On Changing the World

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An old man walks down to the beach and sees it is covered with tens of thousands of starfish, as far as the eye can see. Far down the beach he sees a young girl who is picking the starfish up, one by one, and tossing them back in the ocean.

Amused, he walks to the girl to speak with her. “Little girl,” the old man says, “What are you doing?”

“I’m saving these starfishes lives,” says the girl. “If I don’t throw them back in the water, they’ll drown. They need the water to live.”

The old man laughs to himself. Näive girl, he thinks. “But you are only one person. There are tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. How can you possibly make a difference?”

The girl bends down, picks up a star fish, looks at it, looks up at the man, tosses it into the surf, then says, “I made a difference for that one.”

Moving to a New City

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There was a person coming to a new village, relocating, and he was wondering if he would like it there, so he went to the zen master and asked: do you think I will like it in this village? Are the people nice?

The master asked back: How were the people on the town where you come from? “They were nasty and greedy, they were angry and lived for cheating and stealing,” said the newcomer.

Those are exactly the type of people we have in this village, said the master.

Another newcomer to the village visited the master and asked the same question, to which the master asked: How were the people in the town where you come from? “They were sweet and lived in harmony, they cared for one another and for the land, they respected each other and they were seekers of spirit,” he replied.

Those are exactly the type of people we have in this village, said the master.

Nobody in The Boat

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The Taoists have a famous teaching about an empty boat that rams into your boat in the middle of a river. While you probably wouldn’t be angry at an empty boat, you might well become enraged if someone were at its helm.

The point of the story is that the parents who didn’t see you, the other kids who teased you as a child, the driver who aggressively tailgated you yesterday – are all in fact empty, rudderless boats. They were compulsively driven to act as they did by their own unexamined wounds, therefore they did not know what they were doing and had little control over it.

Just as an empty boat that rams into us isn’t targeting us, so too people who act unkindly are driven along by the unconscious force of their own wounding and pain.

Until we realize this, we will remain prisoners of our grievance, our past, and our victim identity, all of which keep us from opening to the more powerful currents of life and love that are always flowing through the present moment.

God & Air

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A hermit was meditating by a river when a young man interrupted him.

“Master, I wish to become your disciple,” said the man.

“Why?” replied the hermit.

The young man thought for a moment.

“Because I want to find God.”

The master jumped up, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, dragged him into the river, and plunged his head under water.

After holding him there for a minute, with him kicking and struggling to free himself, the master finally pulled him up out of the river. The young man coughed up water and gasped to get his breath. When he eventually quieted down, the master spoke.

“Tell me, what did you want most of all when you were under water.”

“Air!” answered the man.

“Very well,” said the master.

“Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”

The Hangover

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A certain Zen teacher celebrated with his students, drinking sake and whiskey until after midnight, then rose next morning before dawn. Peevish, he expressed annoyance that his American students had not risen in time to do zazen [Zen meditation] before morning service.

When they murmured that their sluggishness might be accounted for by all the drink, the teacher snapped, “Sake is one thing, and zazen is another! They have nothing to do with each other!”

Buddhism & Christianity

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A university student while visiting Gasan asked him: “Have you ever read the Christian Bible?”

“No, read it to me,” said Gasan.

The student opened the Bible and read from St. Matthew: “And why take ye thought for rainment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these… Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.”

Gasan said: “Whoever uttered those words I consider an enlightened man.”

The student continued reading: “Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”

Gasan remarked: “That is excellent. Whoever said that is not far from Buddhahood.”

Moderation

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An aged monk, who had lived a long and active life, was assigned a chaplain’s role at an academy for girls. In discussion groups he often found that the subject of love became a central topic. This comprised his warning to the young women:

“Understand the danger of anything-too-much in your lives. Too much anger in combat can lead to recklessness and death. Too much ardor in religious beliefs can lead to close-mindedness and persecution.

Too much passion in love creates dream images of the beloved – images that ultimately prove false and generate anger. To love too much is to lick honey from the point of a knife.”

“But as a celibate monk,” asked one young woman, “how can you know of love between a man and a woman?”

“Sometime, dear children,” replied the old teacher, “I will tell you why I became a monk.”

Flow Like a River

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There is the story of a young martial arts student who was under the tutelage of a famous master.

One day, the master was watching a practice session in the courtyard. He realized that the presence of the other students was interfering with the young man’s attempts to perfect his technique.

The master could sense the young man’s frustration. He went up to the young man and tapped him on his shoulder.

“What’s the problem?” he inquired.

“I don’t know”, said the youth, with a strained expression.

“No matter how much I try, I am unable to execute the moves properly”.

“Before you can master technique, you must understand harmony. Come with me, I will explain”, replied the master.

The teacher and student left the building and walked some distance into the woods until they came upon a stream. The master stood silently on the bank for several moments. Then he spoke.

“Look at the stream,” he said. “There are rocks in its way. Does it slam into them out of frustration? It simply flows over and around them and moves on! Be like the water and you will know what harmony is.”

The young man took the master’s advice to heart. Soon, he was barely noticing the other students around him. Nothing could come in his way of executing the most perfect moves.

The Pointer

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The Zen teacher’s dog loved his evening romp with his master. The dog would bound ahead to fetch a stick, then run back, wag his tail, and wait for the next game. On this particular evening, the teacher invited one of his brightest students to join him – a boy so intelligent that he became troubled by the contradictions in Buddhist doctrine.

“You must understand,” said the teacher, “that words are only guideposts. Never let the words or symbols get in the way of truth. Here, I’ll show you.”

With that the teacher called his happy dog.

“Fetch me the moon,” he said to his dog and pointed to the full moon.

“Where is my dog looking?” asked the teacher of the bright pupil.

“He’s looking at your finger.”

“Exactly. Don’t be like my dog. Don’t confuse the pointing finger with the thing that is being pointed at. All our Buddhist words are only guideposts. Every man fights his way through other men’s words to find his own truth.”

Banishing a Ghost

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The wife of a man became very sick. On her deathbed, she said to him, “I love you so much! I don’t want to leave you, and I don’t want you to betray me. Promise that you will not see any other women once I die, or I will come back to haunt you.”

For several months after her death, the husband did avoid other women, but then he met someone and fell in love. On the night that they were engaged to be married, the ghost of his former wife appeared to him. She blamed him for not keeping the promise, and every night thereafter she returned to taunt him. The ghost would remind him of everything that transpired between him and his fiancee that day, even to the point of repeating, word for word, their conversations. It upset him so badly that he couldn’t sleep at all.

Desperate, he sought the advice of a Zen master who lived near the village. “This is a very clever ghost,” the master said upon hearing the man’s story. “It is!” replied the man. “She remembers every detail of what I say and do. It knows everything!” The master smiled, “You should admire such a ghost, but I will tell you what to do the next time you see it.”

That night the ghost returned. The man responded just as the master had advised. “You are such a wise ghost,” the man said, “You know that I can hide nothing from you. If you can answer me one question, I will break off the engagement and remain single for the rest of my life.” “Ask your question,” the ghost replied. The man scooped up a handful of beans from a large bag on the floor, “Tell me exactly how many beans there are in my hand.”

At that moment the ghost disappeared and never returned.

The Most Important Teaching

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A renowned Zen master said that his greatest teaching was this: Buddha is your own mind. So impressed by how profound this idea was, one monk decided to leave the monastery and retreat to the wilderness to meditate on this insight. There he spent 20 years as a hermit probing the great teaching.

One day he met another monk who was traveling through the forest. Quickly the hermit monk learned that the traveler also had studied under the same Zen master. “Please, tell me what you know of the master’s greatest teaching.” The traveler’s eyes lit up, “Ah, the master has been very clear about this. He says that his greatest teaching is this: Buddha is NOT your own mind.”

Wanting God

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A hermit was meditating by a river when a young man interrupted him. “Master, I wish to become your disciple,” said the man. “Why?” replied the hermit. The young man thought for a moment. “Because I want to find God.”

The master jumped up, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, dragged him into the river, and plunged his head under water. After holding him there for a minute, with him kicking and struggling to free himself, the master finally pulled him up out of the river. The young man coughed up water and gasped to get his breath. When he eventually quieted down, the master spoke. “Tell me, what did you want most of all when you were under water.”

“Air!” answered the man.

“Very well,” said the master. “Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”

This Too Shall Pass

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One morning, the boy Solomon saw the goldsmith who works for King David’s Palace walk out of the palace very desperate and sad. Salomon asked the goldsmith with curiosity, what makes you feel so sad and desperate? The goldsmith answered, I have to provide a solution to the King within seven days. If not I will be taken out of my job. I am really confused because there is no solution for what the King has asked.

What is the solution that the King is looking for? Solomon was curious. The goldsmith presented the demand of the King to Solomon as follows: I need to make a gold ring for the king with an inscription on it which should help the king not to be very happy and forget the divine truth at his happy moments. At the same time the inscriptions on it should help him not to lose his heart when he is facing failures and desperations. Immediately Solomon gave what he needs to inscribe on it:

He said write as follows “This too shall pass.”

Without Fear

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During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived – everyone except the Zen master. Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was.

When he wasn’t treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger. “You fool,” he shouted as he reached for his sword, “don’t you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!” But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved.

“And do you realize,” the master replied calmly, “that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?”