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It’s Broken

Some time ago I heard this story….told by a Buddhist teacher.

She with several others went on a trip to Southeast Asia to work with Theravada Buddhist monks. When they arrived they were shown to small broken down huts where loud music blared from the nearby village all night long. The accommodations were sparse, untamed and relatively wild. They were to meet with a teacher who was as they thought in the process of building a temple. They made the trip to help the teacher build the temple. To their surprise they met him sitting in a construction site….the materials were rotting from the moisture and heat, there was no real semblance of a building at all except for one or two walls held up by leaning 2×4’s. No windows. No doors. The materials were moldy, covered with growth and rancid.

In the midst of these decaying and broken things sat the monk on top of a stack of wood surrounded by torn bags of concrete. The contingent of helpers were dazed at first but soon took to thinking they must help him build the temple. On the very first meeting, in their exasperation of the mess they told him they would help clean up, fix up, build up the temple. The monk looked at them as though he didn’t understand what they were saying and in all great composure turned and said to them, this is the temple. As one might imagine the contingent were dismayed even distressed by his indifference to the broken down building site and to his sincere declaration: This is the Temple.

Desire for something more, better, ordered, organized, proper, perfect….an endless list of something more is a distraction from the truth it is broken. The distraction leads us to feel burdened and stressed by wanting something more, something different, something better in the face of It’s broken. 

The Mountain

The Mountain by Albert Herbert 1991 Private Collection  (Sister Wendy On Prayer, Figure 10)

The image is primitive, childlike and expressive. It is a two-dimensional picture of something big in the physical world. Although it is sharp, angled and appears to be an apparent obstacle it is accessible and invites us to come up. Herbert’s work does not show a clear, well-beaten path; in fact the painting leaves us wondering how did Moses get up as high as he did? How will we make such a climb? Herbert leaves that for us to work out.

What we do see is that mountains are majestic, a royal earth phenomena calling us to look upward, skyward, to come up to the heights of spiritual life. In Herbert’s work there is a clear indication that Moses is accompanied by wildlife, we might even say he enters, no he must enter the wild, untamed world to get nearer to the summit.

In looking at our teaching, It’s broken it is important to keep the mountain in mind otherwise we risk a steep stumble into despair. The world, It’s broken if understood brings peace, if misunderstood brings confusion.

We realize acceptance for what is and continue on towards the sky above the mountain. We begin at the foot and make our way through the wild, untamed world.  We calm down. We stop pushing the river and use our powers to climb upward through the rugged terrain. We use our effort to keep going. We are content right in the middle of It’s broken.


On a retreat recently a student gave me a gift of a stamp with my new Chinese name on it. It came in two sizes. During the retreat I had the opportunity to use the stamps and posted up a little board using one of the stamps. When the student saw the stamp mark, she declared, “It’s not beautiful. I want it to be beautiful.” I remarked, “It is good enough.” (It’s broken)


The Reminder


In the light of It’s broken everything is good enough or just enough or enough as it is. It is suffering to want something else. It is a distraction keeping us from seeing the truth, It’s broken. When we know and see It’s broken, we enter the wild, untamed world of the mountain and use our power and efforts to “…. (make) the solitary ascent….to labor along the way….to strip the heart of all that is distraction….to hold on in confidence to the certainty that God (undying, unborn, our True Self) is there, even if—-(even when) we see nothing.” John of the Cross

It is from this mind we meet what comes and act accordingly.



“Nothing, nothing, nothing on the way….and on the mountain, nothing. Nothing but God alone.” John of the Cross

When we do otherwise we are caught in the world of wanting what shows up in our life to be different than what it is; we forget It’s broken and are caught in striving for something else, something different. This is suffering.

To climb the mountain….we go it alone, labor with what we meet along the way and strip away all distractions….confident in nothing….nothing, nothing, nothing which turns out to be something.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

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