Emptiness

Featured


Photo by NASA on Unsplash

A master was addressing a group of young monks.  He asked, “can any one of you demonstrate to the group how emptiness can be grasped from the air?”  A single monk raised his hand.  “OK”, said the master, “come out here and show us how to grasp emptiness.”  The monk made a grabbing action in the air and then stood with his fist clenched.  “Have you grasped emptiness”, said the master.  “Yes”, replied the monk.  “Show us then”, said the master, and the young monk opened his fist and stood with his palm facing upwards.  “Where is it?”  The master asked, “I can’t see it; can anyone else see it?”.  The master looked at the monk and asked, “emptiness doesn’t appear to be there, no one here can see it, would you like me to show you how it’s done?”

The young monk, looking rather embarrassed, replied, “yes master.”  There followed uproarious laughter in the hall as the master grabbed hold of the young monk’s nose and gave it a very hard yank.  “You may sit down now”, he said!

This rather amusing Zen parable covers a range of spiritual topics that I’ve written about quite often in the past.  But, I wanted to share it with my readers, not only because of the humour, but because it is so typically Zen in its subtlety and depth of meaning.

Firstly, the young monk should have known better, and realised that the master had something up his sleeve.  But, ego got the better of him and he wanted to demonstrate to all present that he could indeed grasp emptiness from the air, and hopefully impress the master in the process.  Then we have the humiliation, which is nothing more than the master giving the monk the direct experience of his ego.  Finally, there is the reminder that all is emptiness (consciousness); that all form is an appearance within consciousness; that our true nature is not that of the bodily form, but the vast emptiness of consciousness.

 

Maybe…


There was once a simple farmer who kept a horse in his field.  One day the horse got loose and ran away.  A neighbour heard this news, and on crossing paths with the farmer said, “such bad news about your horse.”  “Maybe”, said the farmer.  A few days passed and the horse returned, bringing with it two more wild horses.  Again the neighbour heard this news and on meeting the farmer in town said, “fantastic news about the horses.”  “Maybe”, said the farmer.

One day a few weeks later, the farmer’s son was breaking in one of the new horses and it threw him, fracturing his leg in the process.  The neighbour came to visit and on hearing what had happened said, “such bad luck with your son’s broken leg.”  “Maybe”, said the farmer.  Soon after this incident some officials from the military came calling.  They were drafting young men into the army to go and fight in a war.  On seeing the son’s condition they didn’t bother with him and went away.  Again the neighbour heard and on seeing the farmer exclaimed, “such great luck that your son does not have to go to war.”  “Maybe”, said the farmer.

This lovely little parable aptly illustrates several things that can be the cause of pain and suffering if we remain unaware of our true nature (consciousness).  The farmer was obviously accepting of “what is.”  He also understood that good and bad are simply personal judgements, and that the nature of the phenomenal world is cyclic.

He did not judge each situation as it occurred.  He simply accepted each scenario in the understanding that the natural flow of nature would soon carry it on its way.  Had he not accepted the seemingly unfortunate events exactly as they were, and instead formed a judgement that they were “bad”, the story playing out in his mind would have caused him to suffer.  Equally, had he allowed the seemingly good fortune of events to carry him off on the crest of a wave, the judgement made by the egoic mind when the fortunes were reversed would have also caused him to suffer.  In consciousness there is no relativity, no phenomena, nothing to judge.  Instead of becoming embroiled, the farmer remained “the witness” to the dramas playing out before him on the stage we call life.

 

 

May Your Dreams Not Come True


A rather brash young student heard that there was a very wise Zen master in the region and went to seek him out.  He located the master in a mountain temple and turned up there one day asking for council.  The young man was shown into the garden by one of the monks, where the master sat in peaceful contemplation.  “I am very ambitious and I want you to tell me how I can fulfil my dreams of a successful life”, said the young man.  Without looking at him, the master replied, “may your dreams not come true.”  The young man became angry, “what do you mean, what kind of answer is that?  I came here asking for your guidance, and that is all you can say to me; it seems that you are just an old fool.”  Still angry, the young man turned and left.

Years passed and the brash young student became a brilliant architect; well respected in his field.  He’d never forgotten his visit to the temple and what the master had said to him; in fact, it had played on his mind all through his studies and working life.  It got to the point where he couldn’t stand it anymore and he decided to take a trip back to the region, seek out the master, and tell him exactly what he thought of him.  He made the journey to the temple and demanded to see the master, who by now was quite old.  He was shown once again into the garden where the master sat in peaceful contemplation.  The man launched into his speech, “I came to see you many years ago to ask your guidance on my future, but you said, “may your dreams not come true.”  I went away and studied and now I am a successful and well respected architect.  Had I listened to you I would have achieved nothing, what do you think of that?”

The master looked at the man, smiled and said, “yes, I remember you.  So, you are now an architect are you?  Successful and well respected you say?  It seems that the only thing you are the architect of is your own bitterness.”  In that moment, the man suddenly realised what the master had meant all those years ago, and bowing his head in gracious humility, he apologised for his rudeness and left.

This story, at first glance, doesn’t appear to make any sense; why would anyone not follow their dreams?  Did the man not become very successful in his chosen profession?  However, the beauty of such stories is that they are very profound, and the reader has to dig much deeper in order to find the truth contained within them.  When we focus on outer goals, while at the same time neglecting the inner, we are only strengthening the ego.  The man in the story illustrates this by having held on to his bitterness for so many years.  The soul, however, contains unlimited possibilities, so by focusing our attention on one worldly goal we are blocking those possibilities.

When we focus on the inner, we are allowing life to open up to us in countless ways.  Had the man in the story not been so headstrong, he could have been a successful and well respected architect whilst at the same time enjoying all the unlimited opportunities that life offered.  Instead, his success (which was only relative) came at a price; the bitterness that poisoned his soul, until the penny finally dropped and he understood the master’s teaching.

The Lantern


Photo by Terry Jung on Unsplash

In ancient Japan it was quite common for people to walk with lanterns at night.  They were made out of paper and bamboo, and held a candle.  An old blind man had been to the temple, and as he was leaving to go home, a monk offered him a lantern.  “I don’t need a lantern”, exclaimed the blind man.  “Darkness or light, it’s all the same to me.”  “But you need to carry a lantern so that others may see you”, said the monk, handing him the lantern.  The blind man seemed to have walked no distance at all before someone bumped into him.  “What are you doing”,  he said, “can’t you see the lantern?”  “My friend”, replied the stranger, “I’m very sorry for bumping into you, but your candle has gone out.”

This beautiful parable tells us that external lights are limited and temporary, and will ultimately burn out.  Our inner light, on the other hand, will always “light” the way for us. The light in question being “the light of consciousness”, which is our true nature.

There is an added teaching here that tells us that we can find ourselves in situations that would appear to be disadvantageous (like the blind man), however, it is possible that when we are in those situations, our purpose is to light the way for others.

The Man With The Stick


Many centuries ago there was a city where the inhabitants had amassed much wealth, all except for one man, who had always been deemed a bit odd by everyone else.  He was an old mystic who lived alone on the outskirts.  Early one morning there was an earthquake, and the city started to crumble.  The citizens were in a blind panic and in their desperation tried to rescue what they could from their wealth of possessions.  With their arms full of diamonds, gold, money, artefacts and treasures; all were running for their lives.  Amongst all the chaos and clouds of dust the old mystic ambled along with just his stick, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around him.

One disturbed citizen stopped and said to the old man, “what are you doing?  The city is crashing down around us and we are trying to rescue what we can of our wealth, but you are just walking with your stick, as if you are taking a morning stroll.”  The old mystic laughed and said, “the stick is my only possession.  You have all measured success by the impermanence of objects, I on the other hand have the greatest wealth of all; awareness, which I carry within me.  But you are right about the morning stroll, I always take a walk at this time of the morning.”

As the flustered man continued running the old man shouted, “you can’t have a painting without the canvas!”

Indeed, you cannot start a painting if you do not have something on which to paint.  In the same way that it is a complete and utter waste of time to base your life, values and ambitions etc. on objects; even if they are objects of wealth.  The important thing is to prime the canvas (inner world) before chasing objects in the outer world.  Without these foundations in place there is nothing to support us when our own personal world comes crashing down; which it invariably does from time to time.  The old mystic was a realised soul and remained completely unmoved by the chaos around him.

The nature of the egoic mind is such that it can never be satisfied.  So, whether you crave left-handed spanners or vast amounts of money, the ego’s thirst for these things will never be quenched.  Seek first the Secret Garden of the Soul; once you are centred within this awareness, worldly objects can then be enjoyed as they were meant to be enjoyed, without fruitless obsessions.

It’s Here!


Well people… after five proof copies, six different covers and four attempts to get it through the Amazon review process, Paradise For The Ungodly – the inner wilderness of silence is finally live.  It’s been a long old journey for such a small book, but worth it.

It will be an inspirational companion, fitting unobtrusively into a coat or jacket pocket, or a handbag, for those who choose to delve into the pages.

Watch this space for my next breathtaking adventure!

Click to buy in Amazon UK

Click to buy in Amazon US

 

Paradise For The Ungodly


I’m aware that I haven’t written what I would call a “proper” post for a few weeks now.  The lull has been because I’ve been concentrating on my latest writing project.  A surprising amount of water has flowed under the bridge since my last communication however, and I thought I would share with you what is happening.  I’ve made quite a lot of technical changes to the manuscript; plus I’ve corrected the few errors that were found.  I’ve just ordered my 5th proof copy, and since the first incarnation of my book I have changed some of the fonts, increased the font size, changed the cover half a dozen times, and… changed the title and sub-title.  Yes, I have; I can’t believe I’ve done that, but I have.

Originally, the book was to be called, “The Road To Nowhere“, with the sub-title, “paradise for the ungodly.”  Now it is called, “Paradise For The Ungodly”, with the sub-title, “the inner wilderness of silence”.  I’m expecting the proof to arrive by the end of the week, so if all goes to plan, I will still be publishing before the end of August.  The pics are of the image that I’ve decided to use for the final cover, and one of the rough covers I experimented with.  Chat soon lovely people, bye for now!