Thursday, March 24, 2016

liberating creatures

An old monk liked to sit in meditation on a large flat rock next to a placid pool. Yet every time he began his devotions in earnest, just as soon as he had crossed his legs and settled down, he would spot an insect struggling helplessly in the water. Time after time, he would lift up his creaky old body and deliver the tiny creature to safety, before settling down again on his rocky seat. So his contemplations went, day after day..

His brother monks, dedicated meditators who also went off daily to sit alone in the rocky ravines and caves of that desolate region, eventually became aware that the old lama hardly ever managed to sit still but actually spent most of his meditation sessions plucking insects out of the tiny pool. Although it certainly seemed fitting to save the life of a helpless sentient being of any kind, large or small, some of the wondered if the old monk's meditations might not be greatly furthered if he sat undisturbed elsewhere. away from such distractions. One day they finally mentioned their concerns to him.

"Wouldn't it be more beneficial to sit elsewhere and meditate deeply, undisturbed all day? That way you could more swiftly gain perfect enlightenment, and then you could free all living beings from the ocean of conditioned existence?" one asked the old man.

"Perhaps you could just meditate by the pool with your eyes closed," another brother suggested.

"How can you develop tranquility and deep, diamondlike concentration if you keep getting up and sitting down a hundred times in each meditation session?" a young scholarly monk demanded, emboldened by the more tactful queries of his senior brethren... And thus it went on.

The venerable old lama listened attentively, saying nothing. When all had had their say, he bowed gratefully and said, "I'm sure my meditations would be more fruitful if I sat unmoved all day, brothers, as you say. But how can an old worthless one like myself, who has vowed again and again to give this lifetime (and all his lives) to serving and liberating others, just sit with closed eyes and hardened heart, praying and intoning the altruistic mantra of Great Compassion, while right before me helpless creatures are drowning?"

To that simple, humble question, none of the assembled monks could find a reply.


I haven't posted a Tibetan Buddhist story in quite some time, but when this one appeared in front of me again a few days ago I decided to paint a quick picture.

Happy Springtime


  1. This is delightful. When I found myself in a similar position last year, I forgot to put some protection on my fingers before lifting out a struggling bee. I guess the old lama had gained more wisdom than I. :)

    1. Hi Tom. The first thing I thought when I read your comment was to wonder just how many stinging insects have already passed you by? :)

  2. I love Buddhist stories and your painting adds to it's relevance.
    the Ol'Buzzard

    1. I love them too. This is another classic:

      Kakua visited China and accepted the true teaching. He did not travel while he was there. Meditating constantly, he lived on a remote part of a mountain. Whenever people found him and asked him to preach he would say a few words and then move to another part of the mountain where he could be found less easily.

      The emperor heard about Kakua when he returned to Japan and asked him to preach Zen for his edification and that of his subjects.

      Kakua stood before the emperor in silence. He then produced a flute from the folds of his robe, and blew one short note. Bowing politely, he disappeared.

  3. So wonderful, both the story and your painting!

    Happy Easter, Happy Spring, dear Susan!

    1. I'm happy you enjoyed them both, my friend.

      Happy Easter to you too!

  4. Hi Susan , A delightful depiction and story possibly leading one to the conclusion we are always capable of exercising ‘real’ or psychological altruism- whatever the time or place. Best wishes

    1. I believe that's true, Lindsay.

      All the best for a very
      Happy Easter