Emptiness

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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


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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.

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.

Zen For Cockneys


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.