Thursday, April 4, 2013

ZEN: Crossing the River (cartoon)

Dhr. Seven and Amber Dorrian, Wisdom Quarterly; art: Zen Pencils (664), March 26, 2013

Are we holding on? Are we oppressed by attachment? Can we let go? 
There is a well-known Buddhist story that has appeared in many different forms over the past century. There are now even Catholic and Jewish retellings. After some digging (with help from reader Wayne P) the original author of the fable seems to be famous Japanese Zen Master Tanzan. He was a professor of philosophy during the Meiji period.

This version of the story is taken from the great book Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams, a student of famous karate expert and breakthrough actor Bruce Lee. 
The lesson here is deceptively simple. Are we holding on? Can we let go? The younger, less experienced monk is trapped by dogma -- misinterpreting the liberating-Dharma to be a rigid set of rules and rituals that will somehow magically produce enlightenment if one studiously carries them out perfectly.
But by clinging to rules and rituals (silabbata-paramassa) in this way, he has forgotten the most important teaching: Craving-grasping-and-attachment are internal motivations (intent) for actions not the outward actions themselves.

Transcendental wisdom: Buddha eyes look across the Himalayan foothills of Nepal.
It is wise to help others so long as one does not harm oneself. Will one be harmed by helping a beautiful woman? That depends. It depends on one's internal state, which is hard (but not impossible) to detect in others and relatively easy to discern in oneself.

An inexperienced monk is wise to steer clear of women in accordance with the Path-to-Liberation rule, for he has not yet overcome lust, temptation, and attachment to sensuality. But it may be that a more seasoned, insightful, and experienced monastic may -- while seeming to violate the rule -- avoid being harmed in the process of interacting with pleasurable sense stimuli. How is this possible?
It is possible because things (persons, objects, ideas) themselves do not have the power to fascinate and enslave us in and of themselves. We must consent, even in ignorance or mis-estimating ourselves. (Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.")
If things did have that power then the Buddha and other arhats (liberated individuals) would be just as trapped as ever, just as enslaved as we are.

It is the combination of an enticement and a susceptible individual that leads to clinging/attachment.

The moment we are free, the world will not change at all. But because we have changed, the world will be completely different.
Fat happy monk (speakinggod)
It will look just the same; nevertheless, we will see it with entirely new eyes. Seeing it as slaves to sensuality (and aversion and delusion), we see slavery wherever we look.

When we look through free eyes, we see just what is just as it is whatever it is. We will not embellish it, make it more than it is, attach a story to it. The world does not have the power to trap us.

As different and as varied as the Dharma may seem as we study what the Buddha taught, the Enlightened One pointed out that -- like the ocean, which has one flavor, the flavor of salt -- the Dharma has only one flavor, the flavor of freedom. Which of the monks in the cartoon is free?

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