Sunday, April 29, 2012

Not Zen 3: Stoic Ending

When the Emperor Justinian shut down pagan temples, libraries, and schools of philosophy, he included in his orders the closing of the Stoic houses where masters taught logic, reason, and harmony with nature.

Marcus, great-grandson of the philosopher Epictetus, went to the emperor's court to plead his case. Before the magistrates, he explained that Stoic virtue consisted of a spirit aligned with the cosmos.

"We are free from envy and anger," said Marcus. "We accept even slaves as our equals, for all people are divine. To us, the souls of humans and animals are part of the living being of the universe. Stoics see that all things cooperate with all other things that exist. Can we not continue to teach such logic and harmony throughout the Roman Empire?"

He applied his reasoning skills to demonstrate how Stoics helped the empire and the lands beyond. But the emperor's magistrates would not hear his case. Their guards escorted him away.

Outside the courthouse, Marcus met his fellow Stoics. They did not despair because they had virtue. Nevertheless, they discussed what actions they could take. Marcus advised no further protests.

"Only a house has been destroyed," he concluded. "And that is no great thing. It is the way of human nature both to destroy and to build. So let our hearts hold nothing too dear and there will be nothing to cause us pain when it is taken away. All material things pass. Only virtue remains."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Not Zen 2: Mercy

In a summer when the land was parched, a lioness had difficulty hunting enough game to feed her cub. She roamed far and wide, often with her child beside her. She caught small animals, mostly hares and foxes, but they were not enough. The two lions were always hungry and thirsty.

One morning she and her cub were returning from their watering hole when she came upon a lone hyena. It had left its pack in search of scarce game. Whether in hunger or for some other reason, it had laid down to weep. It would be an easy kill.

When it saw the lioness, the hyena did not run. It stopped sobbing. The predators stared at each other for a moment.

"Why should I not kill you?" said the lioness. "Is it because you have children to feed? I have children, too."

"My children are dead," said the hyena.

"And you cry for them?"

"I cry because the world is so beautiful even without my children in it. I want to give aid to everyone. I want to help the pack but also the antelope, the elephant, and the fox. Everyone. I love you and your cub, too. If you really want to kill me, I won't resist. My body will hurt but I will still love you and your cub. After all, I loved my children too."

The lioness nodded and continued on her way. Her cub hesitated.

"Mother, are you letting her live?" asked the cub when it caught up. After a while, the cub continued, "Why did you let the hyena live?"

"The world needs more like that one," answered the lioness.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Not Zen 1: Precious Expectations

A group of fishermen cast their widest net into the deeps of the river. It had been a poor fishing season all summer, so when they began to pull up the net, they got excited. From the weight and tug of the strands, they could tell they had made their finest catch.

However, when they began to haul the catch on board, they were disappointed to find that most of the weight was due to loose rocks. A recent flood had changed the river bottom so their cast had gone too deep.

In their disappointment the crew began to heave the debris overboard. Men began to kick and curse at everything they saw. The captain scrambled down from his perch to make sure they didn't throw out hooks or ropes or other needed equipment by mistake.

As he knelt to help with the stones, he lifted one and found that it was a mud-covered silver vase. It had been dented by rocks but it was still recognizable.

"Stop! Stop!" he shouted. He raised the silver vessel high. "Are you blind? Stop!"

The men did not listen. The captain saw his crew toss away pieces of fine copper and stoneware, former tools and luxury items that must have come from a wrecked ship now at the bottom of the river. The captain tackled the biggest man.

"Stop!" he shouted again. He shook the fisherman's hand, which held a mud-filled copper pot. "Look at what you're doing."

Finally, the men turned to their leader.

"You didn't get what you expected," he continued. "But don't let your disappointment make you throw away the fortune you hold in your hands."