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.

 

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. ”  The warrior flew into a rage, drew his sword and raised it above his head.  “Behold!  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.  “Behold!  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”.