Monday, December 21, 2009

Human Being or Human Doing?

The bell sounded as always. It was three in the morning. There was a great commotion as all the monks hurried to the freezing water that awaited the start of their bathing ritual. If one may call it bathing. But today instead of the usual chatter they heard a melodious voice. It was soothing, unfazed by the chill of the early morning and the bite of the water.

All eyes turned to the new student. Enraptured by the melody he created so effortlessly, the monks did not know what to make of this child. A singing monk, they sneered. But the singing child was free of all care, seemingly mocking the world which did not appear to touch him. He sang, as he slowly poured the melted ice over his thin frame, savoring these sensations. 
Those who flow as life flows know
They need no other force
They feel no wear
They feel no tear
They need no mending
No repair

A few hours they sat in meditation, trying hard to still their mind. Later, during discussion, the Teacher asked the monks if they had worked hard enough at quieting their mind. “What”, asked the Teacher, “was uncovered in the infinity of silence? What saw you in that clearing? Think clearly and answer.”

The blank faces stared at each other. Some embarrassed, looked intently at the floor, as though they would  uncover the answer from within the cracks that lined the floor. Some giggled, but  everyone was too afraid to speak, lest they risk ridicule by their peers. Unexpectedly, a soft voice arose… 
The wise man does not strive
The ignorant man ties himself up

Every head turned to witness the sacrificial lamb. The student had the undivided attention of the gathering, as well as of the Teacher. 
If you work on your mind with your mind
How can you avoid an immense confusion?

The Teacher was not used to hearing wisdom from one so young. To know required years of toil. The Teacher smiled. He would enjoy making an example of this impolite child. He would bring the boy in line with their monastic ways. A tradition of a thousand years was testimony to the fact that it required struggle, arduous struggle, for one to clean off all the dirt and grime of this world.
He smiled patiently and baited the young student. 
The body is the Bodhi Tree
The mind like a bright mirror standing
Take care to wipe it all the time
And allow no dust to cling

The other monks looked to each other and seemed quite satisfied. Then glancing over at the new student they whispered silent insults and shook their heads in rejection of his seeming rebellion. 
There never was a Bodhi Tree
Nor bright mirror standing
Fundamentally, not one thing exists
So where is the dust to cling?

The Teacher was speechless.

The student continued, “The whole idea of purifying the mind is irrelevant and confusing because our own nature is fundamentally clean and pure. Our true mind is not an object to be grasped or controlled. And to attempt it is to go around a vicious circle.”

“To try to purify the mind is to contaminate it with purity”, said the student with quiet authority. “It is obvious that a person is not genuinely free, detached or pure when his state is the result of an artificial discipline. He is just imitating purity, just faking clear awareness.”

The Teacher, clearly ruffled by now implored, “To have knowledge one needs to struggle, work extremely hard for years. Then, can one know the truth.”

The student responded, 
All knowledge studies others
Wisdom is self-known

The deep silence that followed created a listening for the student to continue. 
There is no need to run outside
For better seeing
Nor to peer from a window
Rather, abide
At the center of your being
For the more you leave it
The less you learn
Search your heart and see
If he is wise who takes each turn
The way to do, is to BE

All attention was on the student. Eyes that condemned him mere minutes earlier, now implored. The Teacher felt a deep silence within his core and waited for the boy to continue.

The Teacher also began to recognize that his years of toil were mere practiced actions, ritualized gestures without meaning. He saw that his religious value was but a cheap imitation of a pioneering feat reached over a millennium ago by an authentic seeker. He saw now that senses must be sharp and the wit quick enough to pierce the Universe and become insight. But all his years of training were akin to an invalid being spoon-fed. It had dulled the experience, as well as the one experiencing. What wisdom was going to be come upon, when one does not even crave the insightful experience of Truth?

The student asked everyone “why have you shunned society and isolated yourself? Has it truly helped you rise above the dirt and the grime of the world? 
It is not a question of living in the world or above it
But one must find the way to be in both and love it

With great compassion the student added, 
A sound man’s heart is not shut within itself
But is open to other people’s hearts
And I find good people good
And I find bad people good
If I am good enough;
I trust men of their word
And I trust liars
If I am true enough;
I feel the heartbeats of others
Above my own
If I am enough of a father
Enough of a son

Softly, the student started towards the large wooden gate that shut out the world. The other students, who once were monks, watched overwhelmed. Then slowly, one by one, they ventured out of the confines of the monastery. Outside, an unpredictable world waited.

Note: I shall not claim originality as this was written during moments of inspiration, having read many great works and after significant ontological realizations. This was from around 1997/98.


  1. This is an eye opener....
    After reading this only one question is ringing in my head ....what is holding me back?

  2. Gaurav,
    Thank you very much for this insightful and thought-provoking story. I have not read any of the texts you to refer to, but I am on a journey. As I seek and learn (or unlearn), I wonder about pieces of the young monk's poetry that I've been unable to grasp. (And all I have, at this time, is my mind to do that!)
    I wonder what he means by "enough?" What is he saying when he says, "if I am good enough," "if I am enough of a son," "if I am enough of a father?" My current thoughts of "enough" imply that a judge somewhere helps me see that I have reached "enough." Does he need his parents to tell him he is "son enough," or does he already feel it? Does he need his children to tell him he is "father enough?" I wonder if he already knows, because "to be" rather than "to do" implies to me that "I am," and that *is* enough.
    Thanks for your story and your comments,
    Jeff Oremland