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.

 

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 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.

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”.

The Flag


Two friends were watching on as a flag flapped around in the wind.  “It’s the flag that’s moving”, said one of them.  “No, it’s the wind that’s moving”, said the other.  They could not decide amongst themselves who was right, so they decided to consult a Zen master who lived in their region.  They went to the master and explained the story, saying, “please tell us, is it the flag or the wind that moves”?  “It is neither the wind nor the flag that moves”, said the master, “it is the mind.”

Ramana Maharshi refers to the mind (ego) as a “phantom” that rises up from the Self during waking state, and disappears back into the Self during deep, dreamless sleep.  It is also that which is completely obliterated on the attainment of Self-realisation.  In consciousness (Self) there is no form; just pure being.  All objectification is a product of mind, and all movement takes place in mind, which is a projection of the Self.  Consciousness is constantly in motion, therefore objects rise up and fall away again.  Like the millions of waves that take form and then become immersed once again in the oceans.  When you gaze upon the beauty of a landscape, all you are actually looking at is consciousness (energy) existing at various levels of vibration.  It is the mind that  interprets and objectifies these vibrations, and projects the form perceived as landscape, which is seen by the eyes.

 

Putting The Cart Before The Horse


I am prompted to write this post by the current plight of a very dear friend of mine.  The truncated version of events is as follows.  I have known my friend for around seven years, and it seems that for approximately the last five of those, she has been incessantly and systematically bullied by her manager at work.  It also seems that a couple of other people have stuck the knives in as well; if you’ll pardon the expression.  The culmination of all this, is that roughly two months ago she phoned me on a Saturday evening in a bit of a state, and asked if she could come round.  She arrived at around 7.45pm and did not leave until 3.45am.  Seven hours of being absolutely in bits, pouring her heart out and telling me that it has got to the stage where she no longer wants to wake up in the morning.  Finally, a couple of weeks back she resigned; having managed to find a suitable similar position with another employer.  The situation has not been helped by her being in an abusive relationship with a man who also works for the same company, and who has seemingly (to an extent) been in cahoots with her tormentors.  She managed to end the relationship around the same time she came to my house and poured her heart out; but she has since gone back to him.  Phew!!!

So, what has all this got to do with carts and horses?

Nothing really, but I thought it would make a great analogy.  If we think of the horse as the Self and the cart as a self-created burden (ego), it illustrates aptly how we as a species cause ourselves so much pain and suffering, simply by the fact that we have forgotten who we are.  I can relate so much to my friend’s story because it is very similar to my own.  As you can probably guess, I have tried my best to offer guidance, but my friend’s tunnel vision and “tumble dryer” mind are adamant they are not going to listen.

We blame external circumstances and other people (the cart), for the way we feel emotionally (the horse).  However, the reality is that our external circumstances are a mirror of what’s going on inside us, and all too often we project our past experiences onto the present moment; thus creating our pain and misery.  We forget that no other person is responsible for the way we feel.  This is something I learned the hard way; which brings me onto forgiveness.

It will help us greatly if we can look at forgiveness from a different angle than we are used to.  We tend to think that being forgiving means that we accept other people’s seemingly unfair behaviour towards us, or that we have to be tolerant of selfish or unreasonable behaviour.  But forgiveness is the understanding that no one but our self is responsible for the way we feel.  When something arises, we form a judgement based on past experience and project it onto the present moment.  This produces an emotion, which we then “out-picture” as our reality, whilst at the same time remaining oblivious that we are creating this reality.

This concept is extremely difficult to grasp when you are experiencing the pain that my friend is currently experiencing.  But the universe works in a very precise manner, and as I found out, once I accepted that I held the key, things started to change.

The horse gets by very well on its own; it doesn’t need the cart.  But as long as we believe that things outside us are responsible for the way we feel inside, then the cart of ego will continue to torment us.

My dear friend, my heart goes out to you…

PS  I’m now off to the Scottish Highlands, so I’ve posted a couple of pics here for your enjoyment.  I hope to have some more for you on my return.

 

Torn Between Two Lovers – Slight Return


It’s now almost a week since I returned from my trip, but it might as well be a million years ago, because it all seems nothing more than a distant memory. It was a strange sort of trip really, but it prompted me to revisit a subject that I wrote about back in January 2016. The original article, Torn Between Two Lovers, can be accessed by clicking on the link below.

https://richardfholmes.org/2016/01/04/torn-between-two-lovers/

I don’t want to simply repeat the content of the original article here, so I will just briefly summarise. The spiritual concept of being “torn between two lovers”, is when the individual has started to awaken and let go of old and stale mind-sets and habits, that have held them back and only caused hurt and pain in the past. But as they awaken to their true nature they find that they are shedding loads of the past, but the new stuff is taking its time manifesting. So, the ego rears its head and thoughts arise in the mind that cause the individual to start looking over the shoulder and hanker after the things that have been, and are being shed. Like an old lover that just won’t go away, the old habits start to look tempting. You are in a kind of no-man’s land and the ego tries to fool you into believing that the things that only ever brought you sorrow will now somehow bring you joy if you go after them again. Of course, this isn’t true; as I found…

While I was away I indulged in old habits, and whilst I did get a modicum of enjoyment out of it, it quickly became apparent that these habits no longer served me and that I was deluded if I thought otherwise. However, in typical Holmsey fashion I had to keep indulging to the point where I felt ugly and bloated. I told myself that as I was away on a trip it didn’t matter and that I would have plenty of time to revert back on my return home. I know that most people do this kind of thing when they go away on holiday, but in my case I knew that at a deeper level I was still torn between two lovers.

Here’s a few pics of Bruges for your enjoyment!