Category: Zen

The Strawberry Tragedy

Fresh Strawberries
Fresh Strawberries

Charlotte Joko Beck in Everyday Zen explains a famous Buddhist parable: “A man was being chased by a tiger. In his desperation he dove over the side of a cliff and grabbed a vine. As the tiger was pawing away above him he looked below and saw another tiger at the base of the cliff, waiting for him to fall.

To top it off two mice were gnawing away at the vine. At that moment he spotted a luscious strawberry and, holding the vine with one hand, he picked the strawberry and ate it. It was delicious! What finally happened to the man? We know, of course. Is what happened to him a tragedy?

Notice that the man being chased by a tiger didn’t lie down and say, Oh, you beautiful creature. We are one. Please eat me. The story is not about being foolish even though on one level, the man and the tiger are one. The man did his best to protect himself, as we all should.

Nevertheless, if we’re left hanging on that vine, we can either waste that last moment of life or we can appreciate it. And isn’t every moment the last moment? There is no moment other than this. The man being chased by the tiger is finally eaten. No problem.”

From the Withered Tree

The Withered Tree
The Withered Tree

The Buddha (allegedly) said: “From a withered tree, a flower blooms.” But what exactly does that mean? The best explanation I could find is on a site called Zen Dirt. This is from a post called From the Withered Tree:

“In Zen quotes and sayings, we have many reminders of the impermanence of everything. Life, as all things in the universe, exists in cycles and nothing is permanent. Being mindful of non-duality however, means that all things never cease to exist either. From a withered, old, lifeless tree, a new flower blooms, a new life grows. This reminds us of the cycle of life, of how we are all related, elder and young, old and new, and how we are all of the same being.

This quote also speaks of how beauty, new life, and new thoughts can blossom from an otherwise old, lifeless, withered tree. Just because a tree is shrunken and has been around a long time, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the capacity to flower new life from it.

We can interpret this several ways. We can see this as a message that no matter what stage we are at in life, we can always start fresh. It’s never too late to let our lives blossom into a beautiful new flower. There is no such thing as “it’s too late now.”

As we all exist in cycles, we should not underestimate the profound effect of changing our lives and relationships with others. Even at a late stage in life we can positively affect our attitudes and the perspectives of those around us. This can ripple out and create positive energy around the world, or at the very least, the lives of the ones around us.

Another way to see it is simple. We were all young flowers, growing from the fruits of our parents, and we will all grow old, into a withered tree. Flowers may bloom from us, or they may not. This is not just children, the flowers are also seeds of happiness we plant in the hearts and minds of others.”

Zen Dirt-Fill your mind with emptiness

Reconsidering Attachments

Attachments
Attachments

Brad Warner, author of ZEN Wrapped in Karma and Dipped in Chocolate said: “True nonattachment is understanding that you are fundamentally attached to everything and, through that understanding, dropping your attachment to the view that you are detached from that which you encounter.

At the same time, real nonattachment means not clinging to things or people. It means dropping the idea that if you don’t have this or if you can’t get that, your life will be a catastrophe.”

I wish I read that before I went shopping for a new car this week, the decision would have been much easier and probably much less expensive. Or not.

Dog Day Afternoon

Kurtz's Mill Covered Bridge
Kurtz’s Mill Covered Bridge

“My dog doesn’t worry about the meaning of life. She may worry if she doesn’t get her breakfast, but she doesn’t sit around worrying about whether she will get fulfilled or liberated or enlightened. As long as she gets some food and a little affection, her life is fine.

But we human beings are not like dogs. We have self-centered minds which get us into plenty of trouble. If we do not come to understand the error in the way we think, our self-awareness, which is our greatest blessing, is also our downfall.” Charlotte Joko Beck

In other words, handle every situation like a dog. If you can’t eat it or play with it, just pee on it and walk away.

Contentment and Catnaps

Zen cat
Zen cat

The dictionary defines contentment as the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are.

Socrates said: “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” Yes, but I want more…

I was in a greenhouse yesterday looking at seeds and starter plants, it was really a beautiful place to be, and for almost three minutes I was content. A cat calmly strolled in and completely ignored me, or so I thought.

I remember Eckhart Tolle saying something about cats as Zen masters, so I asked this cat to teach me about contentment. Again he ignored me, but I watched him.

He walked carefully between the rows of flowers and herbs, and I wondered if he was telling me to take time to smell the flowers. Then he began eating them, and I wasn’t sure if this was a sign to eat healthier or to do whatever makes you happy.

After he finished destroying a basil plant he hopped off the table and headed to his favorite place, which was literally the best seat in the house. He lay down on some warm boards in front of a sunny window, and looked at me as if to say: take a picture it’ll last longer, and then went to sleep.

If he was trying to tell me something I missed it, and on the way home I thought about new motorcycles, mansions and yachts, just a few of the things I feel I need to be content.

But I had the whole day to do whatever I wanted, I had enough money for lunch, and I had a picture of a Zen cat.

Charles M. Schulz said: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.”

Maybe that was his message; maybe I simply needed a catnap. So I went home and took a nap in my warm bed in front of a sunny window, and it was good. Now all I need is to move into this greenhouse and start eating plants.

There’s a great shade tree to park my bike under, my yacht will be moored of course, and as Elmer J. Fudd taught us, nobody really needs a mansion.

Beginner’s Mind

Simple pleasures
Simple pleasures

In his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki writes; “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

What he calls beginner’s mind refers to doing something without thinking about achieving anything, which could be recognition, likes on a Facebook page, or a tweet by the President and a free room for life in one of his hotels.

Last night I spent two frustrating hours taking photos of colored pencils for a piece I wanted to write called selective focus. It was to be about the way we get caught up in our own bullshit by the way we think, and what we think about. So of course the photo had to be tack sharp, it had to be perfect.

Finally I decided the whole thing was pointless and gave up, putting the pencils in an old cigar box along with some crayons I had for another project on color. I looked over and saw something that was random and perfect and nothing special (also the title of a fantastic book by Charlotte Joko Beck).

I took six photos for the simple reason that I thought it was cool. Yes, I shot RAW and JPEG in manual on a tripod, but people don’t change overnight. And it was absolutely perfect in its own way! It’s a simple photo of crayons in an old cigar box given to me by my father 20 years ago.

So at 2 am last night I had an epiphany and it was free, there is true joy in doing something just because its fun. I can’t wait to tell this to my therapist next week when I pay my bill. She might tell me that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but I have a feeling she’ll read more into this than there really is.