Saturday, May 31, 2014

a zen story - fate is in your hands


In a time long past there was an old monk who, through diligent practice, had attained a certain degree of spiritual penetration.

He had a young novice who was about seven years old. One day the monk looked at the boy's face and saw there that he would die within the next few months. Saddened by this, he told the boy to take a long holiday and go and visit his parents. 'Take your time,' said the monk. 'Don't hurry back.' For he felt the boy should be with his family when he died.

Three months later, to his astonishment, the monk saw the boy walking back up the mountain. When he arrived he looked intently at his face and saw that the boy would now live to a ripe old age. 'Tell me everything that happened while you were away,' said the monk.

So the boy started to tell of his journey down from the mountain. He told of villages and towns he passed through, of rivers forded and mountains climbed. Then he told how one day he came upon a stream in flood. He noticed, as he tried to pick his way across the flowing stream, that a colony of ants had become trapped on a small rock in the midst of the flooding stream. Moved by compassion for these poor creatures, he took a branch of a tree and laid it across one part of the stream until it touched the little island. As the ants made their way across, the boy held the branch steady, until he was sure all the ants had escaped to dry land. Then he went on his way.

'So,' thought the old monk to himself, 'that is why the gods have lengthened his days.'

30 comments:

marja-leena said...

A wonderful tale with a lesson for us.

I LOVE this piece, Susan, especially the colours and textures of the rocks and moving water, and the boy too!

susan said...

That it's one of those 'you never know' stories had a strong appeal for me.

I'm happy to know you like the painting so much, Marja-Leena. I do too.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
A wonderful story that speaks to the paradox of the future being in our hands whilst our fate is sealed; a causality that allows us to make good within determinism.
Lovely drawing to go with the story

Life As I Know It Now said...

The color of the water and rocks is what draws me to this painting. I have been known to rescue an insect or two and the people around me think I'm nuts for doing it. Just squash the spider or kill the bee they say. Ugh, I don't like spiders or bees because I am mildly allergic to their venom but all the same they have their place in this world and deserve to live just as much as any of us.

I saw an article that plants can feel pain and now I wonder if that is true. I am mighty conflicted even thinking about that and so I didn't read the article!

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
I'm glad you enjoyed the profundity of this deceptively simple story.
Best wishes

susan said...

I can't say I'm especially fond of insects either but they do hold a rightful place in the world. They also do a lot less harm than us.

I saw that article and didn't read it either. When you get down to it suffering is part and parcel of living in a material world. Every time we brush our teeth or shower millions of tiny creatures go screaming down the drain.

Should Fish More said...

What a lovely picture, the colors are wonderful.

As to the Zen-ness, I just wish I could get Disney and The Circle of Life song out of my head now.

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

Hmmm... I think perhaps he was meant to fall into the stream and drown but noticing the ants saved him while the Gods were furious that they had been beaten by a bunch of ants that they had not factored into their plans... I am always supicious of any tale that presumes that any God or Gods give(s) a damn about any of us. I love the drawing though.

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

On a technical note... I don't think bacteria actually scream, nor do they mind being in water, in fact they are probably enjoying the ride (well no, they're probably not, being bacteria).

susan said...

Ah well, scientific or not, it did work to shut that obnoxious woman up. Oops, I'd forgotten to mention to Lib (LAIKIN) that a woman I once met at a conference was being very confrontational about her pride in being a vegan. I used that line on her.

susan said...

I'm delighted you like the picture, Mike. It's rare for me to like one of my own but I am pleased with this one.

I had to look up The Circle of Life song since I never heard it. Now I know it's from the Lion King - one I never saw. My last favorite Disney movie was the Jungle Book.

susan said...

The fact is it's an old story that uses old assumptions, Andrew. Even though belief in deities has changed over the centuries, and differs enormously anyway in different cultures, these are matters that have been discussed and written about at great length by people far wiser than me. Even though we know there's nothing we can do about suffering in the world, as humans, we crave empathy and reassurance. Personally, I believe there's a much larger reality than the one currently fashionable in these cynical times.

I'm happy to know you liked the painting.

Tom said...

Leaving the morality aside for a moment, for me this story says that a small act can have vast, and unforeseen, consequences. I too loved the picture. What caught my attention particularly is the way you have captured the focussed attention of the child.

susan said...

That's indeed true, Tom. It seems to me that non-literal truth statements are the best we can do as far as communicating direct, transcendent experiences. It's a complex reality we inhabit.

I appreciate you coming by as I know you've been quiet on your own blog lately.

susan said...

ps: The child is my favorite part of this piece :)

Ol'Buzzard said...

A peaceful and tranquil painting - and zen like - with many meanings.
thank you
the Ol'Buzzard

Claude said...

Love your artwork. The innocence of the boy, and the beauty of his soul, are so well reflected by the subdued softness of the sketching lines and colours.

Of course, the boy did not guarantee immortality to the ants. After their struggle to cross the stream, they would be a delicious meal for the hungry spiders, very probably waiting on the other side. As for the boy living longer than presumed, I would say the healthy trek might have alleviated the menace of early death. I'm not much of a zen person as you can see. Long or short, life is tough and rough, no matter how kind you are, and how much you wish to save the world, ants and all.

As a young 21-year-old nurse, I watched, with horror, an aborted well formed living fetus fighting uselessly for breath in an hospital bedpan. I vowed to myself that I would devote my extra hours teaching people of all ages how to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. And that there were better solutions than an abortion to get rid of a child. There I am, near 85, having stopped many unwanted child to be born, and many more to be killed. But it still goes on, even more easily now than ever. I do not condemn, and I do not judge. But I have met so many mature women crying bitterly for not having known that a free choice, in their youth, would mark the last years of their life with deep regrets.

What would an old zen monk say of that? Maybe that nine months of one's life is very little time to give if it brings to life a beautiful child like the one you drew with your creative spirit.

Life As I Know It Now said...

Claude, I would venture to guess that a fetus aborted at that late stage was an exception and not the rule for most abortions. Usually abortions done at a later stage are done because of horrible birth defects with no chance of life after birth anyway or because the life of the mother is endangered. Most abortions, if not thwarted unnecessarily happen early in the pregnancy and the horrors you describe are very very very unlikely. See this blog post about abortion though.

Sean Jeating said...

This year, for a change, there are again many slugs occupying Seanhenge. Eating strawberries, the leaves of our young peppers.
Now do we know there are quite a few (cruel) methods to get rid of slugs. However, each evening Mrs. J. and I are collecting as many as we can find (and seldom we do find less than 50), and then I do give them a lift of two or three kilometres.
Sentimental? Stupid even? Not sure. All I know is that I don't like to kill them.

susan said...

Thanks for saying so, OB.

susan said...

I'm delighted to know you like my artwork, Claude. It means a lot to me knowing that.

I'm sure the boy had no notion of saving the ants in any period longer than those moments when they were in imminent danger. When I was a kid I once found a baby robin that seemed to have fallen out of a nest in a tree near our house. Since I couldn't find the nest what I did was to put the bird in a little box lined with rags, set a ladder near the tree, and climbed up to place the box where it was safe from falling. I never did learn whether the mother bird came back but I felt better knowing I'd given it a chance.

I'm sorry to hear about that awful experience you had when you were a young nurse. In those distant days there were no abortions of choice done in Canada at all, a fact that also leads me to conclude that something terrible must have happened for you to have witnessed that scene. Although I most certainly do believe that abortion is the worst kind of birth control I'm very glad that it is an option women have today. Even though adoption is an alternative, not all women who become pregnant against their will are willing, or able, to risk a full term pregnancy.

That this issue remains such an emotionally volatile one is apparent. It's sad indeed when a newly discovered pregnancy isn't greeted with delight. As for our old zen monk, all I can say is for Buddhists, life is a continuum with no discernible starting point. Birth and death are like a revolving door through which an individual passes again and again. Since all that has been done is to postpone rebirth to a later time - the child that was to have been born simply arrives later.

All children deserve to be wanted children, like the ones we loved and nurtured ourselves.

susan said...

So long as you don't mind a bit of a drive every day that sounds like a pretty good solution to me too. I remember reading in one gardening advice article that putting plastic collars around the base of the plants can help keep them away too - at least until you arrive with your travel bucket. :)

Claude said...

I never enter general discussions about abortion. And I do not belong to any groups, pro or anti. My personal goal always was simply to teach people, of every age, starting in school, where babies come from and the ways to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. And, if someone would seek another choice than an abortion, to offer it. A bit like the boy of the zen story who gave a chance to little ants to cross the stream. Surely a possible baby is worth the same effort and attention. That's all I wanted to say. Sorry Susan for having brought a difficult subject in your blog. BTW, I also save spiders. But I cannot save all the bugs they eat.

susan said...

Abortions were totally illegal here and in the US sixty years or so ago - and - there was no such thing as neonatal care either. I don't know if Claude came back to read this yet but I can't help but wonder if what she witnessed was the end result of an induced late term abortion or a miscarriage.

the article you linked to was most interesting.

susan said...

I do understand, Claude. I save spiders too (even though I prefer them to stay outside), saving the bugs they eat is in other hands than ours.

Sean Jeating said...

Ah, that would be too much plastic in the garden.
I do prefer bucket and bicycle. :)

susan said...

That thought had occurred to me too. What was I thinking?
Yes, bucket and bicycle far better for everybody. :)

marja-leena said...

Have you tried a copper mesh collar? Slugs don't like copper.

Sean Jeating said...

Copper and coffee ground and melons and . . . :)
The Spanish slug seemingly couldn't care less.

susan said...

Okay, I've been doing some reading about natural slug repellents. Since it appears they really don't like crawling over gritty stuff some suggestions were: egg shells, diatomaceous earth (apparently you can buy it at garden centres), and/or sandpaper. Good luck :)