Purification or Balancing?

If one looks at the “spiritual” literature for long enough, one can see something of a gap, a hole even. There are lots of accounts of the benefits, the goals and the ideals. There are a few more cursory accounts of what the “bad stuff” is. By and large people are more attracted to and like to hear the nice stuff, what is less popular is the nitty-gritty of the work to be done and the struggle. It is as if the “how to” or difficulties encountered do not want to be seen. It is almost as if people want a sales pitch for the endeavour but not an instruction manual. This idea of “work to be done” somehow lessens the ardour for change. Maybe we are all after the “magic wand” that will lead to perfection and liberation?

What do you reckon is the above paragraph of a sound basis?

Unless we are prepared to look at the “dark-side” in each of us there cannot be balance. Unless we work at its reduction, it won’t go away. But I reckon this is where the approach of many fails, because they do not want to look at this nor work at it. Seems to me that it cannot be eradicated at the flick of a switch, rather it needs constant application. And to admit imperfection is not to everyone’s taste. Yet unless one is real about it, one cannot work at it or with it. No matter much we would like to think otherwise, we are not sugar and spice and all things nice. It is a fundamental aspect of reality to acknowledge our less glorious sides, only then can we work towards a balancing and a perfecting. {Note the present participle here.}

People do not want to work at their shortcomings nor even acknowledge that they might have any in the first place. In the world of spin, everything is dressed. I have adopted a “warts and all” approach in this blog so as to avoid the trap of overly dressing things and making them all shiny and thereby, unreal.

Having cued this up:

Do I not want to look at my own shortcomings and work with them?

Am I already an Angel or a Pratyekabuddha?

In an age of spin is “warts and all” not at all to my taste?

The Story of Kala, son of Anathapindika

While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verse (178) of this book, with reference to Kala, son of Anathapindika, the well renowned rich man of Savatthi.

Kala, son of Anathapindika, always kept away whenever the Buddha and his company of bhikkhus came to their house. Anathapindika was afraid that if his son kept on behaving in this way, he would be reborn in one of the lower worlds (apayas). So, he enticed his son with the promise of money. He promised to give one hundred if the youth consented to go to the monastery and keep sabbath for one day. So, the youth went to the monastery and returned home early the next day, without listening to any religious discourses. His father offered him rice gruel, but instead of taking his food, he first demanded to have the money.

The next day, the father said to his son, “My son, if you learn a stanza of the Text from the Buddha I will give you one thousand on your return.” So, Kala went to the monastery again, and told the Buddha that he wanted to learn something. The Buddha gave him a short stanza to learn by heart; at the same time he willed that the youth would not be able to memorize it. Thus, the youth had to repeat a single stanza many times, but because he had to repeat it so many times, in the end, he came to perceive the full meaning of the Dhamma and attained Sotapatti Fruition.

Early on the next morning, he followed the Buddha and the bhikkhus to his own house. But on that day, he was silently wishing, “I wish my father would not give me the one thousand in the presence of the Buddha. I do not wish the Buddha to know that I kept the sabbath just for the sake of money.” His father offered rice gruel to the Buddha and the bhikkhus, and also to him. Then, his father brought one thousand, and told Kala to take the money but surprisingly he refused. His father pressed him to take it, but he still refused. Then, Anathapindika said to the Buddha, “Venerable Sir, my son is quite changed; he now behaves in a very pleasant manner.” Then he related to the Buddha how he had enticed the youth with money to go to the monastery and keep sabbath and to learn some religious texts. To him the Buddha replied, “Anathapindika! Today, your son has attained Sotapatti Fruition, which is much better than the riches of the Universal Monarch or that of the devas or that of the brahmas.”

Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

Verse 178: Far better than sovereignty over the earth, or far better than going to the abodes of the devas, or far better than ruling supreme over the entire universe, is (the attainment of) Sotapatti Fruition.

Excerpted from: tipitaka.net at Dhammapada Verse 178

The Zen of Peeling Mangoes

The notion of complete absorption in the moment, is not so common these days. We have one eye on the ‘phone, we may do things whilst watching TV or having a conversation. But we do not focus as much as much as we might. I do a fair bit of cooking and consistent with my travels, mangoes often feature. This is good because it enables me to practise the zen of peeling mangoes. The riper the mango the more tricky it is to peel. My sister used to say that the only clean way to eat a mango is in the bath, whilst bathing.

If you are to get the most out of peeling, you need to use a knife and not a peeler. The idea is to take the skin off in one whole piece. To do this you have to be focussed, calm and unhurried. One starts at the top and slowly works around and down. You have to gauge the thickness and depth of the cut. Too thin and the peel will split, too thick and you can’t get that nice circular feeling needed. You will end up with an asymmetry and this too causes the peel to break. When you first start peeling mangoes, chances are that you won’t be able to take the peel off in one thread. It is not you against the mango, it is you with the mango. It is not there to be conquered. As you progress the mango will get ever more slippery in your hand and to keep hold of it you need to adjust the grip, too slack and the mango drops, too tight and it shoots out of your hand. It must not be rushed, for that is the sure-fire way for the peel to break. It is not a race, it is an experience, the zen of peeling mangoes. The ones which are bigger than the clenched fist of a large man are the best for this.

Whilst you do this you get the touch of the mango skin, the juice and that lovely fresh mango smell.

Try this, the zen of peeling mangoes, it works with other things, but my experience is that mangoes are best.

Without Words, Without Silence

A monk asked Fuketsu: “Without speaking, without silence, how can you express the truth?”

Fuketsu observed: “I always remember springtime in southern China. The birds sing among innumerable kinds of fragrant flowers.”

Mumon’s comment: Fuketsu used to have lightning Zen. Whenever he had the opportunity, he flashed it. But this time he failed to do so and only borrowed from an old Chinese poem. Never mind Fuketsu’s Zen. If you want to express the truth, throw out your words, throw out your silence, and tell me about your own Zen.


        Without revealing his own penetration,

        He offered another’s words, not his to give.

        Had he chattered on and on,

        Even his listeners would have been embarrassed.


Excerpted from the Gateless Gate


Peace of Mind

Do you have peace of mind?

Last night, somewhat exhausted through a bit too much gardening, I sat on my step. On that step the part where I sit is worn as is the wall where I rest my back. It is not a very glamorous step. It is next to the bins and our back door. Yet from it I can see the barns and the open countryside. In the evening sunlight I could see insects or flying things, dancing. And I had this thought; “on days like this I can see why it is called a green and pleasant land”. We live in a very tranquil spot, the quiet is usually only interrupted by the sound of farm machinery and the distant hum of lawn mowers. Maybe every now and then someone goes down the lanes. This tranquillity is largely missing in modern life. And I’ll hazard a guess that most do not have much peace of mind.

Whilst we are perennially alert for Pavlov’s ‘phone and held fast in the fear of missing out, it is difficult to be at peace. Whilst we have the unresolved chugging around in mind, there is but transitory peace. Even should we go to the most tranquil place on earth, our “world”, our mind comes with us. We are a hectic bunch, generally. The wife and I know that when people visit it takes them a long while to chill the fuck out. Some never do, not at all.

And here is the thing no matter how much meditation you do and how skilful you become, unless you work at your karma, it will continue to intrude and evaporate your peace of mind. You are unable to sustain that tranquillity for long periods. Maybe whilst sitting, it is OK, but to have it with you always, is more tricky.

Last night I had some seriously technicolour dreams and in those someone from my deep past was searching for me. I have had this kind of thing before only to find out later that they have recently died. But this pointed at the notion of unresolved challenges or in other words, karma. We can maybe resolve the “issues” in our mind but if we still have work to do, it builds up like a stack of stuff in the in-box, waiting. The longer we put it off the more it impinges on our peace of mind. It penetrates what tranquillity we may have and is like a resident background programme, it uses CPU time. We can’t use task manager to turn it off for ever. We may halt it. But those unresolved challenges continue to boot up, on wake up.

Although you may not think it from the size of this blog, my default usual state is not-thinking. I have to make a conscious effort, “now I am going to think about such and such”. And when I am done, it switches off. It has taken a bit of work to make the tube station trains fall silent and to stop them chugging around, all of the time. To do this one has to overcome the fear, the terror, of silence. I can’t show anyone what this feels like.

What I can do is ask these questions:

Do you have peace of mind?

How long can you sustain it?

Is this notion of peace of mind an attractive one to you?

The Cruel Crane Outwitted

A TAILOR who used to make robes for the brotherhood was wont to cheat his customers, and thus prided himself on being smarter than other men. But once, on entering upon an important business transaction with a stranger, he met his master in the way of cheating, and suffered a heavy loss.

The Blessed One said: “This is not an isolated incident in the greedy tailor’s fate; in other incarnations he suffered similar losses, and by trying to dupe others ultimately ruined himself. This same greedy character lived many generations ago as a crane near a pond, and when the dry season set in he said to the fishes with a bland voice: care you not anxious for your future welfare. There is at present very little water and still less food in this pond. What will you do should the whole pond become dry, in this drought?’ ‘Yes, indeed’ said the fishes what should we do?’ Replied the crane: ‘I know a fine, large lake, which never becomes dry. Would you not like me to carry you there in my beak?’ When the fishes began to distrust the honesty of the crane, he proposed to have one of them sent over to the lake to see it; and a big carp at last decided to take the risk for the sake of the others, and the crane carried him to a beautiful lake and brought him back in safety. Then all doubt vanished, and the fishes gained confidence in the crane, and now the crane took them one by one out of the pond and devoured them on a big varana-tree.

“There was also a lobster in the pond, and when the crane wanted to eat him too, he said: ‘I have taken all the fishes away and put them in a fine, large lake. Come along. I shall take thee, too!’ ‘But how wilt thou hold me to carry me along?’ asked the lobster. ‘I shall take hold of thee with my beak, said the crane. ‘Thou wilt let me fall if thou carry me like that. I will not go with thee!’ replied the lobster. ‘Thou needst not fear,’ rejoined the crane; ‘I shall hold thee quite tight all the way.’

“Then said the lobster to himself: ‘If this crane once gets hold of a fish, he will certainly never let him go in a lake! Now if he should really put me into the lake it would be splendid; but if he does not, then I will cut his throat and kill him!’ So he said to the crane: ‘Look here, friend, thou wilt not be able to hold me tight enough; but we lobsters have a famous grip. If thou wilt let me catch hold of thee round the neck with my claws, I shall be glad to go with thee.’

“The crane did not see that the lobster was trying to outwit him, and agreed. So the lobster caught hold of his neck with his claws as securely as with a pair of blacksmith’s pincers, and called out: ‘Ready, ready, go!’ crane took him and showed him the lake, and then turned off toward the varana-tree. ‘My dear uncle!’ cried the lobster, “The lake lies that way, but thou art taking me this other way.’ Answered the crane: ‘Thinkest so? Am I thy dear uncle? Thou meanest me to understand, I suppose, that I am thy slave, who has to lift thee up and carry thee about with him, where thou pleasest! Now cast thine eye upon that heap of fish-bones at the root of yonder varana-tree. Just as I have eaten those fish, every one of them, just so will I devour thee also!’

“‘Ah! those fishes got eaten through their own stupidity, answered the lobster, ‘but I am not going to let thee kill me. On the contrary, it is thou that I am going to destroy. For thou, in thy folly, hast not seen that I have outwitted thee. If we die, we both die together; for I will cut off this head of thine and cast it to the ground!’ So saying, he gave the crane’s neck a pinch with his claws as with a vise.

“Then gasping, and with tears trickling from his eyes, and trembling with the fear of death, the crane besought the lobster, saying: ‘O, my Lord! Indeed I did not intend to eat thee. Grant me my life!’ ‘Very well! fly down and put me into the lake,’ replied the lobster. And the crane turned round and stepped down into the lake, to place the lobster on the mud at its edge. Then the lobster cut the crane’s neck through as clean as one would cut a lotus-stalk with a hunting-knife, and then entered the water!”

When the Teacher had finished this discourse, he added: “Not now only was this man outwitted in this way, but in other existences, too, by his own intrigues.”

By Paul Carus
Chicago, The Open Court Publishing Company,

at Sacred Texts