The Bandit

Buddha was once threatened with death by a bandit called Angulimal.

“Then be good enough to fulfill my dying wish,” said Buddha. “Cut off the branch of that tree.”    One slash of the sword, and it was done!  “What now?” asked the bandit.    “Put it back again,” said Buddha.    The bandit laughed. “You must be crazy to think that anyone can do that.”    “On the contrary, it is you who are crazy to think that you are mighty because you can wound and destroy. That is the task of children. The mighty know how to create and heal.”

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Everything Has Its Purpose

Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu, “I have a big tree named ailanthus. Its trunk is too gnarled and bumpy to apply a measuring line to, its branches too bent and twisty to match up to a compass or square. You could stand it by the road and no carpenter would look at it twice. Your words, too, are big and useless, and so everyone alike spurns them!”

Chuang Tzu said, “Maybe you’ve never seen a wildcat or a weasel. It crouches down and hides, watching for something to come along. It leaps and races east and west, not hesitating to go high or low-until it falls into the trap and dies in the net. Then again there’s the yak, big as a cloud covering the sky. It certainly knows how to be big, though it doesn’t know how to catch rats. Now you have this big tree and you’re distressed because it’s useless. Why don’t you plant it in Not-Even-Anything Village, or the field of Broad-and-Boundless, relax and do nothing by its side, or lie down for a free and easy sleep under it? Axes will never shorten its life, nothing can ever harm it. If there’s no use for it, how can it come to grief or pain?”

Silk Road – Tan Dun

Empty Your Mind

In the early 20th century, Zen master Nan-in received a university professor who came to ask about Zen. But instead he only talked on and on about his own ideas. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then, while the man continued to speak, Nan-in kept on pouring the tea. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “You fool! It is overfull. No more will go in!” Nan-in replied, “Like this cup, you are also too full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your mind?”

Self and Reality

This is a clip from Neon Genesis Evangelion that has a pretty thought provoking take on explaining, or at least exploring the question of self and reality.

Death and the Mustard Seed

One day, when the rainy season had ended, Krsa Gautami, the wife of a rich man, was plunged deep into grief by the loss of her only son, a baby boy who had died just when he was old enough to run about.

In her grief Krsa carried the dead child to all her neighbors in Kapilavastu, asking them for medicine. Seeing her, the people shook their heads sadly out of pity.
“Poor woman! She has lost her senses from grief. The boy is beyond the help of medicine.”

Unable to accept the fact of her son’s death, Krsa then wandered through the streets of the city beseeching for help everyone she met.
“Please, sir,” she said to a certain man, “give me medicine that will cure my boy!”

The stranger looked at the child’s eyes and saw that the boy was dead. “Alas, I have no medicine for your child,” he said, “but I know of a physician who can give what you require.”
“Please tell me, sir, where I can find this physician.”

“Go, dear woman, to Sakyamuni, the Buddha, just now residing in Banyan Park.”
Krsa went in haste to the Nigrodharama; and she was brought by the monks to Buddha.

“Reverend Lord,” she cried, “give me the medicine that will cure my boy!”
Lord Buddha, Ocean of Infinite Compassion, looked upon the grief-stricken mother with pity.

“You have done well to come here for medicine, Krsa Gautami. Go into the city and get a handful of mustard seed.” And then the Perfect One added: “The mustard seed must be taken from a house where no one has lost a child, husband, parent, or friend.”
“Yes, Lord!” exclaimed Krsa, greatly cheered. “I shall procure the mustard seed at once!”

Poor Krsa then went from house to house with her request; and the people pitied her, saying: “Here is the mustard seed: please take all you want of it.”
Then Krsa would ask: “Did a son or daughter, father or mother, die in your family?”

“Alas! The living are few, but the dead are many. Do not remind us of our deepest grief!”
And there was no house but that some relative, some dear one, had died in it.

Weary and with hope gone, Krsa sat down by the wayside, sorrowfully watching the lights of the city as they flickered up and were extinguished again, And at last the deep shadows of night plunged the world into darkness.
Considering the fate of human beings, that their lives flicker up and are extinguished again, the bereft mother suddenly realized that Buddha, in his compassion, had sent her forth to learn the truth.

“How selfish am I in my grief!” she thought. “Death is universal: yet even in this valley of death there is a Path that leads to Deathlessness [for] him who has surrendered all thought of self!”
Putting away the selfishness of her affection for her child, Krsa Gautami went to the edge of a forest and tenderly laid the dead body in a drift of wildflowers.

“Little son,” she said, taking the child by the hand, “I thought that death had happened to you alone; but it is not to you alone, it is common to all people.”
There she left him; and when dawn brightened the eastern sky, she returned to the Perfect One.

“Krsa Gautami,” said the Tathagata, “did you get a handful of mustard seed from a house in which no one has ever lost kith or kin?”
“That, Lord, is now past and gone,” she said. “Grant me support.”

“Dear girl, the life of mortals in this world is troubled and brief and inseparable from suffering,” declared Buddha, “for there is not any means, nor will there ever be, by which those that have been born can avoid dying. All living beings are of such a nature that they must die whether they reach old age or not.
“As early-ripening fruits are in danger of falling, so mortals when born are always in danger of dying. Just as the earthen vessels made by the potter end in shards, so is the life of mortals. Both young and old, both those who are foolish and those who are wise – all fall into the power of death, all are subject to death.

Of those who depart from this life, overcome by death, a father cannot save his son, nor relatives their kinsfolk. While relatives are looking on and lamenting, one by one the mortals are carried off like oxen to the slaughter. People die, and their fate after death will be according to their deeds. Such are the terms of the world.
“Not from weeping nor from grieving will anyone obtain peace of mind. On the contrary, his pain will be all the greater, and he will ruin his health. He will make himself sick and pale; but dead bodies cannot be restored by his lamentation.

“Now that you have heard the Tathagata, Krsa, reject grief, do not allow it to enter your mind. Seeing one dead, know for sure: ‘I shall never see him again in this existence.’ And just as the fire of a burning house is quenched, so does the contemplative wise person scatter grief’s power, expertly, swiftly, even as the wind scatters cotton seed.
“He who seeks peace should pull out the arrow lamentations, useless longings, and the self-made pangs of grief. He who has removed this unwholesome arrow and has calmed himself will obtain peace of mind. Verily, he who has conquered grief will always be free from grief – sane and immune – confident, happy, and close to Nirvana, I say.”

Then Krsa Gautami won the stage of Entering-the-Stream, and shortly afterwards she became an Arhat [found Nirvana for herself]. She was the first woman to have attained Nirvana under the dispensation of Sakyamuni Buddha.

The Stonecutter

There was once a stonecutter, who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life.

One day, he passed a wealthy merchant’s house, and through the open gateway, saw many fine possessions and important visitors. “How powerful that merchant must be!” thought the stonecutter. He became very envious, and wished that he could be like the merchant. Then he would no longer have to live the life of a mere stonecutter.

To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever dreamed of, envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. But soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants, and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. “How powerful that official is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a high official!”

Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around, who had to bow down before him as he passed. It was a hot summer day, and the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. “How powerful the sun is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the sun!”

Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. “How powerful that storm cloud is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a cloud!”

Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. “How powerful it is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the wind!”

Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, hated and feared by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it — a huge, towering stone. “How powerful that stone is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a stone!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a stone!”

Then he became the stone, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the solid rock, and felt himself being changed. “What could be more powerful than I, the stone?” he thought. He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stonecutter.

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