Sunday, August 26, 2012

Not Zen 20: What Love Is

by Luna Gale,
art by Luna Gale

"Who can tell me what love is?" the master called to his class.

"It is a lure into samsara," said his brightest student. "It is an invitation to desire and pain, a thing we must escape to achieve enlightenment."

"No, wait. It's more than that!" said a young woman. "The Buddha had love for all people. Can anyone deny that? Therefore, it must be possible to love but be enlightened."

"Yes, I can't see it as a snare," said a third student.

The discussion continued. But one of the youngest, lowest-ranked members of the class, Nathan, had gotten out of his chair when the master asked his question. He eyed the collection of Buddha figures along the class window sills. They had been gifts to the master. Although the master deemed them to be of no importance, mere material things, he nevertheless displayed affection for the statues from time to time.

At the front of the classroom, Nathan offered to his master the figure of the Buddha he had been carving. It was almost finished. The master eyed it with a gentle smile.

"Thank you, Nathan." The master nodded for his student to put the gift down on the floor next to him. "You may be excused from today's class. You already know what love is."

The rest of the students spent all day in debate.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Not Zen 19: Reflexes

A young man studied Daoism and martial arts with the same instructor. At his martial arts lesson, he stopped in the middle of his drill.

"How is this natural?" he asked.

"What do you mean?" his instructor replied. "This is not a time for you to relax. This is a time for discipline."

"But you said earlier today that I should behave naturally."

"That was in meditation class. And anyway you will find this physical discipline to be natural, in time. Self defense will become part of your being."

"This is learning," the student insisted. "All learning goes against our nature. That's what you said."

"I said we must learn to forget our learning. That is different. Anyway, monks have studied both disciplines together for centuries. In time, you will learn enough martial arts to forget your learning of it."

"Why bother to learn it at all, then?"

"Let's not misunderstand nature," said the instructor. He dropped his stance and walked over to the student. "Dying is natural. Those monks centuries ago could have died in their travels. But they strove to fight bandits, to defend themselves, to live. All things strive to live. That is natural, too. In studying defense, we commit ourselves to life."

The instructor aimed a long, over-handed blow at his student's head. The student blocked it without thinking.

"You see? Defense is in your true nature. But of course your true nature has been shaped by your parents, by the environment of your childhood, and by your spiritual essence."

He struck again, from the side. The student blocked him again.

"It can be shaped by others. We are demonstrating that now."

He bowed. The student bowed in response.

"You see? Your nature has been, and can always be, shaped by you. The next step is to use that to your advantage."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Not Zen 18: The Heavy Staff

During springtime in the mountains, travelers hiked through the narrow trails from valley to valley. Following one such trail, an elderly hiker crested a rise near the top of a high hill. There he saw a younger hiker deep in the practice of a kata. The kata employed many strikes with a staff.

The elder stopped to watch. After a while, the dedicated fury of the younger man disturbed him. In particular, he was troubled by the potentially deadly staff.

"Your hiking rod looks hard and heavy," he said after the young man finished a kata. "It is the same size and weight as my walking stick and yet it is so different."

"Do you not practice martial arts?" asked the young man.

"I do. There is nothing wrong with preparation. But what is your purpose, I wonder? The land is at peace. Why do you practice your physical skills so furiously?"

"Because wherever I go with my trusty staff, I find strife."

The elder narrowed his eyes.

"Wherever I go with my humble walking stick,” he replied, “I find only peace."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Not Zen 17: Seeking, Finding

A guru was visited by his friend, a university professor. After the professor hung up his coat, he said, "I heard you tell one of your yoga students that seeking enlightenment gets in the way of enlightenment. How absurd! In order to find something, you start by seeking."

"Speaking of seeking things," the master said as he patted his pockets. "I believe my yoga robes are in this trunk with the lock on it. Please help me find the key."

The guru's friend searched for a few impatient minutes. Finally, he found the key on a night stand. As he approached the brown trunk, however, he slumped.

"The trunk is unlocked. Like I fool, I went looking for the key without noticing."

"Yes. I apologize for misleading you. But it was to show this point: when you were looking for that key, you were occupied by the task and so did not notice that the trunk was open. Likewise, when you are seeking so earnestly for enlightenment, which involves intense awareness of the present moment, you blind yourself to the present moment."

"It was unlocked all the time!" His friend lifted the lid.

"Yes," said the guru sadly. "It is never locked."