Sunday, November 24, 2013

Not Zen 86: Under the Tree

On the back deck of a large, south-facing house, a student sat with her roshi. They drank sweet tea and discussed Stoicism, Buddhism, and other disciplines that lead, perhaps, to enlightenment. An hour into their conversation, a walnut fell from the tree above and hit the student on her shoulder.

She complained about the tree for minutes.

“That is your life exactly.” Her master sighed after her patience ran out. She moved her chair away from the tree.

“What do you mean by that?” asked the student.

“I mean, you are hurt by life because you are not paying attention. And then you come to complain to me.”

“Well, that is what life does. It hurts me.”

“So ... if you had looked up, would you have moved?”

“Of course.” At this, the student did look up. She rose with her chair and moved closer to the roshi.

“Good. Bring the tea pitcher, too.” She motioned to her student, who went to retrieve the covered jug. “Do you remember that yesterday you complained about a friend of yours at work who had all of the luck that you didn't?”

“Yes. She got promoted over me even though I'm as smart as she is, probably smarter.” The student brought the jug. She topped off her glass and took her seat.

“I think life is like this tree,” said the roshi. She gestured to the lower branches. “It rains things down on us from time to time. They might be nuts, leaves, twigs, or any of that sort of thing. Some people look down at their feet. They get hit and complain. Others look up to avoid the hardships. And still others hold out their hands.”

She held out her hands. The tea glass was in them. A bit of leaf dropped into her tea.

“Oops,” she said as she fished it out. “Well, it takes work, of course, to catch and crack a nut.  But I think it's a good analogy. If you are aware of it, a nut falling down is a good thing. If not, it might prove painful.”

“I don't think my friend at work studies towards enlightenment,” said the student. “She just got lucky.”

“Maybe. But it could be that she doesn't need to study much.” The roshi nodded to herself.  “Not everyone walks the same path. She may practice awareness in her own way and that is why she looked up at the right time. When life threw something at her, she was ready.”

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