Thursday, May 17, 2012

Give up that foolish religion! (Self-reflection)

Thich Thien-An, Zen Philosophy, Zen Practice ( via See PART I
A simple story shows the importance of self-reflection in daily life.

In ancient China there were many pious Buddhist families in which the religious life of Buddhism was shared by all its members.

But in more recent times a generation gap set in between parents and their children. The parents might be very devout Buddhists, while their children regarded them as old-fashioned and superstitious. 

In one such family the parents chanted sutras, practiced meditation, recited the name of the Buddha, and often went to the temple to hear Dharma-masters speak the Dharma and explain the discourses.

The son, however, would have none of these activities. He regarded Buddhism as a mass of superstition, ritual, and fantasy. He was interested only in science, technology, and the materialistic lures of modern life. 

The son continually pleaded with his parents to give up their Buddhist ideas. He criticized the concepts of Buddhist philosophy and mocked the practices in which his pious parents participated. 

One day, after his parents returned from temple, his father called his son to his room and spoke to him: "Son, it seems you are not happy to see your mother and me go to the Buddhist temple so often. You always criticize our religion. Would you like us to stop going to the temple?"
The son nodded his assent. "Well, I'll tell you something," the father continued, "we will never go to the temple again...." The son became excited [to hear it before the father continued:] "provided you could do for me one small favor. Are you willing to do it?"


"Oh yes, father, I would do anything to get you to throw off that religious nonsense." 

"Go to the store, and buy yourself a pencil and a small notebook. Then from today on, for the next week, I would like you to sit down for one hour a day, let your mind flow, and write down in the notebook every idea that comes into your mind -- every plan, every desire, every memory. The only thing I ask is that you do this honestly, with complete candor. Then come to me at the end of the week, and show me the notebook. Do you promise to do this?"

The son, thinking this an easy task, readily agreed. "You also keep your promise," he added. The father nodded. 

That night the son sat down at his desk and began to write. He wrote with complete honesty, not holding anything back. One moment this thought came into his mind, he wrote it down; the next moment that thought came into his mind, he wrote it down. He wrote down all his hopes and dreams and fantasies, all his desires and regrets and fears and memories. 

Thus he continued one hour each night for three nights. Then on the third night, as he lay on his bed, curiosity began to grow. He started to wonder what he had written the past few days. His curiosity grew stronger and stronger until he could not sleep. He jumped up and began to read. As he read through his notebook, a burning sense of shame overwhelmed him. He felt a pain gnaw at the heart as he poured through the pages he had written.

He thought of his mother and father and of their love for him, and all this provoked in him a disgust for his inward state of being, the state which he had candidly revealed in the pages of his notebook. 

Too ashamed to show the book to anyone, he threw it into the fire and watched over it until it was all consumed. Then he went to see his father. He found his father sitting in meditation before the Buddha altar in the shrine room. He entered and sat quietly behind him. After the father completed his meditation, he turned around and saw his son. 

Sensing that something was wrong, he asked: "What is the matter with you, son?" 

"You've won the game, father."

"What game?"

"Well," the son explained, "you asked me to write down all my thoughts and feelings an hour a day in a notebook. I kept my promise and did so honestly. Tonight I looked over my notebook and realized that I cannot show it to you. There are some thoughts and feelings I have that are just too private and of which I am too ashamed. Now I am aware that there is a great deal of imperfection in myself. I see that it is necessary to practice Buddhism to purify myself. Next time you go to the temple, please let me go with you."

This story clearly shows us the necessity for practicing meditation and cultivating the Way. Within the privacy of our minds pass many thoughts we would not reveal even to our closest friends and dearest loved ones: our minds are filled with dark tracks and shadows.

It is no solution to conceal these thoughts from others or from ourselves, for the impulses they spring from still remain and haunt us in the depths of our being. The only solution is to pursue the harmful thoughts to their roots in the heart/mind and extricate the roots. Then our minds will become pure and clear.

The first step in this process is to become aware of our faults. So long as we are blind to them, no self-cultivation can take place at all. For our passions, aversions, and delusions are the material upon which self-cultivation works. More

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