Overflowing


A university lecturer arranged to visit a master, in order that he could get an insight into Zen.  He arrived at the master’s house and was graciously invited to enter the modest abode.  He immediately started to talk about Zen; barely pausing for breath.  The master remained silent, but gestured for the man to take tea with him.  They sat down and the master started to pour tea into the lecturer’s cup.  He poured and he poured some more until the cup was overflowing.  “Stop, stop; the cup is overflowing”, exclaimed the flustered lecturer.  “Yes it is”, replied the master, “as are you; overflowing with words.  You came here to ask me about Zen, but you haven’t stopped talking since you arrived.  How do you expect me to tell you about Zen if you do not stop talking?”

This is quite a thing for many people; too many words, too much lecturing, too much philosophising and not enough listening.  A Zen master will not teach you anything; in fact, he/she will probably tell you that there is nothing to be taught.  The job of the master is not to teach, but to give you the key to the door of your own unlearning.  The unlearning of all the bad habits brought about by years of conditioning and listening to YOUR truth as told to you by others.  The master will tell you that the only voice to be listened to is your own inner voice, and that the only master you have is you; your very soul.

A philosopher is someone who wants to be a master, but cannot see that it is his constant penchant for philosophising that prevents his mastery.  The mind is constantly overflowing (just like the cup) with chatter (philosophy) that has to be expounded.  Hence, an overflowing mind cannot be a master-mind.

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Enter Zen From There


A Zen master was undertaking a journey along with one of his disciples.  They walked for several hours before stopping for lunch and a rest.  They sat in silence under a tree as they ate their simple meal of rice and vegetables.  When they had finished eating the disciple said to the master, “can you tell me how I can find Zen?”  “I want to learn so that I can be like you.”  The master replied, “can you hear that?”  “Can you hear the sound of the water from the stream running down the mountain?”  The disciple could hear nothing, but he continued to listen until eventually he could just about make out the faintest sound of running water in the distance.

“Yes, yes, I can hear it master”, said the disciple.  “Enter Zen from there”, replied the master.

They sat in silence for a while as the disciple focused his attention on the sound of the mountain stream.  Eventually, he experienced a state of bliss, which remained with him as they resumed their journey.  After walking for several miles, the blissful state wore off and the disciple was back to his normal unrealised self. They carried on walking in silence until, out of curiosity, the disciple asked, “master, what would you have said if I’d been unable to hear the sound of the stream?”  “Enter Zen from there”, replied the master.

We can only awaken where we are, with the surroundings we have, in the present moment.  We can go on pilgrimages, we can undertake all kinds of spiritual practise and we can read spiritual texts.  But all of these are only relevant when we do not have the understanding to see beyond them.  Ultimately, they are all only stepping-stones along the pathless path that leads nowhere.

Nowhere = Now Here – Sri Sathya Sai Baba

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 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.

This Too Will Pass


I’m off on my travels again in a few days.  As I’ve got a bit of time on my hands before I go, I thought I would try to rattle off a couple more blog posts keeping with the Zen parable trend of late.  This is another one destined to grace my up coming book…

There was once a king who lacked confidence and was constantly worried that an army would one day come and take his kingdom.  He heard that there was a great Zen master in the region and he sent one of his servants to go and bring him to the palace. Sure enough, the master did as the king requested and he accompanied the servant to the palace.  The king said, “I have heard that you are a great Zen master and I want you to make me as wise as you”.  The master said, “that is impossible your majesty, I can’t do that.  However, I would like to help you but it means that I have to return tomorrow”.

The master was true to his word and he duly returned the next day.  He produced a small wooden box from his robe and on giving it to the king said, “what is contained in this box is so important that you must never open it unless you find yourself in dire circumstances with all hope lost”.  The king thought it rather strange, but nonetheless he thanked the master, who went on his way.

Time passed and the king’s greatest fears were realised.  A rival army did indeed attack and take his kingdom, and the king had to flee for his life.  He took to the forest and ran for all he was worth.  As he ran he could hear the sound of the chasing soldiers on their horses.  As the horses gained ground on him he could hear the sound getting steadily louder.  He kept on running, but suddenly; to the king’s horror, he was faced with a ravine, which was as deep as it was wide.  He had nowhere to run, and as he contemplated his fate, he suddenly remembered the small wooden box that the master had given him.  He took it out of his pocket and opened it.  Inside, underneath the lid, was an inscription of four words, which the king read to himself, “this too will pass”.  He stared at the inscription, and trying to understand what it meant, repeated the words in his mind, “this too will pass, this too will pass”.

The king suddenly realised that he had been so engrossed in contemplating the inscription, he hadn’t noticed that the sound of the galloping horses was fading into the distance.  He couldn’t believe it; the chasing soldiers must have taken a wrong fork in the road and were now long gone.  The king lay low for a few days and then traced his tracks back and found an alternative route.  He travelled for many weeks, foraging for food on the way, until he came to a village.  Nobody knew him as a king and the villagers were friendly, inviting him to stay.  He settled down, and as time went by he eventually married and had a couple of children.  He was extremely happy and contented.

One day, after some years had passed, the former king was sorting through some of his belongings.  He came across a small wooden box that looked vaguely familiar.  Out of curiosity he opened it, and underneath the lid he saw the inscription, “this too will pass”.

This parable is a reminder of the impermanent nature of the world.  The only thing that never changes is change itself.  We live in a world that is in a constant state of flux; that is forever moving in cycles.  It is a reminder that we ourselves are not these forms that we call bodies, but rather the substratum on which “the dance of life” is played out.  The parable is not telling us that we should not enjoy the dance, but simply reminding us that we shouldn’t get too attached to the things that we perceive to be “nice”.  What rises up must surely one day dissolve away.  Enjoy the adventure, whilst at the same time understanding that life is like a river constantly flowing towards the ocean and that, “this too will pass”.