Tag: 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.

Great Expectations

Baby baby, she's just a baby
Baby baby, she’s just a baby

In her book Everyday Zen Charlotte Joko Beck talks about having great expectations and searching for paradise. “It seems to us that paradise is lost,” she says. She goes on to say: “We have, if not great expectations, some hope that sometime paradise is going to appear to us.”

She concludes that “There is no paradise lost, none to be found. You cannot avoid paradise you can only avoid seeing it.” OK great, chop wood, read about enlightenment, and take photos of flowers.

Despite knowing that this baby sunflower is perfect as it is (thank you Miss Beck), I have great expectations for her. I expect her to become trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful…oh wait a minute that’s something else.

To roughly paraphrase Charles Dickens from his book Great Expectations: “I expect her to know the delights of freedom.” I’ll be back to take her photo in about a week, when the wind is as calm as clam shells and the light is as warm and fuzzy as my brain on Valium and Vodka.

Note: those conditions do not happen every morning.

The Gateless Gate

The Gateless Gate?
The Gateless Gate?

The Gateless Gate is a collection of 48 Zen koans compiled in the 13th century by the Chinese Zen master Mumon Ekai. Pausha Foley, an amazing artist and self described strange creature that doesn’t exist, explains the gateless gate in a way that even a child like me of 58 can understand:

“The gate is a creation of the human mind. As long as one believes oneself to be one’s mind, the gate is as solid and real as the mind is. As soon as one cases to identify with one’s mind however, the mind and all its creations reveal themselves as what they are: a bunch of ideas, devoid of any substance. So, from within the mind the gate exists, from outside of the mind it does not.”

If this isn’t crystal clear by now I give you koan 7, Joshu Washes the Bowl:

A monk asked Zhaozhou to teach him.
Zhaozhou asked, “Have you eaten your meal?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have.”
“Then go wash your bowl”, said Zhaozhou.
At that moment, the monk was enlightened.

Of course one very important point must be made; if you don’t rinse your bowl before putting it in the dishwasher, it will not get completely clean and you will not be enlightened. The cleaning lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute says otherwise, but they also say that pre-rinsing is a needless time suck. Obviously they’ve never heard of the theory of relativity.