Zen For Cockneys

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This post will comprise the first chapter of my upcoming book.  I still haven’t decided on a definite title yet, but it looks very likely to be “The Road To Nowhere“, with the sub-title “Paradise for the ungodly“.  I originally wanted to call the book “Zen For Cockneys“, the reason being that I wanted to aim it at ordinary down-to-earth people (like me), and cockneys* are generally regarded to be real “salt-of-the-earth” people.  I changed my mind in the end because I felt that potential readers might take the title literally and think it wasn’t for them if they were not cockney.  However, I have kept with the idea of a pocket-sized book that can be conveniently carried around; it’s something I’ve been thinking about for several years.

I have taken 20 parables that are mainly Zen in nature, but a few have their origins in Tao and Buddhism, and I have written them in my own words and interpreted them in accordance with my own understanding and influences.  I’m sure there will be many armchair philosophers out there thinking, “who does he think he is?”  “What a massive ego!”  But wait…

In line with my “salt-of-the-earth” theme, ordinary folk like me don’t want to be blinded by philosophical ramblings.  So, I came up with the idea of a small pocket-sized book of Zen-based parables written in a reader-friendly manner.  I may not be a fully realised soul, but I have experienced several tangible awakenings; a sort of step by step awakening over a number of years.  In other words, Zen has “happened” to me (which it does) so I feel able to unleash this book into the world in the knowledge that it comes from the heart.

Zen is not a belief system like other religions; Zen literally finds you, you are not required to believe anything.  Now, I’m not one for stealing other people’s words, but I can’t think of any better description of what it means to be a Zen person than the one used on many, many occasions by Osho.  He used to say you “drop” everything.  But to elaborate on that, it is not dropping as in something that you do as a conscious action.  It is the automatic dropping of things that no longer serve you; it happens, Zen finds you and it happens.  You suddenly find that things, which have always been a big part of your life, no longer have any use or meaning; they no longer serve you so you just automatically drop them without even giving it much thought.  This is the true meaning of renouncing and repenting.  It is not a forced thing, as in Western religion, that you do out of fear.  This is why so many Christians struggle; because they give up (renounce) things that they are not spiritually evolved enough to abstain from.  They indulge; then guilt takes hold and they feel that they have to repent their sins.  Nonsense!

Back in the 1980s I had a brief flirtation with the Financial Services Industry, and my old branch manager used to say that if you wanted financial advice, the last place you should go is to a bank.  Because they don’t want to give you sound financial advice, they only want to sell you their products.  The same can be said if you want spiritual guidance; the last place you should go is to the clergy/church.  They are only going to perpetuate the delusion; they are not going to tell you the truth, that you are powerful beyond your imagination.  They want to spin you a yarn; think about it… First the church tells you that you are a sinner.  Then its preachers tell you that if you blindly believe in their imaginary friend, you will be saved and attain eternal paradise in the future.  Now, read that last sentence again…

It’s going to happen in the future, not now.  “Now” is all we have, whereas “future” is nothing more than a series of thoughts in the mind.  When the future arrives it is not the future, it is NOW; this is why I referred to an imaginary friend, because the Christ that is pedalled by the church is a completely different Christ to the one who walked the earth.  The real Christ would have nothing to do with the church if he was here in flesh today (except maybe to tell it a few home truths). It is also no coincidence that the clergy refer to their churchgoers as a “flock”, because you literally have to be a sheep, follow the crowd, be everything that Christ wasn’t, be an Anti-Christ.  The real Christ was an agitator, an activist; he went against convention.  Hence, feathers were ruffled.  He did not advocate a God or deity that exists as an all-powerful entity, separate from the rest of creation; a God who was judgemental and angry.  His message was very Zen, it was all-embracing.  He spoke of our true nature of infinite consciousness, that “Ye are all Gods”, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you”, not somewhere where we might be lucky enough to go to in the future if we are good.

To the church of the time he was a very dangerous man, and the establishment of today continue to use him and his name as the central character in a story that contains little, if any truth.  But organised religion is very clever (and I can only really speak for the UK here).  It is one of the richest, if not the most rich, organisation in the UK, but if there is a hole in the church roof they get YOU to pay for its repair!  You have to admit, it’s absolute bloody genius!

All the great souls who have ever graced the earth all carried the same message; YOU are Divine NOW; not in the future and not by blindly following religious dogma and doctrine.  The Buddha, Lao Tzu, Jesus etc; they all bucked the trend and all ruffled feathers.  If you take Jesus as a prime example and the church’s line that, “the messiah is coming”, what if he did come?  That would put the church into a bit of a predicament in that they wouldn’t be able to pedal the story of a future messiah.  In all likelihood he would be accused of blasphemy!

It goes without saying that there are many good Christians in the world, but it does not alter the fact that the story is simply not true, and that the church is nothing more than a tool used by the establishment to control people.  The paradox here is that it is only the ungodly that experience paradise (heaven), because until we drop all attachments to Gods, gurus and messiahs we will remain on the treadmill of birth and rebirth.

As you read the parables, you will gain a deeper understanding of Zen.  You will probably find that some of them overlap and that some messages are repeated, but this should not detract from what I hope will be an enjoyable reading experience for you.

Remember, you are unique, you were meant to shine, so don’t be a sheep.  Better to be one of the great unwashed than one of the great brainwashed.  Flourish sweet soul!

*Cockney – A Londoner specifically born within earshot of Bow Bells, the bells of St Mary-le-Bow in the Cheapside district of the City of London.

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The Other Side


My plan for my next book was to put 20 mainly Zen-based parables together as a sort of “pocket companion”.  I set about putting my document together and realised that I’d miscounted; I’d only written 19.  So, here is number 20!

A monk was taking the long journey home to visit his family and inadvertently took a wrong path.  He came to the point where he faced a wide river that was fast-flowing.  He looked up and down and could see no way across.  He puzzled over his predicament for several hours.  As he was about to give up and turn back, he saw an old mendicant passing by on the opposite bank.  He cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted across, “Sir, Sir, can you tell me how to get to the other side?”  The old man stopped and looked across.  He paused for a moment and then shouted back, “my child, you are already on the other side”.

How apt to end my project with another little reminder that we are already where we need to be.  The journey itself is the destination.  Consciousness is eternal and constantly evolving, so even when we make a plan, set a goal or take a journey, it is only one of an infinite number of experiences that we encounter in our own individual evolution.  The torrentially flowing river is the mind (ego) that puts imaginary obstacles in our way.  When the veil of delusion is removed there is the realisation that there is only the One timeless Self; there never was an ego, but the false belief that there was (“I am the body” identification) enabled us to take a journey within time and space that was ultimately the means by which we realised the truth of our being.

In the end we will all come to know that the path was actually pathless, that the road travelled was a road to nowhere, to the eternal bliss of nothingness that we all are.

Impermanence


My previous post, “Without Blinking An Eye”, was the last of the parable-related posts for my forthcoming book.  I’m now going to completely digress; I say that because I’m going to share with you a true experience that I had recently, which is related to my day job.  It is extremely rare for me to write about my day job because I work for an organisation, and my views on certain matters are worlds away from the views of the aforementioned organisation.  There is also a requirement for me to maintain a very, very high level of confidentiality, as I’m sure you will understand in due course.

I actually have two jobs with the same organisation.  I have my contracted weekly hours and I also have my “bank” hours, which means that I work on an ad-hoc basis as and when required.  When I’m working bank, it involves me going out into the community with another more experienced professional.  We provide personal care to people who are terminally sick and who have chosen to die at home.  Quite recently I was doing a bank shift and was required to visit a house that is situated in a very affluent part of the UK.  The area attracts the rich and famous and my colleague and I had to visit a property that was tucked away from the rest of what is a quite stunningly beautiful village.  We had to drive around a mile and a half down a track before we came to the old farmhouse.  I will try my best to describe the scene for you.

My colleague told me that there was also some tennis courts, although I’m assuming that they were obscured by the trees as I didn’t see them.  However… when we arrived it was apparent that it had once been a working farm; this was evidenced by the piece of farm machinery that was situated just across the way from the main house.  We entered and found it to be a bit of a maze of stairways and landings.  We were greeted by the live-in carer, who had quite a strong South African accent, and were shown up the stairs, through the maze and into a bedroom.  What I found incredible was all the paintings adorning the walls; they were everywhere and obviously very, very old.  I don’t know who the paintings were of, but they were all of people who were dressed in what I would call Shakespearean-type clothes.  There was also quite a prominence of antique furniture.

The views from the bedroom were incredible and I imagined the beauty of the seasons in all their glory, tantalizing the windows with their magnificence.  As we walked into the room, on the left, there was a mahogany four-poster bed that had obviously been intricately carved by hand and was very old.  There was also various other pieces of old furniture; the four-poster bed, however, was empty.  On the same side of the room as the door, and in juxtaposition to the rest of the room, there had at some stage been a flurry of 1970s-type carpentry, and the entire wall had been converted into a series of built-in cupboards (presumably used as wardrobes); it really did look out of place alongside everything else.  There was also a spattering of old black and white photos from days long gone dotted around the place.  Moments in time captured by the camera lens, showing young, happy and affluent people in all their Englishness.  In spite of the views and the antique furniture the bedroom was very gloomy and had a most unwelcoming feel to it.

Across from the foot of the four-poster was a hospital bed, which had been provided in readiness of its occupant’s pending death.  The hospital bed is the most amazing piece of equipment.  It can be moved, raised and lowered, this way and that, ensuring maximum patient comfort and easy access for healthcare professionals.

In the bed was the tiny, frail figure of an elderly lady who had no more than hours left for this world.  My colleague and I did what we could from a care perspective, endeavouring to be as least disruptive as possible.  It was quite a surreal experience for me.  I was “the witness” to a scene in the play of life, that was being acted out on the stage before me.  It was as though the totality was shouting at me, although not in an aggressive way, but in a way that was saying to me, “now make sure you understand what is being shown to you here.”  It brought home to me the sheer impermanence of this life, this world and all the nonsense that goes with it.  There must have been a truly eye-watering amount of money tied up in that property.  The paintings and the frames alone must have been worth millions of pounds.  It was quite unbelievable really; as I looked down at the almost pathetic figure that lay in the bed, so very weak and barely clinging to life, I thought to myself that the paintings, the antique furniture, the house and the land were completely worthless in the grander scheme of things.  All of those things had once instigated a brief encounter with worldly happiness for the owners.  But worldly happiness, like all other worldly things is subject to relativity and cannot last.

What use was an antique four-poster and 300-400 year-old paintings to the elderly occupant of the bed?  It is important to understand that it is not wrong to enjoy nice “things”.  We do, after all, live in a material world.  It is important however, to realise that these things are all a part of the river that is life; just flowing nonchalantly by, and soon to be nothing more than a distant memory.  Do enjoy nice things when they come your way, but in the understanding that what really matters is not the “nice things” themselves, but the substratum from which they rise up from and ultimately dissolve away into.

 

Without Blinking An Eye


A long, long time ago in Japan, it was quite normal for marauding armies to ransack villages, with the villagers having to flee or be killed.  In one such village an old Zen master sat peacefully in his very humble abode as chaos reigned outside.  All of a sudden, a fearsome soldier kicked the master’s door open and stood menacingly in the doorway; the master was unmoved.  The soldier sneered and said, “what are you still doing here, are you not afraid?  All of the villagers are either dead or have fled, yet you remain here.”  The master replied, “what have I to fear, and besides, where would I go?”  The soldier became angry, and drawing his sword raged, “don’t you know that I am a man who can run you through without blinking an eye?”  The old master looked at him and said, “don’t YOU know that I am a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?”

With a body or without a body; it is all the same to one who has realised.  Live or die; the master knows there is no death and therefore remains unmoved.  There is also the paradox here between the polar opposites of “doing” and “being”.  The soldier wants to “do” (kill) the master, but that in itself is a fruitless task, as the most he can achieve is to be the cause of the master’s body evolving (effect) into a different form.  You cannot kill anything in reality as all is consciousness and is in a constant state of flux.  What would happen to the body?  If buried it would eventually decompose and merge with the earth.  If cremated, the cremation process would cause the flesh to evolve into heat energy and be absorbed back into the total energy mass.

The master remained in a state of pure knowing, enlightenment, awakening, bliss or whatever description you wish to use; all are just terms for “Being”.  The master remains blissful regardless of which action the soldier chooses to take.  He says, “besides, where would I go?”  Indeed, where would the master go?  There is only here and now; it is all we have.

 

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.