Sunday, June 30, 2013

Not Zen 65: Passage

A woman lost her infant to fever. Her mother had died not long before. The prospect of raising the daughter had sustained her through the loss of her mother. But there was nothing to sustain her through the loss of her child. The second death, so soon after the first, put her into depression.

The woman found it grew harder over the weeks for her to function normally. She performed her family duties without energy. She stopped cleaning. Her neighbors and friends criticized her behavior but she couldn't make herself care. She wasn't able to confide with her husband about her troubles because she felt she had failed him just as she'd failed her dead mother.

She considered suicide. Her husband was a good man, she thought, and could find another wife.

Before she took action, she went to her friend, a roshi who had studied meditation for many years. Her friend listened to her troubles with sympathy.

"I don't know how to deal with this loss," the young woman concluded. "You have studied detachment. Maybe you can help me."

"You cannot solve this problem by detaching yourself from it," answered the roshi.

"What? That's the opposite of what you should say. Even I know Buddhism better than that."

"Maybe you should tell me how it goes."

"You're supposed to say that my worldly desires will bring me sorrow."

"Oh, they will. They have."

"And that I should learn to let go of my worldly desires."

"You're correct."

"Then that's the way I should rid myself of this pain."

"No. You cannot deny the loss of your loved ones. You cannot deny what you feel. To attempt that is contrary to the Way. Never deny your expectations, hopes, or loves."

"But they bring me great sorrow!"

"You cannot avoid sorrow. You must live through it. And eventually you may move past it."

"That will take too long!  It could take my whole life."

The roshi nodded.  She insisted, "Nevertheless."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Not Zen 64: The Best Way

A young man traveling alone stopped at a temple to ask for directions. An attendant there gave him the information he needed. Before the traveler turned to leave, he asked, “And what's the best way?”

The attendant understood that this was a different question. He tapped the floor. When the traveler did not seem to understand, he said, “This way is best.”

The traveler left unhappy, having interpreted the answer as conceit for the temple. As he walked, he grew more and more impatient with the tapping of the hallway floor. He met a woman walking up the long hill road toward the temple and asked her the same question.

"Can you show me the best way?"

The woman smiled and tapped the ground with her foot. Then she continued on her way. The traveler felt this, under the circumstances, was a bit better.

Farther on, he happened to meet an elderly man who was apparently coming back from town.

"Can you show me the best path?" he said.

This man happened to work in the temple. He had lived in the area for a long time, tending to the monks and to the people of the town. He recognized that the traveler had been to the temple and had probably asked others the same question.

"Continue on this road," he said.

The young man was not satisfied.

"Continue on this road into town," said the old fellow. He gestured to the road behind him. "Turn left and walk another block. There you will find a bank. Stand in front of the bank and meditate. The answer will come."

Curious, the traveler did as he was told. He walked into town and found the bank, an impressive building with rich ornaments and a false brick front. There he stood, studying the building until he grew tired. When he could stand no longer, he sat. A bank guard came out and accosted him.

"Hey you!" he said. “Get out of here.”

“And the best way is?”

“To get moving!”

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Not Zen 63: Not a Contrarian

A vixen lost one of her cubs to a hunter's trap. She warned her surviving cub to stay away from the hunter, his prey, and his snares. The next day, while the vixen was gone, the cub spotted a thrush that had been wounded. He stalked the bird. Then he sprinted after it and chased it into a thorn bush.

When the vixen returned, she found her cub bleeding from his snout. He'd been cut by thorns. She held him down and cleaned him.

"Can you imagine what would have happened if the hunter had been following that bird?" she said. "You would have been caught."

"He wasn't anywhere around." The cub winced as she licked his wounded face.

"He injured the bird. He must have been someplace."

The next day, the vixen left after giving her cub a warning. Nevertheless, when she returned a few hours later, she found him gone. Fearing the worst, she dashed from place to place across her territory. She discovered her cub alive but dangling by his hind legs from a grass-twine snare.

"Didn't I tell you that the hunter sets his traps here?" she said. She climbed onto a tree branch to chew the cord.

"I saw the snares and went around them."

"You missed this one." She broke the twine. Her cub fell to the ground. "You're lucky it didn't get your neck. You're lucky that you're big and didn't have to fall far."

On their way home, it became clear to the vixen that her son still had not learned his lesson. As soon as sensation returned to his limbs, he began to stray. He was a contrary child and would not obey her.

"Perhaps you'll listen to your father," she said. She ran off to find her mate.

The cub's father was not surprised to hear the latest news. However, he didn't think he could persuade his son to listen.

"You must," the vixen insisted. "Take him hunting with you tomorrow. Help him learn enough wisdom so that I may have peace."

"That's fair," the fox agreed. "One way or another, you deserve peace."

The next morning, the fox met his son at the mouth of the den. He led the cub through a bramble patch. Instead of running with heads held high, the cub learned, they could crouch low and pass unharmed. At the other end of the thorns, they stopped to study a rabbit warren.

"This is a good place," said the fox. "The hunter knows it, too, and has set snares."

"I smell rabbits," said the cub.

Not long past dawn, the hunter arrived. He cut down two snares, one that had missed and another that had caught a young rabbit. He had taken a hare from a different set of traps, so he made small pile of the bodies. Then he knelt to dress his game.

The fox cub's mouth began to water.

"I'll bet I could get those," said the cub.

"Sure," his father agreed. "That way your mother will get some peace. Try it. You could grab a rabbit and run. They're not heavy. His back is turned. Go!"

"What?" The fox cub inched forward. He eyed the rabbit carcasses. He turned his wary gaze on his father. "But mother said the hunter would kill me!"

"Only if he catches you."

"Are you trying to get me killed?" squealed the cub. This, the hunter overheard.

He picked up his knife and game bag to chase after the foxes. Through the brambles they ran, although the father was not in too much of a hurry to make sure they kept low. They escaped without injury.

After they got home, the father gave his cub instructions to go out and hunt for himself. Then, laughing, he set off. A few hours later, the vixen returned. She found her cub waiting for her at the mouth of the den.

"You're still here?" she said. "I thought I told your father to take care of you."

"Yes, and father told me to take a rabbit from the hunter. He tried to get me killed!"

The vixen sat down to hear the whole story.

"Ah," she said as her cub concluded his version of the events. "Your father knows how to give you instructions."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Not Zen 62: See No Reason

A spiritual teacher had, as her worst student, her own son.

This teacher was a kind soul, known for being forgiving and generous. But her son rebelled against this gentleness. He despised it as a weakness and as a sign that his mother was mentally feeble. She gave up preaching to him about charity. Instead, she tried to show him practical things.

For a while, her appeal to his self-interests worked. Then he stopped listening to her at all. He refused to go to school. She tried to persuade him of the value of an education. Her arguments were seen as irrefutable to everyone else around her. Her son didn't agree. He rebelled against her reasoning even when it meant admitting that his own conclusions were nonsensical.

The next summer, a distant relative offered the boy a job as a laborer. He accepted although he understood that he would not earn enough to move out of his mother's house. Unfortunately, he was bad at the simple tasks he was assigned. He did not always show up for work on time. He did not work hard.  He didn't listen to his supervisors' instructions with care. He wasted his own efforts and the productivity of others with his sloppiness. Within a few weeks, he found himself out of a job.

“Now that you have time again,” his mother said upon receiving the news. “You should return to your studies.”

“I have no studies,” he said.

“I bought a book of logic for you.” She tried to put it into his hands. “Logic is good in every situation. Learning this would help you in all of your life, even in your jobs as a laborer.”

He pushed the book aside. “That is a waste. You are trying to teach me how to think. I see no reason to learn logic.”

“Like many things, this is a skill you will never understand the reason to learn,” she admitted, “until you have already learned it and put it to use.”

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Not Zen 61: Thrill Seeking

For two years, a student of the Dao emulated her roshi, Sara. Sara was an older woman who lived a quiet life. She worked hard and rested sensibly. She meditated every night. On occasion, she socialized with a few friends.

Everyone agreed that the roshi was in touch with her De. Her student, Humi, admired her for it. Nevertheless, she found the lifestyle tedious to imitate. She performed the same tasks every day although none of them interested her. She supposed it was part of her process of enlightenment.

One day, Humi received an invitation to go hang gliding with friends. It was something her roshi would never do.

"I hope you don't take offense if I go," she told Sara.

"Why would I?" Sara exclaimed. "This is the kind of thing that young people often enjoy. You can go out and break a few bones. You'll heal."

"Really? I thought you would tell me that hang gliding is just a form of thrill seeking, that it's contrary to the spirit of Daoism."

"How foolish." The roshi shook her head. "You haven't progressed as much as I thought."

"What does that mean?"

"If you want to go gliding and you let your conception of the Dao stop you, then you don't love hang gliding. And you don't love excitement. And you don't love the Dao. You only love the false idol of the Dao that you've made for yourself."

Humi was taken aback. She had always said the right words. She had always done the things that Sara did. She'd thought their concept of the Dao was similar. This was the first time that she'd realized Sara's practice of the Dao was not a ritual but truly a part of her. Humi had, unfortunately, made Sara's practice of the Dao into a ritual for herself but it had brought her no closer to enlightenment.

The next week, Humi went hang gliding. The grass on the hills was dark green. The wind swept up the slopes and carried her away without effort. The moments of clarity she felt while in the air astounded her. She knew she would remember this day for the rest of her life.

She flew three times and then she broke her leg on the third landing.

Her roshi went to visit her in the hospital. She sat down without saying hello. The exchange between student and roshi puzzled Humi's friends.

"Do you feel improved now?" asked Sara. She ignored the cast on her student's leg.

"Very much so," said Humi.