Sunday, March 31, 2013

Not Zen 52: How to Be Impatient

At the train station, a customer trembled with rage as he tried to get the flex return tickets he knew were available. The fellow behind the counter didn't understand how to make the transaction.

So the customer stood at the window for half an hour as he struggled to get the ticket man to understand and do what he wanted. He got frustrated. He shouted. Other ticket agents came over to calm the customer down. As the customer tried to explain to them, he saw a middle-aged woman walk up to the ticket window he had vacated.

"I need a flex return," she said.

"I don't know how to do that," said the man behind the counter, much as he had done with his earlier customer.

"What do you do when you're asked for unfamiliar transactions?" she asked.

"I'm supposed to look them up on this sheet." The young fellow waved a sheet of paper he'd tried to read while his earlier customer was shouting.

"Well, go ahead," said the woman.

"I don't read very well." He pointed to the lines on the chart and moved his lips as he struggled to understand.  In about two minutes, he found the flex return charge method.  The woman had not spoken a single word as he worked.

The first customer couldn't hear the entire exchange but he understood that the second patron was getting what she wanted.  After she was done, he approached her.

"How did you get him to do that?" He waved in the direction of the ticket desk.

"I explained what I wanted. I'm in a hurry too, you know. You'll have to walk with me if you want to talk."

"But he's stupid!" The man fell in beside her. "How did you get him to understand?"

"I saw a part of what happened to you. You showed contempt for his slowness and made him nervous. But I could tell he wanted to help."

"He kept dropping things! And he couldn't read!"

"He got flustered by your shouting. If you had remained calm and tried to see things from his perspective, you would have gotten your ticket in about two minutes, the way I did."

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Not Zen 51: Mind or Body

"Teacher, I am ill today."  With cheeks flushed, the novice sat in his usual place.

"I'm sorry to hear that," said the guru without looking at him.  "You may be excused from meditations and from your other chores."

"I do not wish to be excused, teacher.  I want to understand."  The student wiped his sweaty brow.  "Is the illness in my body or only in my mind?  Can I heal myself through force of will?"

"Zen teaches us that the body is an illusion.  Therefore, illness of the body is also an illusion."

The student took a long while to respond.  "But do you believe that really?"

"The Dao teaches us that the body is transitory and the mind also passes away.  Your illness will pass if you but rest a while."

"The Dao tells us to nap?"

"I did, too, but you weren't listening."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Not Zen 50: The Bird Watchers

John, a long-time student of religion went to visit his friend who had risen to the Dean of Academics at a rather young age. This friend, both pleased and concerned by John's lack of concern for worldly matters, offered to take him on a research expedition deep into an old, great forest.

"You'll love it," he said. "It's a fascinating place full of things you'll never see anywhere else. And our staff is impressive. Professor Whitt knows more about birds than anyone else you'll ever meet."

So the expedition traveled to the forest and John, as a manual laborer, accompanied  them. After they set up camp the first day, John noticed the elderly professor was missing. An inquiry lent him knowledge of the man's probable whereabouts and, hoping to learn from the professor's vast experience with birds, he followed. In a little while, he found the shelter where the old man had secluded himself.  John joined him. They sat in silence for a moment.

"What are you doing?" John whispered.

"Listening to the birds," said the professor.

"What do you hear?"

The professor replied that he had heard several types of birds. He mentioned them by name and went into detail about their distinctive songs. Right now, he said, he was listening to a mating call. The professor knew the difference between the territorial and the merely amorous, between a reassuring coo and wary squawk, between the sound of a hunter and a cry of alarm. This particular male bird was trying to attract a mate and the professor was waiting for a female to answer.

John stayed a while and listened. The professor seemed a bit agitated to have someone else nearby. So John left. A few yards down the trail back to camp, he came across the professor's wife. She was sitting on a blanket, reading. She smiled and nodded at John.

"Do you listen to birds, too?" he said.

"Only when I'm not reading," the old woman replied. Just then, the male bird cried out loudly. "Ah, poor thing."

"Poor thing? You mean because it has no mate?"

"No, because it's sick."

John listened. He couldn't tell. "How do you know? Do you know a lot about birds?"

She shook her head. "Oh no, I don't know anything. But listen and you'll hear it. It sounds different from the others of it's kind. It's much weaker."

They sat and listened for a while. Then the old woman smiled and went back to her book.

When John got back to camp, his friend asked him, "Well, what did you think of the professor?"

"He certainly knows a lot about birds," John allowed. "But I think his wife is enlightened."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Not Zen 49: Practice of Affection

A young man in a small town became engaged to an older woman. Everyone thought it would be an excellent match. But on the eve of their marriage, he called off the ceremony. Without consulting anyone, not even his closest friends, he left his home town and travelled to the nearest monastery.

His fiance knew that this had been something he'd thought about doing for several years, so she had an easy time tracking him. However, when she went to visit her lover, the monks would not allow her in.

She climbed the hill next to the compound and spotted her man meditating in the eastern courtyard. She hiked to the east wall. With the help of a pear tree, she scaled the wall and, unhurt by the drop on the other side, she strode to confront her lover.

His head was shaved and he wore a saffron robe. He seemed unsurprised by her presence. He did not call for the other monks. She sat and adopted a pose of meditation similar to his.

"Are you at peace?" she asked after a while.

"I think I am coming to inner peace, yes," he replied.

"Did we have happiness at home? I thought we did, the both of us."

"We did. Very much. But what is worldly happiness compared to eternal happiness?"

"It's nothing, of course. And what about love?"

"What about it? What is love compared to enlightenment?"

"They're teaching you nothing," she said sternly. "What is enlightenment without love? Aren't they joined? Shouldn't you know that?"

The young man had no reply. The next day, he asked his teacher this question about love and enlightenment. When he was not satisfied with the answer, he returned to his home town. He made apologies to his friends. Then he married his teacher, the woman who had followed him to the temple.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Not Zen 48: Doctor of Philosophy

A man lay on his deathbed, struck down by a fever. With his doctor and family around him, he complained about his pain and suffering. He expressed his regrets that he'd never spent time to become enlightened, although he'd always meant to devote himself more to religion.

“What has my life been about?” he wondered.

“We come into this world alone,” replied the doctor, who was a bit of a philosopher. “And alone we leave it. Between the entrance and the exit, we suffer hardships and cruelties, for such is the lot of a mortal life.”

“Is that all?”

“Nonsense,” said another voice. “You came into this world in good company. You're leaving it with friends and family all around. Doctors are idiots. That's why we have to die.”

“Yes, mother,” said the dying man. He laughed until he coughed.