Posts Tagged ‘wisdom’
Among Western laymen, few realize the full breadth of knowledge commanded by an accomplished Zen master. We may appreciate their expertise in the subtleties of the medical, the physical and the metaphysical, yet much of their insight in matters more mundane gets overlooked.
Consider the lesson of one Zen master on the basic subject of arithmetic. He presents his students with this simple story.
“In our village, there once lived this man,” the teacher begins. “He had five hundred dollars, and over the course of his life he gave away four hundred dollars. How much money did the man have when he died?”
Quickly and confidently, the students reply, “One hundred dollars!”
“No,” says the teacher, “you are mistaken. It might look that way, but the deeper truth is that if he had five hundred dollars here on Earth and gave away four hundred, then at his death he would have had four hundred dollars. Because in the end, all you have is what you have given.”
Song of the Day: “The End” by The Beatles.
When we grapple to understand life’s most puzzling mysteries, we can often look to nature to find the basic patterns that illustrate the most complex aspects of human behavior and psychological development.
As we’ve demonstrated earlier in this blog, bamboo provides a reliable model for understanding some of human nature’s highest qualities and greatest aspirations.
A perennial grass that grows from a prolific system of rhizomes and adventitious roots, bamboo finds strength in numbers. A single root system can produce hundreds of high-flying shoots, each stretching for the sun and spreading its leaves in the fresh air. At times these individual shoots may compete for resources, but more often, the greater intelligence of the rhizome network knows to spread and avoid such self-destructive competition.
Over the years, a patch of bamboo can grow exceedingly thick and excessively dense. For the collective advantage of the grove, individual shoots may be crowded out, or they may need to be removed through selective harvesting. Enter the blade of the scythe, universal symbol for the Grim Reaper: man’s worst fear and the greatest nemesis of human consciousness.
But when we recognize our role in a larger system and understand our relationship to something higher and more meaningful, then we see for ourselves the overall unimportance of the individual. Detaching from our own selfish identities, we free ourselves from the bounds of the ego, and elevate to a higher state of consciousness, to find ourselves serving a healthier and more functional community.
This holistic model functions on every level. In our own bodies, cells are constantly dying and decaying, by the hundreds and thousands. The individual’s significance has limitations. In about seven years, not a single molecule in our body will remain. Each will be replaced by a younger, fresher one, and we will go on living.
And when a tattered old stalk of bamboo meets its end and falls to the ground, a vigorous young shoot will be there to fill its place – or perhaps it will find an even better place where it can thrive and bring good to the grove. So the cycle of eternal return repeats itself, again and again, as it has since the beginning of time.
In memory of Donald William Hornaday (2/7/1941 – 1/21/2009)