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.
The Zen master, Hakuin, lived in a village next door to a family. The young, rather attractive girl of the house became pregnant, and her furious parents demanded to know who the father was. The girl said it was Hakuin. Her father went next door in a rage and confronted the master, saying, “you have made my daughter pregnant and you will be held accountable for your actions”. “Is that so?”, replied Hakuin. The master’s reputation in the village was in tatters, and when the child was born, the girl’s parents took it to him and said, “this is your doing, therefore you will have to be responsible for the child’s upbringing”. “Is that so?”, replied Hakuin.
Months passed and the master looked after the child with all the tender care of a loving parent. Eventually, wracked with guilt, the girl confessed that the real father of the child was the young man who worked in the village grocery store. The horrified and embarrassed parents went back to the master and apologised profusely for what had happened. “Is that so?”, said Hakuin as he handed over the child.
This little story tells us two things; firstly that reputation is of the ego, it represents the views and opinions that others hold about us. We can choose to believe those views, but if we do, we run the risk of developing a mind-set about ourselves that is not true and not representative of the light that we really are. It also illustrates the importance of accepting “what is”. In life we have a tendency to try to filter out anything that comes along that the mind tells us is not agreeable. But Zen is about the acceptance of what is, in the knowledge that the world is constantly in motion, that “this too will pass” and “what we resist will persist”. Hakuin was a Zen master; a realised soul, and he was completely unmoved by the whole sorry business. He transcended the ego, therefore he was fully functioning in the world without being a part of the world; he remained “the eternal witness” as the drama played itself out.
What’s the difference between a lunatic playing the piano and a concert pianist playing the piano? After all, they are both playing the same notes. The difference is the same as between Zen and organised religion. Like the concert pianist, the Zen person is in flow; everything is in order; there is acceptance of “what is”. When a madman plays the piano, the notes may be the same, but they are bashed out at random; he is just playing fragments. This is the same with organised religion; it is a fragmented series of stories that are someone else’s experience. These stories have been packaged and pedaled to the masses in the hope that the masses will believe blindly.
To practise organised religion, you need the three Ds; doctrine, dogma and deity. All are creations of the mind and are therefore of the ego. The only purpose they serve is to keep the individual in ignorance. The religious person is constantly seeking the unseekable; something that is in the future, whereas the Zen person knows there is nothing to seek. The Zen person knows that spiritual awakening is the understanding that you are already awake.
Listen to the music of silence, it will tell you everything you need to know.