Thursday, September 5, 2013

doing what becomes us


A formerly thriving monastery is down to its last three monks, and the place has lost all of its spiritual influence. The Abbot walks down the long stairs to consult with a passing well-known wise man who tells him, “I don’t know how to solve the problems of your monastery, but I do know that one of the three of you that remain there is actually the Messiah.”

The Abbot returns and repeats this to the other two monks. Each of them considers inwardly, “Well I know it’s not me, so it must be one of these other two.” Thus they all start treating each other with the greatest of reverence, kindness, respect and love, thinking they might be in the presence of the Messiah. The positive energy that this generates begins to infuse and radiate out from the monastery, and as new visitors pass through, they are infected by it and choose to stay on as monks, and within a short time, the monastery is once again a vibrant and thriving institution.



It's a pretty cool story and one whose premise is inarguable (if you don't believe me, ask Jesus or the Buddha), but I'll have to agree with whomever first mentions that things don't often work out that way among most of us humans. There are so many potential tragedies in process right now that I almost have to wonder how we've lasted as long as we have. Perhaps it's because Progress as we know it now wasn't invented until about 300 years ago. Before that people mostly did what they'd always done, even if that did involve grabbing grandfather's sword or pike and heading off to battle every so often. At least then the battles were generally right on one's doorstep and there was no question of punishing strangers who lived thousands of miles away. Okay, there were the Crusades that were motivated by religious mania and greedy land grabbing in the Americas etc., but my point is that things didn't start getting really crazy until fossil fueled industrialization became endemic.

There's a very old legend among the mystical teachings of several religions that there's always a small group of hidden saints who are 'holding up the world' but who live out their lives as ordinary people. We can never know for sure that the clerk at the market or the bus driver who greets us with a smile isn't one of them. Since we can't know who is or who isn't an Enlightened human being, why not treat everyone as though they are? I rather like the concept that there's no such thing as Enlightenment as that term indicates a changeless state (and there's no such thing in Reality), but what's possible for all of us is Enlightening as a verb, or Becoming if you prefer.

The book the monk story is from (and now own as my very first digital copy) is called 'Why I Am Not Enlightened' and was written by a very wise and funny Western spiritual teacher called Elias Sobel. I recommend it to you.

As Crow says, 'Even if you people can't be perfect, you can at least be nice to one another'. 

ps: I didn't get a Kindle but have downloaded a free Adobe E-reader.

15 comments:

Sean Jeating said...

In the dusk a man entered a village and claimed to be a prophet. The countrymen did not believe him, yet. "Prove it", they demanded.
The man pointed at the opposite wall and asked: "If this wall spoke and affirmed I am a prophet, would you believe me, then?"
By Allah, then we shall believe you", they shouted.
The man turned to the wall, put forth one hand and commanded: "Speak, oh wall!"
And the wall began to speak: "This man is no prophet. He's fooling you. He is no prophet."

P.S. As to my knowledge there does not exist an English version of Zülfü Livaneli's "Engereğingözüdeki kamaşma", published 1996 by Can Yayinlari Ltd. Sti, Istanbul, I tried to translate the perhaps most amazing and sophisticated beginning of all novels I came to read within the past couple of years.
The author may consider my humble attempt a kind of hommage.

: ) A long preludium, hm, just to hide that spontaneously I felt overwhelmed, but at the same moment knew you would not like to be called a wonderful and wise woman.

Well, now it's said / written, and yes: I do mean it. :)


Tom said...

Or as a spiritual leader allegedly said to one of his monks, "Yes, you're perfect. But there's still room for improvement."

Life As I Know It Now said...

Do not think you will necessarily be aware of your own enlightenment."
Dogen

I gotta tell you, when I read that sentence about your first e-book my heart squeezed a bit. I'm sure the qualifier you added was expressively for me :)

marja-leena said...

I love that story, Susan, and I think you are right that things don't often work that way with humans, even after millenia trying. We each try in our own small circles, which if they were in water would grow larger and larger to embrace the world, but no. The power centres in the world are too obsessed with their own powers. Depressing. We can only hope with the help of these stories.

susan said...

That's a wonderful story, one that certainly proves the veracity of his claim even if the people chose to believe what the wall stated instead. Mr. Livaneli sounds like an amazing person (now that I've looked up his bio) and after reading your sample hope his novels do get published in English. Then there's you, Mr. Jeating, amazed as I am that you read Turkish, now I'm wondering how many languages you have?

Thank you for the wonderful preludium. In reality I'm neither wonderful nor wise but I enjoy discovering those who keep up the effort for all our benefit.

Peace of the night to you.

susan said...

Good one. A favorite of mine says, 'Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.'

susan said...

Another beauty, Lib.

Yes, I did write that addendum so you wouldn't worry. The book isn't available in paper but when I read the following I knew I had to continue:

A man approaches a Zen Master and asks to be shown
the path to enlightenment. The Master replies, "Okay, follow
me," stands up, and walks the man to a nearby river and into
the water. Without warning, the Master forces the man's head
under the water and holds it there as he struggles violently for
his life, until he is nearly dead. At last the Master pulls the man
up, gasping for air, and says, "When you want to be
enlightened as badly as you wanted to take your next breath just
now, come back and see me."

At the time, as a youthful spiritual adventurer, the
story inspired me and got me fired up, and fueled the years of
seeking, meditating, and exotic travels to distant lands that
followed. Yet now, looking back, I'm wondering if I could have
saved myself a lot of time and trouble had I simply answered the
question implied by that story honestly: 

No. 


susan said...

All we can do, Marja-Leena, is as you say and that's to be kind to those we encounter. My favorite of the Buddhist meditations is called Tonglen, the practice of which is to accept the pain of sentient beings on the in breath and to send healing wishes on the out breath.

Sean Jeating said...

Ah, I wish I spoke Turkish fluently, Susan. It's but very rudimental, though. Thus, I read his book in a German translation. Its title here: "Der Eunuch von Konstantinopel".
:) You can't, of course, know how wonderful you are.

The peace of the night.

Claude said...

The fact that we do have,among us, some "wonderful and wise" people (as Sean rightfully called Susan) has always stopped me from giving up on us. I just finished, 10 minutes ago, reading Seamus Heaney's 1995 Nobel Prize Lecture at Sean's place (Omnium) and I was struck by his advice to make "space for the marvellous, not just the murderous". Yes, we're in trouble. We always were in trouble. But,in spite of it, some incredible human beings were born and blossomed, and left us works of wondrous beauty and many examples of hearts filled with love and devotion. Often, we do not see our saviours, and know who they are. But there are still some among us.I believe this very strongly. And maybe to save the world, all I need to do to help is what Susan says: be kind to others. It is certainly worth a try.....

susan said...

Oh, there are many wise and wonderful people in the world and you my friend are certainly high on that list. I believe that the more tied down we are to conceptions about what people should be like, then the more we deliberately blind ourselves to their good qualities. For the most part I honestly believe that those among us who cause the most problems and suffering for so many really are in need of pity rather than hatred and anger. Some years ago I began practicing an exercise I read about somewhere (now forgotten) and that was to spend some time every day saying (to myself), 'You are forgiven' to everyone who went past. It's amazing how such a seemingly small thing can lighten our own hearts.

clairesgarden said...

yes that's a good way to live, I maybe have to slow down and try it.
I have 'kindle' from amazon and another couple of e-readers on my lap top.. some books wont work in one or other of them.... Calibre and Adobe.
I do have a kindle and I love it.. I never thought I would as I love books.. but lack of any storage space has meant I am down to two boxes... stored in someones attic.. I may have to retrieve the boxes and whittle that down some more..
hard to part with books but at the 'emptying of the house' they just became part of the big heave-ho.

susan said...

I really do admire you for having been able to give up so much physical stuff; under those circumstances it's very understandable that you download your books.

Lydia said...

Sigh...... how meaningful this is, and how perfect this drawing. I think it is possible that you are one of those people who are 'holding up the world' - whether you know it or not.

susan said...

Oh Lydia, it takes each and every one of us doing what we can to 'hold up the world'. The beauty of your own work is proof enough you belong to the tribe.