Sunday, June 24, 2012

Not Zen 11: Focus

Two monkeys walked out of the forest.  They scrambled up the side of a cliff in search of insects, worms, and other food.  Halfway up the north face of the cliff, they noticed an overhang above.  As they squinted at it, they could make out part of a small kanju tree that had grown in a soil deposit on the rocky slope.

"We can't reach the tree," said the larger monkey.

His smaller friend shook his head.  He hadn't even imagined trying.

As they dug for worms in the patches of moss, a gust shook the high tree above.  An kanju fruit fell past them.  It landed near, bounced, rolled, and when it reach a spot fifty feet below them, fell over the sheerest part of the cliff.  It tumbled in the air for a hundred feet and burst open on the forest floor.

"That kanju mush could have been ours if we'd stayed in the forest," said the smaller monkey.

"But don't you see?" screamed the larger one.  "If the wind blows again, we can catch those kanjus!"

"The wind is rising," said the smaller monkey.  "I think we will get the chance."

"There will be a storm.  And when it shakes the tree, oh, the fruit I will catch!  I'll grab a kanju with each hand.  I'll grab one with my mouth!"

"I don't think I can do that," said the smaller one.  "Maybe I could catch one if it came my way."

"You pitiful fool!" screeched his companion.  "I will catch many fruits, not just one.  I will catch them with my tail, too.  I'll make a stack of them.  I'll get them all."

"Oh!  Here comes the wind!"

A storm cloud blew over the top of the cliff.  The entire north face of the mountain shuddered under the gale.  The tree above them shook.  A dozen ripe kanjus fell.

The older monkey screeched and flailed.  He scrambled for all that he could but, instead of catching one, he missed them all.  He even missed a kanju that hit him on the side of the head.  As a result, he lost his footing on the ledge.  He tumbled down the side of the cliff, rolling over and over until he caught himself just before he would have fallen through the air down to the forest floor.  If he had not stopped, he would have been split open like one of the kanju fruits.

"Are you okay?" asked the smaller monkey after a while.

"I missed," said his friend after he caught his breath.

"Not a single kanju?"

"Not a single one."

The larger monkey lay in silence for a while, bruised and defeated.  After a while, he noticed a crunching noise above.

"What are you eating up there?" he asked.

"My kanju," said the smaller monkey.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Not Zen 10: Senseless Death

Two days after a tragedy, the young man arrived at his temple.  His mother had been one of many people murdered in the marketplace.  The act had been committed, so far as anyone could tell, out of a misplaced sense of revenge.  Victims had not died because they had wronged the murderers but because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and were vulnerable.

The young man cried tears and raged for a while about the injustice of it.  Then he sat.

"You're a good man," he told the priest.  "But your parables say nothing about terrors or senseless death."

The priest knew that all of Zen, all of Stoicism, and all of the Way dealt with the senselessness of death and, in fact, of living, too.  No tragedy was ignored.  But he remained silent.

"My mother was killed by brutes.  And for what?  For nothing.  Because she looked like someone a killer didn't like.  Her last moments were suffering and fear.  That's what I dream about now.  Her last moments."

"You and I will die that way, too," said the priest.  "I don't mean in the marketplace.  But we will suffer in our bodies and maybe in our souls.  Don't fool yourself.  Even if we pass away in our sleep, our bodies will suffer.  We will feel agony."

"Is that what life is about, then?  Ending in agony?  Is there no hope?"

"Hope is a worldly thing.  It is not part of the way.  You know that."

"What do you have to offer, then?"  The young man began to cry again.

"Compassion.  Compassion is always part of the way."

"And compassion leads to hope?"

"It shouldn't."  He put his hand over the young man's trembling hand.  "It should lead to more compassion."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Not Zen 9: Determination

A young lion, driven out of the pride by his father, wandered far in search of game.  He found that the calves in the territory of a wealthy, ranching family were easy kills.  But when the ranch owner noticed his two youngest calves had gone missing, he walked the bounds of his land and located the young predator in the grassy hills.

He pointed at the beast and, since his oldest grandsons were with him, he ordered them to go out and slay it.

"Take my armor, spears and knives.  You are strong enough and fast enough."

But the grandsons feared the lion and the lion could sense their cowardice.

As the young men dressed for battle, the lion crept onto a rock overlooking them and said, "One of those spears looks like it's about to break.  I could bite it in two.  Which of you will get the good spear and which the bad, I wonder?"

The two young men, eager for an excuse to avoid danger, fell to petty arguing.  They never hunted for the lion that day.  When their grandfather found out, he was angry and blamed their father.

"It's your duty now, son.  You must gather your brother and your cousins and explain what has happened.  Ask them to bring their weapons, too.  Then do the job yourselves."

A day later, the middle aged men gathered.  Many of them were leaders of the village.  They were proud.  As they dressed to slay the young lion, the lion watched from the other side of the creek.

"That armor doesn't fit well, does it?" said the lion.  "It was meant for smaller men, I think.  It doesn't cover your necks.  Yes, I think I can get at your necks easily enough.  And are those shields wicker? Ho, ho.  You might as well use a fan.  I would enjoy a cool breeze as I run amongst you."

One of the men agreed that the armor did not fit him properly.  He announced that he was going back to his home to find better protection.  Soon, another man decided the same.  In a short time, the ranch owner's son was left alone.  He eyed the lion from across the stream and decided he didn't want to cross the water in his armor.

"Are you all imbeciles or cowards?" shouted the grandfather when his family told him the news.  "The beast is not even fully grown."

"I'm sorry, father," said the son, ashamed.

"I have to do everything myself."  The old rancher grabbed a spear from the wall and stomped out of his house.  Although he was white haired, he was still a strong fellow and he knew his lands well. From the lay of the grass, he could tell that the young lion had crept up the nearest hill overlooking the cattle herd.  The rancher marched directly at the predator.

"Now this man is in earnest," the lion said to himself.  It worried him, especially since he'd been trying to hide and the rancher had spotted him immediately.  His opponent seemed smart and determined.  So the lion attempted to intimidate the rancher in the same manner he'd used with his grandsons and sons.

"Don't you want to fetch your armor?" he called.

"That's only for men who haven't killed lions before," replied the rancher.

In the face of the steady advance, the lion turned and fled.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Not Zen 8: Pain

A young man drove his father to the doctor's office. There, his father was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas. The doctor explained that it was one of the most painful diseases known. The father nodded, accepted his prescriptions, and left.

In the car, his son sat stunned. He rested his hands on the wheel but didn't move.

"Doesn't it hurt in that region of your stomach?" he asked his father after a minute of thought.

"Yes. In fact, it's hurt for years."

"And your back? Has that hurt, too?"


"Why didn't you say anything, dad?"

"What would we have done about it? I had to work. It didn't matter what my problem was. I had to provide for you and your mother."

"That's crazy." The young man shook his head.

"No. It's what parents do. Your mother does the same thing. You'll do it, too, when you're older. Wait and see. Living with pain is nothing special."

"I don't think I can do it. Not like you."

"You say that now. But you won't get far without doing it. Sometimes all you can give other people is your patience, love, and toleration for the aches and pains of life. Anyway, didn't you sprain your wrist yesterday? You've got a brace on."

“Are you seriously comparing that?" The young man lifted his arm to look at it for a moment. “This is nothing.”

"Well, thanks for getting me here," his father said.