Friday, February 22, 2013

KOAN: Zen Strawberry redux (video)

Ashley Wells, Dhr. Seven (translation), Pat Macpherson, Wisdom Quarterly
Cristina "Is That All There Is?" (via our friend Los Angeles DJ Rodney Bingenheimer)

We have been getting a great deal of attention for adding dimension to one of the most famous Zen riddles of all time (Money, Karma, or a Zen Strawberry), one we call...
Mara's Cliffhanger Koan
A person traveling across a field encountered a tiger and fled, the tiger giving chase. Coming to the edge of a cliff, clambering over, and taking hold of the root of a wild vine, s/he was now stuck in a precarious position over the edge. The tiger sniffed and snarled above. Trembling, the person looked down and saw another tiger sniffing and snarling below. Hanging onto the vine for dear life, the person suddenly realized that there were two mice, one white the other black, gnawing at the vine.
Curious in the Garden of Eden
Then suddenly there, next to the vine, s/he noticed a luscious strawberry. Grasping the vine tightly with one hand, plucking the strawberry with the other -- how sweet it tasted!

(This koan might make more sense if the Zen strawberry were replaced with a Jewish apple -- a "deadly poison" appealing enough to distract one from the bigger predicament it would get one in).

What does this koan mean?
"Enjoy life to the fullest"? "Catch as catch can"? "Seize the day/Carpe diem"? It could, but it more likely has a whole different meaning, as explained by Dr. John Suler.
According to Suler's Zen Stories To Tell Your Neighbors:  

"One reader claimed that Thomas Cleary once told him that the original ending of this story was quite different. According to Cleary, D.T. Suzuki changed the ending because he thought the original [ending] would not appeal to Westerners. The story was then picked up by others, such as Paul Reps. In the original version, the strawberry turns out to be, in fact, deadly poison."

So the "strawberry" is quite like sensual distractions -- that lead again and again to death -- in our precarious samsaric situation. 
Samsara simplified as only Six Realms
Samsara (a wheel depicted in the Tibetan thangka on the right) literally means "the continued wandering on" from rebirth to rebirth and, inadvertently, redeath to redeath. What is our motivation? Why are we doing this?
The Buddha saw and understood that sentient beings have three mindless motivations: craving for sensual pleasure, craving for renewed existence (again becoming as if grasping for eternal life), and craving for annihilation. 
We chase these three life after life, and reappear according to karma in search of them in pleasurable and miserable states.

World after world, revolving in samsara
Including black and white micsuggests birth and death, duality, this versus that thinking. 
With birth comes death, but only after old age, sickness, good times, and youth. It just revolves this way ad nauseum until we say something like: "Is that all there is? Because if that's all there is, then someone stop this Ferris wheel. I want to get off!"

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