masters who founded the religions of the world, were exceptional souls who broke the mould.  They did not follow the crowd; on the contrary, they were inspirational leaders and exceptional individuals.  But to be a follower of an organised religion means that you have to be the exact opposite of the religion’s founder; in other words you have to conform to convention.  To be a Christian for example, you have to be an Anti-Christ, you have to become a sheep and follow the crowd.  Christ himself did not advocate hierarchy; all were equal in his eyes.  Now there are hundreds and hundreds of Christian cults and sects, all run by committees and people (mainly men) with titles, who dictate to the masses in accordance with their own limited understanding.  This is an indication of the man-made, egoic nature of organised religion.  I have written many times about this.  The spirit evolves via the adventure of experience, not by conforming to outdated, fear-based, man-made rules, regulations and rituals.  CAN I GET AN AMEN?  Maybe not…

 

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The Servant


Word spread across the countryside about the wise Holy Man who lived in a small house atop the mountain.  A man from one of the villages nearby decided to make the arduous journey up the mountain to consult with him.  When he arrived at the house he was met by an old servant who greeted him, “I’ve come to see the wise Holy Man”, said the villager, “I wish to have his counsel”.  The old servant smiled and nodded, and gestured for the man to step inside.  As the servant led him into the house, the man looked around in great excitement and anticipation, awaiting his first glimpse of the Holy Man.   Before he knew it he had been led right through the house and out the back door.  “But I want to see the Holy Man”, he exclaimed.  “You already have”, said the old servant, and he promptly shut the door…

Everyone we meet is a “Holy Man”, and there are a few ways of looking at this one.  From the perspective that the world is a mirror, there is always something to observe and glean from everyone who crosses our path.  The totality is present in all, not just a chosen few, and the recognition of this is always handy, especially when we encounter people that we may have difficulties with.  It is far easier to judge than to look beyond the surface, which is what the villager did when he was greeted by the old man.  But all is the Self, as Ramana Maharshi would say, and in truth nothing else exists; all is the “whole”, all is the “Holy”; therefore we are all the “Holy Man”.

 

 

 

 

Overflowing


A university lecturer arranged to visit a master, in order that he could get an insight into Zen.  He arrived at the master’s house and was graciously invited to enter the modest abode.  He immediately started to talk about Zen; barely pausing for breath.  The master remained silent, but gestured for the man to take tea with him.  They sat down and the master started to pour tea into the lecturer’s cup.  He poured and he poured some more until the cup was overflowing.  “Stop, stop; the cup is overflowing”, exclaimed the flustered lecturer.  “Yes it is”, replied the master, “as are you; overflowing with words.  You came here to ask me about Zen, but you haven’t stopped talking since you arrived.  How do you expect me to tell you about Zen if you do not stop talking?”

This is quite a thing for many people; too many words, too much lecturing, too much philosophising and not enough listening.  A Zen master will not teach you anything; in fact, he/she will probably tell you that there is nothing to be taught.  The job of the master is not to teach, but to give you the key to the door of your own unlearning.  The unlearning of all the bad habits brought about by years of conditioning and listening to YOUR truth as told to you by others.  The master will tell you that the only voice to be listened to is your own inner voice, and that the only master you have is you; your very soul.

A philosopher is someone who wants to be a master, but cannot see that it is his constant penchant for philosophising that prevents his mastery.  The mind is constantly overflowing (just like the cup) with chatter (philosophy) that has to be expounded.  Hence, an overflowing mind cannot be a master-mind.

The Man With No Shirt


Photograph by Ray Bilcliff of Pexels

There was once a king, he had everything that anybody could ever have wished for; a wonderful queen, wonderful children, riches, the finest food and wine and a kingdom that stretched for miles.  He had everything… except… happiness!  He was so troubled because of this, he would just sit on his throne for hours on end, day after day, looking miserable.  In the end, he summoned the greatest physician in the kingdom and said, “I am not happy and I want you to make me happy, if you succeed I will give you great wealth, but if you fail I will cut off your head”.  The physician knew that there was no medicine that could make the king happy, he also knew that the king in his troubled state would most certainly carry out his threat of beheading.  Thinking quickly, the physician said, “Sire, I must go and meditate and consult the scriptures and medical books, I shall return in the morning”.  The physician meditated and consulted scriptures and books throughout the night, but just as he suspected there was nothing available to make the king happy.  Then he had an idea…

In the morning he went back to the king and said, “Your Majesty, I have the solution, all you need to do is find a happy man and take his shirt; wear the shirt of a happy man and you shall be happy.”  The king found this very pleasing and sent his highest ranking minister out to find a happy man and take his shirt.  The minister first of all went to a very rich man.  He explained the situation and asked for his shirt.  The rich man said, “I’m not happy; but you are welcome to as many shirts as you want.  Thanks for the remedy; I’ll send my servants out to find me the shirt of a happy man as well.”  The minister went throughout the kingdom but nobody was happy.  Everyone was prepared to give their shirt, but no one was happy.  Eventually, the minister realised that the physician had played a trick in order to save his skin.  But now the minister himself was worried; he knew that he would get the blame.

He was pouring out his tale of woe to a friend who said, “don’t worry, I’ve got an idea, there is happy man who plays the flute in the night down by the river; you must have heard him.”  “Yes, I have”, said the minister, “occasionally in the middle of the night I have heard those notes; they are so beautiful.  But who is he, where can we find him?”  “We will go tonight”, said the friend, “we will go down to the river and look for him”

That night they headed off towards the river.  As they made their way down they could hear the flute in the distance; it was the most enchanting and blissful music.  They soon approached and the man stopped playing, “what do you want”, he said.  The minister said, “are you happy?”

“HAPPY?  Am I happy?”, said the man, I am blissfulness personified, I am ecstatic; I am in paradise.”  The minister jumped for joy and said, “give me your shirt!”  The man said nothing.  “Why are you silent?  Give me your shirt!” said the minister, “the king needs it.”  “The king would be welcome to my shirt”, said the man, “if only I had one.  You cannot see because it is dark, but I am here naked; I have no shirt.”

“How can you be happy then”, said the minister.  The man replied, “I am happy because I lost my shirt, along with everything else I owned; indeed, I have nothing, I am not even playing this flute, I am empty; it is the totality that plays through me, I am nothing, no-thing, a nobody…

The thing with parables is; especially Zen and Tao parables, that the stories themselves are quite often nonsensical, as this one illustrates.  But, what makes them so beautiful is the story behind the story; the deeper meaning.  There is always a sub-text, and in this parable of, The Man With No Shirt, the sub-text was right there in the king’s words to the physician; “I am not happy”.  The “I” (ego) was the obstacle to happiness.  The happy flute player was in a state of pure being; he was beyond the transient happiness that is subject to relativity.  He was happy because he “lost his shirt”; in beingness there is no-thing to accumulate and become attached to, there is “no-body” who declares “I am this” or “I am that”.  This is also the deeper meaning of “nakedness”.  The man was naked in terms of worldly attachments; therefore he was happy.

The Five-Knotted Hanky


It is said that The Buddha once went to a monastery to give a discourse to the monks.  The day came and the puja hall was packed as the monks waited in great anticipation.  Buddha entered the hall and made his way to the front.  He sat down facing the monks; remaining silent as he drew a beautiful silk handkerchief from his robe.  The monks thought this rather strange as Buddha had a reputation for being a man of very simple means, and this handkerchief really was one of the finest.  He proceeded to tie five knots in the hanky, remaining silent as he did so.  The silence in the puja hall was tangible as the baffled monks looked on.  Then The Buddha spoke…

“You will have noticed that I produced this beautiful silk handkerchief from my robe”, and he held it high above his head for all to see.  “You will also have noticed that I tied five knots in it.”  “With this in mind, can we still say that it is a handkerchief?”  One of the monks spoke up and said, “yes, it is still a handkerchief, but for practical purposes, in its present condition it cannot be used as such.”  “Correct”, replied The Buddha, “this beautiful handkerchief represents the eternal, effulgent spirit that you all are.  However, everyone acquires knots due to ignorance, which only serve to obstruct, cause unnecessary pain and suffering and obscure the light of spirit; just as the sun is obscured by clouds on an overcast day.  Having established this, should I now just start to untie them?”  Another monk spoke up, “no, first let me look; if you just go ahead and start untying you may end up making the knots tighter, or even creating other, more subtle knots.  We need to see the cause before we start to untie.”

“Yes, this is exactly true”, replied The Buddha, “there is never a time when you are not the One eternal spirit, shining in all its glory; it is only the clouds of ignorance that cause the knots.”  He then went on…

“We need to understand that the imposition of obstacles and limitations is only illusion”, and he untied one of the knots.

“If it is illusion, then the illusion must be self-created due to ignorance”, and he untied another knot.

“Ignorance is a state of mind that comes about because of our obsession with the objective world; it is not something that is really there”, and he untied a third knot.

“It is a belief that the unreal is real and vice versa”, and he untied a fourth knot.

“In summary, all of life’s dramas are played out in the mind (ego) by way of thoughts.  Abide in the bliss of emptiness that exists beyond mind and thoughts; this is the end of suffering.”  The Buddha untied the final knot; “enough for today”, he said…

 

Enter Zen From There


A Zen master was undertaking a journey along with one of his disciples.  They walked for several hours before stopping for lunch and a rest.  They sat in silence under a tree as they ate their simple meal of rice and vegetables.  When they had finished eating the disciple said to the master, “can you tell me how I can find Zen?”  “I want to learn so that I can be like you.”  The master replied, “can you hear that?”  “Can you hear the sound of the water from the stream running down the mountain?”  The disciple could hear nothing, but he continued to listen until eventually he could just about make out the faintest sound of running water in the distance.

“Yes, yes, I can hear it master”, said the disciple.  “Enter Zen from there”, replied the master.

They sat in silence for a while as the disciple focused his attention on the sound of the mountain stream.  Eventually, he experienced a state of bliss, which remained with him as they resumed their journey.  After walking for several miles, the blissful state wore off and the disciple was back to his normal unrealised self. They carried on walking in silence until, out of curiosity, the disciple asked, “master, what would you have said if I’d been unable to hear the sound of the stream?”  “Enter Zen from there”, replied the master.

We can only awaken where we are, with the surroundings we have, in the present moment.  We can go on pilgrimages, we can undertake all kinds of spiritual practise and we can read spiritual texts.  But all of these are only relevant when we do not have the understanding to see beyond them.  Ultimately, they are all only stepping-stones along the pathless path that leads nowhere.  Nowhere = Now Here.

I Don’t Know


The emperor, who was a devout Buddhist, invited a great Zen master to the Palace in order to ask him questions about Buddhism. “What is the highest truth of the holy Buddhist doctrine?” the emperor inquired.  “Vast emptiness… and not a trace of holiness,” the master replied.  “If there is no holiness,” the emperor said, “then who or what are you?”  “I do not know,” the master replied.

Here we have a devout Buddhist emperor inviting a Zen master to his palace in order quiz him about Buddhism.  It’s quite a common mistake for people to think that Zen and Buddhism are one and the same.  The truth is that they are poles apart.  Buddhism is an organised religion, although also a way of life, non-dogmatic and closer to the truth than most of the world’s major religions.  Zen, in my humble opinion, is something that happens to you; it is an awakening.  Most people experience their spiritual awakening in subtle stages that just happen without any prior warning.  There is no such thing as Zen philosophy either, so the emperor was on a hiding to nothing in asking the master, “what is the highest truth of the holy Buddhist doctrine?”

The answer came, “vast emptiness… and not a trace of holiness.”  This is very profound and clearly not understood by the emperor.  Vast emptiness refers to the inner reality; infinite consciousness, which is One.  The Indian yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, would on occasion refer to this as , “the uncreated wilderness of bliss”, which is the same as vast emptiness.  What the master is saying is that the “highest truth” is to return to the state of “nothingness” from which we came.  This is the non-dual state, therefore “and not a trace of holiness” means that in consciousness there is only consciousness and nothing else.  In the dualistic world, if something is deemed holy, it implies that it will have a relative opposite somewhere that is deemed unholy.  This is duality and ultimately an illusion, so in the vast emptiness there will be no trace of holiness.

The emperor then came back with, “If there is no holiness then who or what are you?”

“I do not know,” the master replied.

The master answered the emperor’s question in the most perfect way possible; “I do not know.”  Enlightenment is the shedding of all knowledge.  All knowledge relates to the past and is of the mind-created world.  In “vast emptiness” there is no knowledge; only pure knowing.

 

Heaven And Hell


A soldier went to a Zen master and asked, “tell me, is there really a Heaven and Hell?”  The master looked at him and exclaimed, “who are you?”  “I’m a Samurai warrior”, came the reply.  “A warrior!”  Mocked the master, “what kind of king would have you for a guard?”  Look at you, you look like a beggar!”  The warrior became very angry and made to draw his sword.  “So, you have a sword do you”?  The master continued to mock.  “That sword is probably so blunt it wouldn’t even be able to sever my head from my body”.  The warrior flew into a rage, drew his sword and raised it above his head.  “Now enter the gates of Hell”, said the master.  The warrior, realising what was happening returned his sword to its scabbard and bowed his head in humble apology.  “Now enter the gates of Heaven”, said the master.

This informs us that Heaven and Hell are not places that we go to; they are states of mind that we create for ourselves.  It also illustrates how Zen is about direct experience and not the expounding of philosophy.  The soldier came to the master with a very relevant question, but rather than become the orator, the master allowed him to experience directly how he could create his own Heaven or Hell.  When the soldier understood what was going on he dropped his ego, thus closing the “gates of Hell”, which were opening up before him; in doing so he unlocked the “gates of Heaven”.