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.

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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”.

Is That So?


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.

 

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.

 

The Windy Day


Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

A group of monks were walking through the forest with their master on a windy, Autumn day.  Fallen leaves were strewn all over the ground, and leaves falling in the moment performed a frenzied mid-air dance as the gusting currents stamped their assertiveness. All in all, it was a real hive of activity as Mother Nature’s breath breathed life into the natural surroundings of the forest.

There came a point where one particular monk found himself to be the only one walking near to the master; one group bringing up the rear and another group walking at a brisk pace in front.  The monk was desperate to ask the master a question, and wishing to take advantage of the opportunity said, “master I have been meaning to ask you something, have you revealed everything or are you still hiding something from us?”

The master replied, “look at my hand, it is wide open like this forest.  People who hide things are like fists”, and he reached down and picked up a handful of leaves.  Standing there with the leaves clenched in his fist he said, “see, now you can’t see the leaves, they are hidden”.  As he opened his hand, letting the leaves flutter away, he said, “I have revealed everything, if you think that something is still hidden, it is because of you, not me.”

This parable explains how we always try to project our own insecurities and issues onto other people.  It is another example of how our conditioning in early life causes us to develop traits and mindsets that become ingrained.in our psyche.  These traits are fear-based and have their roots in our inability to love ourselves.  The monk was insecure; he didn’t trust, so he tried to put the ball in the master’s court.

The truth, like the master’s open hand, is always there in nature; almost slapping us around the face; willing us to open our eyes.  But, it is like Edison and his lightbulb, it took him over a thousand attempts to eventually create his wonderful invention.  People laughed at him, but in the end he simply said that there were over a thousand steps in the process.  So it is with human beings; Mother Nature has to keep metaphorically bashing us on the head until the penny finally drops and we recognise the beauty of our own spirit, and shine our light into the world.

The Flooded Road


Photo by Wouter de Jong from Pexels

Two monks were on their way to a temple in a distant town.  They came to a road that was flooded quite badly, and as they were about to cross, one of the monks noticed a young girl who also wanted to get across.  Seeing that her clothing would have ended up saturated, he picked her up and carried her across.  The monks continued their long journey and walked for several hours in complete silence.  Eventually, the other monk could hold his silence no longer and said, “back there, that girl”  “You know that us monks are not even meant to look at females, but you carried her across the road”.  “Yes”, the other monk replied, “but I put her down hours ago.”  “You, on the other hand, appear to be still carrying her.”

This parable demonstrates the effect that old, stale mindsets and ideas can have on us.  One monk simply saw another human being that was in need of a little help and acted accordingly.  Whereas the other monk walked for hours in agitated silence, when he could have chosen instead to enjoy the journey.

This is the same as holding grudges; it does nothing but poison the spirit.  It is a human trait, to cling on grimly for dear life to old ideas that no longer serve us.  One monk is centred in the “now” and enjoys the peace and tranquillity of the journey.  The other monk has his “now” invaded by agitation, which is the result of fear.  The fear of going against something steeped in tradition.  The stupidity of it all is that it was not even his action that went against convention, but he took it upon himself to become agitated by the action of his companion.

Everything serves its purpose in its time, but the spirit is free and not meant to be tied by convention and tradition.  In observing what we believe to be old sacred traditions, we quite often only succeed in tightening the veil of ignorance that keeps us in bondage.  This also applies to views that we hold about ourselves and others, which are the result of years of conditioning.  It is the inability to let go of “that which no longer serves us” that is very often at the root of our pain and suffering.

The Mustard Seed


The disciples said to the master, “tell us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.”  He said to them, “it is like a mustard seed; smaller than all seeds, but when it falls on the tilled earth, it produces a large tree and becomes shelter for all the birds of Heaven.

This parable demonstrates a great paradox.  The tiny mustard seed contains the mustard tree, which can grow up to about 25′ high.  The shell of the seed represents the line between the unmanifest (consciousness) and the manifest (the world or universe).  If the seed falls onto a concrete path it will simply die away, but in the correct (tilled) ground it will develop and grow into a magnificent tree.  This aptly describes the human journey.  We all start off as seeds in the womb, and as we go through all the stages of life we seek the relevant tilled earth (guru, mentor, teacher etc.) in order that we may grow.

The mother is the first nurturer of the seed; the first bigger tree in which we take shelter.  At this stage the seed disappears and dies and is reborn as a sprouting plant.  Then there are various stages, where as the plant steadily grows, teachers come and go.  These teachers can be in the form of school teachers, peers, partners, friends and even enemies.  Then in the same way that the seed must die in order to know itself as the tree, we ourselves have to die (eradicate the ego) in order to be reborn in all our glory (realise the Self)

At some stage the growing plant might decide that it wants to delve deeper and gain greater meaning to its existence, and it will seek shelter in the form of a guru; a Buddha tree, a Jesus tree, a Lao Tzu tree or a Krishna tree.  The master, in the form of whichever tree the seeker has chosen to take shelter in, will then nurture the growing plant until it becomes a magnificent tree in its own right.

At this point the newly emerged magnificent tree realises that all along it was itself the very Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tzu or Krishna tree in which it sought shelter, that all the time the tiny mustard seed and the magnificent, fully grown tree were One and the same.

This is the great paradox that is the parable of the mustard seed.