Sunday, September 23, 2012

Not Zen 24: Big Fish

An old roshi woman was sitting by a stream, fishing. She received a visitor around noon, a girl who had problems in school.

"I don't want to be here," said the young woman.

"Then you should go." The roshi pulled her line from the stream and re-cast it.

"But I seek enlightenment. Everyone told me to come to you." The girl leaned forward hopefully. "I've read lots of books on Zen detachment. I like them."

"I see," said the roshi with a sigh. "And are you ready for enlightenment?"

"No. I'm troubled, I think. That's what everyone says. I was tortured as a child, locked in a closet."

"That's too bad. I suppose you won't become enlightened, then."

"I thought so. I've never really been successful at anything." She scowled, nearly in tears.

"I suppose you won't even try." The roshi did not seem angry or saddened. Her expression was one of acceptance.

"My parents died recently. Both of them."

"Yes, that's horrible. It's possible that you won't overcome that."

"Ma'am, maybe it's not my place to question," said the girl after a pause to consider, "but aren't you supposed to encourage me?"

"See that great fish out in the deeps of the stream?" The roshi pointed to where the brown water drifted most slowly. There was a dark silver carp near the surface. It rested in place, its fins barely moving.

"It's as long as my arm," observed the young woman.

"Yes. That is it's natural state. Imagine what you would think if you saw a fish that large floundering in the water near the shore. It would be too big for the shallows."

"I would think, what a dunce that fish is. It should dive deeper."

"But if you are afraid to try, afraid to succeed, you are like a big fish afraid to swim deep. Until you are willing to give your true effort, you will flounder. So you will not study with me. And you will not reach your potential."

"I think I understand," said the student, chastised.

"Let's see if you do," said the master.

They sat together for a long while. At first, the student seemed inclined to continue the conversation. Later, with nothing to say, she seemed content in the master's presence. After half an hour, the student stopped thinking. Her posture relaxed. The master closed her eyes. The student closed her eyes. The fish, in the center of the stream, sank deeper but barely moved its fins.

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