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Archive for the ‘Zen Story’ Category

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This morning, my husband got up very early & woke our 5 year old so they could go outside to see the Planetary Alignment. The sky was clear, and the moon was nearly full behind them. It was a magical experience for my tiny little astronomer to be introduced to the galactic bodies by his dad who’s watched them since he was young.

My son asked me to let them star gaze alone, so when I got up a little later, he was engrossed in a show he likes to watch where little cartoon jets explore the solar system. He was so excited to have seen the planets with his own eyes, all lined up.

I was excited, too. His wonder and happiness reminded me to be mindful of the truly spectacular and valuable experiences: observing the universe around us, appreciating the beauty.

It reminds me to keep my gaze up, and my eyes open.

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fundainzunantei

I was raised with the ideal to be no Respecter of Persons. That is, don’t put somebody to be higher or lower than anybody else, but to treat all human beings as equally valuable.

Zen has that ideal, too:

Keichu was a great Zen teacher. He was the head of a cathedral in Kyoto, called Tofuku.

The first time the Governor went to visit him, he gave his calling card with Keichu’s attendant and asked to be announced. Keichu took one look at the words “Kitagaki, Governor of Kyoto”, and handed the card back to the attendant. “I have no business with anybody like that, tell him to leave.”

After the attendant returned with the message, the Governor apologized for his error. He scratched out his title from the card, and asked the attendant to try again.

On receiving the card again, Keichu brightened. “Ah, that Kitagaki! Yes, I’d like to see him, bring him in!”

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While pursuing goals, it’s important we keep our focus on what we hope to enjoy and experience when (and as) we achieve them. Otherwise, the Idea of the goals can take over, distracting us from what we really seek.

Hakuin was a master of zen, who tried to keep his students focused more on the practice of zen than the idea of zen. Meaning, getting their minds undistracted from the pursuit of something elusive, so they may more keenly observe what was right before them.

To remind them, he liked to tell them about the old woman in the village who owned a tea shop. She was a master of the Tea Ceremony, and understood Zen with her whole self.

Naturally, each of his students eventually went down to the village to see her for themselves. And each time, the old woman recognized them coming, and could tell with just one look whether they came seeking to share her Tea Ceremony, or to ask her to explain her thoughts on Zen.

Compassionately, she had resolved to give each student what they sought. Those who came for tea, she graciously hosted with a truly enlightening experience of peace and attentiveness. Those who came for a teaching, she hid behind the door then surprised them with a sharp whack from her fire poker, beating at them until they fled.

Of all Hakuin’s students, only one in ten enjoyed the Tea.

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While I’m thinking about identity, I wanted to share a Zen anecdote I rediscovered recently.

Fishy Zen

While Chuang-Tzu was walking along a river with a friend, he noticed the fish were swimming about in the clear water. After watching them a few moments, he remarked, “Those fish are having such fun, enjoying themselves in the water!”

His friend scoffed, “You are not a fish, you couldn’t possibly know whether they’re enjoying themselves.”

Chuang-Tzu shrugged back at his companion. “You are not me. How do you know I can’t know they’re enjoying themselves?”

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I got a phone call today from someone who needed help, but wrote the number down wrong and got me, one of the people least qualified to help him. I explained that I was not only in the wrong department, but also in a satellite office, and that I would forward him to the queue where he could talk to someone who could connect him with the right answers.

He acknowledged this, and as I went to put him on hold to get him forwarded to the right place, he started talking again about the help he needed, as though the situation had suddenly changed.  I had already pushed the buttons, so I finished the transfer and went to go meet with someone.

I got back to my desk to find that he’d called me twice more.  Apparently he didn’t like being put into the queue he needed to be in, so since he had spoken to someone — even the wrong someone — he was convinced I could, in fact, help him.

How often do we keep chasing the wrong resource because it’s the one in front of us, instead of following the guideposts to where we really need to go?

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I just got a letter from my nephew about being at someone’s house and admiring their Totoro clock.  The host then happily hopped up, took the Totoro pendulum off, and gave it to him, leaving my nephew with the difficult task of processing what had just happened.

I imagine it was a cool souvenir though, for the practice in receiving happy surprises.  I’ve got this feeling that lately we’re all moving through a timeframe where “Ask, and ye shall receive” is true in primal and surprising ways.

In fact, we don’t even have to ASK necessarily, we just have to receive.  I suppose, “Receive, and it shall give itself unto you” is what I’m feeling these days.  So I’m practicing feeling a gratefully receiving mindset, and see what further surprises I’ll be graced with.

I’ve been having a tough time getting back into posting now that I am not making it self-mandatory, because I’ve been having a tough time finding words again.  I was thinking of that this morning, and then came across the story from my nephew. Looks like it might be bearing fruit, so over the next few days I’ll come back and share the other happy little surprises that come!

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I was trying to think of a truth that is very difficult to embrace.

What came to me is, “This is all there is.”

I started to think about how that can be a fear, accepting that this present moment is all we really have.  The feeling that accepting this means settling for less than we would want things to be in the future, as opposed to merely dropping our resistance to observing what’s in our present.

I also thought about the idea of what we see, hear, feel, and so on may be the sum total of existence. That is, the perception that there’s nothing beyond these senses of any substance or meaning. And objectively speaking, that possibility really needs to be considered and brought to heart. If we’re forced to stop and accept that our physical life holds such weight, it places a huge responsibility on us to make the most of it. We can’t shrug off that responsibility figuring that there’s better things later we just have to hold out for. There’s a real value to that.

I then realized a third and even more difficult way to embrace that truth. Who, what and where we are: it’s all interconnected. Time, space, the resonance of matter that forms the particles we are now experiencing as our breathing lungs and beating hearts… there’s no hard barrier once you start to follow the threads. On the vast continuum of Indra’s Net, we are holding the space of just one of those dewdrops, reflecting every other bejeweled node on the net.

In this moment, we hold a connection to every other moment.

In this space, we resonate echos of every other space.

In this experience, we enjoy a reflection of all there is.

Those can be easy things to throw out there as words and concepts, but harder to make “feel real” to our own psyche. And if we do let it “feel real”, what does that mean? What potentials are there for us in the here and now? What responsibility do we have to discover and use them?

If this is all there is, what are we obliged to make of it?

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Today, I practiced more at keeping up the discipline of a relaxed and aware mindset. I was feeling a downturn again, and was struggling with things that were keeping me from even starting what I’d planned to have completed first thing in the morning. I kept reminding myself to not think like someone who’s overwhelmed, but like someone who is mindful of the limitations of the day and staying on pace to overcome them.

I had help in this by a story I heard last night.

The Shopkeeper

In feudal Japan, life wasn’t so good to a simple shopkeeper. He struggled to make ends meet, a struggle made harder by taxes, bandits, or even samurai taking some or all of what he and his customers needed to get through the month. The life of a peasant wasn’t worth much, and the life of a shopkeeper wasn’t any different.

Finally, this shopkeeper decided he didn’t want to be such easy prey, particularly for the bandits. So he began training with a master in the martial arts. Without neglecting his shop, he dedicated the remainder of his time to becoming a worthy, and then the finest student of this master. Eventually, he had learned all his master could teach him, leaving only life to test his skill.

His test came when he was walking home with his wife, and they were beset by bandits. Soon they were surrounded, being pushed around and berated for being so helpless and worthless. His wife then cried out, “Stop thinking like a shopkeeper before they kill us both!”

This snapped him out of it. His decades-long training to cower for his life was replaced by his years-long training to protect lives. Soon the bandits lay on the ground, and he walked his wife to their peaceful home.

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The other day, I skipped posting because I had suddenly come down with a very bad cold/flu/ish thing. I wasn’t thinking very clearly, and just wanted to rest.

Actually, I had wanted to be available for a work project I wasn’t feeling prepared to hand off just yet. I left work a little early to try to rest up and stave off what was coming over me, in hopes I’d be able to get back to it.

So I was a little annoyed as I was walking out to my car, wishing I could just wish myself well. I then realized perhaps I should just practice that as my moment of zen, and ask myself what I most needed to accept about my situation so I could make peace and move on.

I then looked down on the sidewalk and saw there was a small screw dropped right where I was stepping. A rusty one, at that.

I laughed at how life tends to answer my questions, and felt better already.

Emotionally better, that is.  It took me until last night to feel physically better, and I’m still taking it easy!

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I just saw a couple of tiny ants scouting my house to see if it’d be a good place to forage. I also saw I had a grain of rice, which I picked up and threw away so they wouldn’t report back to send more scouts. They may just be ants, but I would rather they stick to areas where they wouldn’t come to harm as I clean my kitchen.

I’m thinking of how much food one grain of rice would be for ants that size. It makes me think of how far a lot of things in my life would go for other people… or animals or insects! I’m realizing they could take me farther as well, so long as I stop to make good use of them.

It also occurs to me that things I am picturing as a really big deal probably don’t loom so large for those who are already experiencing them. Some things to let settled into my head as I settle it down to sleep.

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