Notice – Two Points.
- Please read PART 1 first, then come back and read this, PART 2. Thank you.
2. Before we jump in further, it is important to ask a question. Don’t skip the question. And I advise, don’t advance without knowing your answer.
Here’s the question: WHAT DO YOU WANT?
A simple enough question, but it determines the whole direction of your life. It turns your ship towards whatever answer you put forth. The reason the question, as well as the answer is important, is that for the most part we get whatever it is that we want. It is true, even though it may not be exactly what you wanted, but it is some form of what you wanted. Look at your own life. You’ll see that you do get what you want – or some facsimile of it.
If you did not answer the question in some way that suggest you want liberation, I wouldn’t bother reading further. This is not what you want. But, if you did answer, I want to be liberated, then carry on. If you are not sure of what you want, continue to spend time with yourself in solitude and see what bubbles up.
The Story of the Monk Running for His Life
This story is about ignorance. Although, it is often a story about being in the “now” – picking the strawberry, enjoying the sweetness of ignorance, it is ultimately about ignorance. The central ignorance of not knowing who you are.
It is essential that you understand this central question: WHO ARE YOU?
For most of us, we identify our self as a character on the world stage who has a body and mind and a life. In other words, we identify our self according to the body, the mind, and all the constructions of our family and culture and zeitgeist. As an example, I am a man, middle-aged, balding, brown eyes, six feet, a pharmacist, married 2 kids, educated, Spanish, and need to lose a few pounds. On and on this list may go. This list exemplifies the relative, impermanent conditions of the world and it is who this man thinks he is.
If you identify yourself according to the world, you are guaranteed suffering. Suffering’s root is not knowing WHO YOU ARE. It is as if you have identified yourself as a table or a cup, or an automobile which many actually do. The house they live, the car they drive, the clothes they wear, the hairdo, their height, their profession, their history make them who they are. But all of these things disappear and POOF! you lose them and it feels life-threatening because you think these things are YOU.
This YOU comes about through ignorance. And in this story of the monk we see him running for his life out of ignorance.
A Brief Recap
This spiritual adept, (those who want liberation) is said to have escaped the man-eating tiger and the devouring lion, but is soon to be done in by a few hungry mice. We meet him in a rather desperate moment. But despite his facing an impending death, he reaches for a sweet strawberry. Ming Zhen points out that going for the strawberry is playing with paste and that there is more work to be done especially when the monk realizes Layman P’ang’s truth – “the present doesn’t stay – don’t try to hold it.” Nothing lasts, not even the taste of that sweet strawberry.
When you begin to recognize all those things you identify yourself as will not last – and you decide you want liberation beyond the momentary sweetness of a strawberry – you dig in and start the climb up towards the Summit. In Dickinson’s words, you practice until you qualify for pearls.
Wanting the sweetness of the strawberry is wanting the sweetness of ignorance. How do we know that? The monk is running for his life; defending against his impending death. We all tend to opt for the sweetness of ignorance rather than do the higher work of putting our foot into a cranny and getting out of ignorance altogether.
The direct path is to know and realize birth and death are illusions. Yes. That’s right. They are illusions. The tiger chasing the monk, the cliff, the branch, the mice, the lion and yes, the strawberry. The monk is fearful. He does not want to lose his body and mind and all the sweetness of ignorance. Yes, the sweetness of ignorance as in the old saying, ignorance is bliss. To some degree, ignorance itself is blissful – for awhile. Not in an eternal sense. For awhile – we enjoy the sweet honey of life until we realize otherwise. Often we get stuck in ignorance. Taking the ups with downs in stride and sing that very old song by Peggy Lee, Is This All There Is – if your answer is YES, this is all there is then, you’ll go along with her refrain – then bring on the booze and let’s keep dancing. This is being stuck in the honey of ignorance until you suffer change enough that you scream for help.
When we mistake the body and mind to be who we are, we are in ignorance. We suffer from fear, loss, and every imaginable form of suffering when it comes. The Heart Sutra is an antidote to this ignorance, especially when it is taken in and contemplated. We chant the emptiness of every aspect of body and mind as a reminder of these things are not who we are.
All of the things in the world are subject to decay and death. When you identify with this illusion you get scared. Who wouldn’t? What do you mean I AM SUBJECT to decay and death? You struggle, struggle, struggle with doubt, fear, hopelessness, helplessness and many, many other miseries that come.
The Truth is simple. You are NOT the body. You are not the MIND. YOU are not all those conditions and constructs you put together which you say you are. They are part of the role you play in the illusion like a costume – put on and then taken off.
Ming Zhen suggests getting out of there. Get out of the illusion; if you don’t survive, you can’t prevail. Prevail for the spiritual adept requires you face the beasts – the tiger, the mice and the hungry lion. You face the illusion of the body and mind. You see through it. You face the momentary enjoyment of sweet ignorance and look to know who you are.
First, find out where you are. Are you a pleasure hog? A monger of the commodities of the world? Going after things for pleasure, pleasure, pleasure, comfort, comfort, comfort?
Most of us have been conditioned to seek comfort and pleasure in the things of the world. Look around you. What do you cherish?
In order to get onto the path, you need to have a glimpse, to see through the illusion. Suffering is your greatest ally to make a hole into the veil of ignorance ;allowing you a glimpse through the illusion. This takes time.
It is no wonder Eastern religions claim rebirth and reincarnation as our lot. We need time to see through this illusion. Along with the notion of reincarnation comes the ever-present encouragement not to waste time. Life and death are of supreme importance. This story shows us the importance to dig in and climb above the illusion.
You are born this time as a human being – a great boon – a platform on which to climb upward to the Summit. Don’t waste this opportunity. Don’t let the piddly, petty things of this world distract you. Fight off the demons of the ego. Find a teacher.* Climb upward.
*I was once dubious about working with a teacher, but after a lifetime of practice,
I see the need and recommend you find a teacher you can work with face to face.
Author: FaShi Lao Yue
Image credits: Fly, 2020
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