Nov 27 2014

The Prayer Dog and the Eastern Wall

Category: cosmology,Epistemology,Ethics,Evil,goodness,Morals,religionJames @ 9:33 am

A spiritual teacher would meet with others for prayers at his home once a week. His dog, though, would always cause a commotion and distract them from their prayers. The teacher thus began tying up his dog outside each week at the start of their meet­ing, and would then release the dog after they had finished their prayers. The teacher eventually died, but a spiritual community had grown around his teach­ings, and they continued to meet and pray together weekly at his house. Every week, they would tie up the dog before prayers and then release him afterward. Eventually the dog also died. As a way of remembering the quirks of their beloved teacher, the community adopted a new dog to tie up before their prayers and release at their completion. After many years had passed, the original reason for this practice—to remove distractions from their prayers—was eventually forgotten, and also it was forgotten that the second dog had been adopted in remembrance of their teacher. The practice became a tradition, though, and continued through the years as a part of the community’s weekly prayer ritual.

Many decades later, after all who had known the teacher had died, some members of the community began to question the need for tying up the dog, and whether it served any real purpose. The commun­ity’s leaders were horrified to hear such talk, and considered this questioning to be blasphemy. The learned members of the community took for grant­ed the necessity of their ritual of tying up the dog. In response to the questioning, they offered long discourses and wrote complicated treatises, justifying the importance of their dog-tying ritual and its spir­itual symbolism.

The questioners eventually left the community and started a new one with no dogs. They would meet in a building with a noisy street to the east. Eventually, they filled in the windows and doors on the east of their building to block out the sound and create greater peace and serenity during their meetings. When that building grew too old and fell into disrepair, they tore it down and built a new one with no windows or doors on the east. Many decades later, they moved to a new location surrounded by quiet peaceful streets. So much time had passed that the original members of the communiy had died. The re­maining members did not know the purpose of having no windows and doors on the east. It felt improp­er and irreverent to most of them, though, to construct a new building that was not faithful to their previous one, so they built it with no windows and doors to the east.

Some members of the community began to ques­tion this decision. The leaders saw this questioning as blasphemy, and their learned members offered long discourses and wrote complicated treatises explaining the spiritual symbolism of this practice. . . .

**Inspired by an old Buddhist story, source unknown.


Nov 20 2014

The Banquet and the Spider

One day a hardened and greedy man was walking through the forest when a poisonous spider bit him. He fell to the ground, unconscious and dreaming. He felt as if transported to hell. He saw a banquet room, with an endlessly long table piled high with delicious foods. The people sitting at the table, however, groaned in misery. Their arms were tied with splints so that they could not bend their elbows, and they thus could not lift food to their mouths. Worse still, they were tied to their chairs and the food was piled in the middle of the table, so they could not bend forward to eat with their mouths. They would try over and over to feed themselves by picking up food, throwing it into the air, and catching whatever they could in their mouths. Without being able to bend their arms, though, their throws were clumsy, and most of the food landed elsewhere. The banquet hall was a chaotic mess, with food flying in the air and food spilled and rotting all over the ground and the diners. The hall was filled with the diners’ moans of hunger and angry shouts at one another.

The man was suddenly carried away into heav­en. He was puzzled, though, for heaven was set up identically to hell. Once again, there was an endless­ly long banquet table, with guests tied to their chairs, their arms tied to splints. But here, the banquet room was clean. The only sounds were the sounds of happy conversation between the guests. One thing caused this marked difference: in heaven, since it was not pos­sible to feed oneself, each person would pick up food and feed it to that person’s neighbors. Invariably, the person receiving food would thank the one feeding, and then offer food back to that person in return.

The man found himself again back in hell. Puzz­led that those in hell had not figured out how to feed each other, the man approached the nearest suffering diner, leaned down and whispered, “You fool! There is no need for you to go hungry. Feed one of your neighbors, and certainly he will return your kindness and feed you.

“You expect me to feed him?” the diner said, looking with disapproval at his neighbor. “I’d rather starve than give him the satisfaction of eating!”

The man returned to himself, laying on the ground in the forest, but he soon everything faded again and he found himself in a hell nearly identical to that of his first dream, except that now there was no ceiling to the room. Far off in the distance, he could see heaven up above him. He now believed he was truly dead, in hell. Somehow a thread from a spider web hung down from heaven, extending all the way to him in hell. He figured that the thread must be compensation to him for his untimely death from the spider’s bite.

The man had not yet been strapped to a chair. Not wanting to spend eternity in hunger with such selfish companions, he began climbing the thread, eager to reach the banquets of heaven.

The climb out of hell is a long one, and the man eventually grew tired. He stopped halfway up the thread to rest. He saw how far he had come, and laughed lightheartedly as he realized that he might escape. To his dismay, however, he saw others climbing up after him. They were also new arrivals to hell who had not yet been tied down and had seen him escaping. They had begun climbing to escape as well. Fearing that the thread may break from the weight of so many other climbers, he shouted down to the others, demanding that they get off the thread, that it was his and his alone. At that moment, the thread broke. The man fell down into hell, and was strapped into a chair for all eternity. His table companions were those who had also been climbing the thread. He was so angry with them for breaking the thread that he refused to feed them.

With regret he called out to heaven, “please warn those who are still living—I did not learn, but if I had seen what I see now, I would have learned.”

A voice replied, “you did see when you were still living, unconscious on the forest floor, and many times before that, yet you never learned. Even now, you still refuse to learn. The living have teachers enough. Those with ears to hear and hearts that feel have what they need to learn and do to become worthy of heaven. Those without ears to hear and hearts that feel will never learn, no matter how many times they are taught, unless they choose to open their ears and hearts.” With that, the man’s dream ended and he died from the effects of the spider bite.

Now, to you reading this story, this man like­ly seems foolish and selfish. But, it is easy to see the fool­ishness and selfishness of others, to correct them and offer advice. It is much harder to see your own foolish­ness and selfishness. Focus on shedding your own fool­ishness and selfishness, and you will build heaven a­round you.

**Inspired by an old story, known as “The Allegory of the Long Spoons,” “The Par­able of the Long Chopsticks,” or “The Parable of the Banquet,” attributed as an old Buddhist, Chinese, Chri­stian, Hindu, or Jewish parable, also attributed to Rab­bi Haim of Romshishok; Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, “The Spider’s Thread,” 1918; Luke 16:19-31.


Nov 13 2014

The Teacher

A wise healer came among a community of the blind. She taught the people what they needed to do to cure their own blindness. The people whom she taught were so in awe of her wisdom and compassion that they wanted to know more about who she was. Being blind, they used their hands to feel her to understand her features. Each person touched a differ­ent part of her. Only being able to become acquainted with a small part of the healer, they each concluded different things about her nature and traits. Each person was so self-assured about his or her limited perception of the healer, though, that each presum­ed to understand the full truth about her.

The healer was only with the people a short time. Almost as soon as she left, the people began ar­guing about who and what she was. News of her vi­sit, as well as news of the disagreements about her nature, passed quickly through the community. Each person who had encountered her in person told a di­f­ferent story about her visit and gave a different interpretation of her nature. As the stories spread, the details were slightly changed with each re­tell­ing, and each person formed an opinion about the healer based on which story they had first heard or based on which story made them feel best. None of them acknowledged her imperfections—they could not idolize an im­perfect being.

The people began to divide into groups based on which opinions about the healer they believed. There was great disagreement between the different groups, and the people spent much time debating the mi­nute details of all aspects of the healer’s superficial na­ture. Almost all of their opinions were either wrong or misleading because they were taken out of context. The people were so obsessed with validating their faulty perceptions and opinions about the healer that they ended up ignoring her teachings about how to heal their blindness. They lived out their lives in un­necessary darkness, clinging to false, misleading, tri­vial, and petty beliefs about the healer, rather than applying her words to heal themselves.