Tag Archives: paradox

The Elusive Zen Journalist

I enjoy reading Zen stories. It is so wonderful to read those interactions between master & student – the innocent question from the student and the crazy answer from the master.

Most of the times there is a question asked by the student, followed by the master’s enigmatic reply. The master’s reply is mysterious only to a non-enlightened student. The reply which takes many forms, not just words but sometimes a whack of a stick or a kick or a loud shout, is always intended to point directly to the mind.

Zen is described by many to be a teaching beyond scriptures & tradition, directly pointing to bare reality.

​So, not surprisingly, many students get enlightened on hearing the master’s reply. Such stories are the most interesting ones. We hope too to get an insight into the master’s response.

Zen Story of Gutei’s Finger

Whenever anyone asked him about Zen, the great master Gutei would quietly raise one finger into the air. A boy in the village began to imitate this behavior. Whenever he heard people talking about Gutei’s teachings, he would interrupt the discussion and raise his finger. Gutei heard about the boy’s mischief. When he saw him in the street, he asked the boy and asked him a question. The boy raised his finger as usual. Gutei grabbed his finger and cut it off with a knife. The boy cried and began to run away, but Gutei called out to him. When the boy turned to look, Gutei raised his own finger into the air. At that moment the boy became enlightened.

Zen Story of Dojen’s Enlightenment

One day Master Ju-Ching was scolding another monk for sleeping, and said, “The practice of Zazen (Sitting Meditation) is the dropping away of body and mind. What do you think dozing will accomplish?” Upon hearing these words, Dogen became fully enlightened.

Enlightenment apart, I really wonder who is it that takes the time to write down these stories?

The dialogue in a Zen story is a deeply intimate, intensely personal and mostly private exchange between the student & the master. So for the story to have passed down through the oral tradition, someone has to report it verbatim, for us to enjoy.

Is it the teacher who takes pride in his responses to his students & keeps repeating them to others so as to make stories out of it? I doubt it because if they are real Zen teachers, they would be more concerned about the student getting enlightened than about making a story of it to brag about.

So is it the student who reports his conversation with the teacher & shows off how he got enlightened? Again I doubt it because if the student really attained enlightenment, that would be such a great event, he would have been too out of his mind to cry “Eureka” and run down the street.

So there must be somebody else – the elusive journalist – who eavesdrops on the conversation, sees the changed expression on the face of the student & infers whether he got enlightened & then runs away to share the story with fellow students.

​There were no hidden microphones or voice recorders in those days & obviously neither Zen master nor the student who got enlightened would be interested in making silly stories, then WHO THE HELL NOTED ALL THESE ZEN STORIES? – TAKE IT AS A KOAN TO SOLVE.

Zen Story of Huike’s Enlightenment

Huike and Bodhidharma were climbing up a mountain peak. Bodhidharma asked, “Where are we going?” Huike replied, “Please go right ahead—that’s it.” Bodhidharma retorted, “If you go right ahead, you cannot move a step.” Upon hearing these words, Huike was enlightened.

The Sutra Parrots


Recently I attended the engagement ceremony of a cousin. It was a Buddhist ritual. The monk recited the sutras & both the prospective bride & groom repeated those sutras.

All Buddhist sutras are recited in the Pali language. And in the repetition, the meaning is usually lost.

Wouldn’t it be better to say what the sutras mean rather than repeating them like a parrot?

Firstly it seems as if you are signing a document written in Chinese i.e. without understanding the content.

Going beyond the specific instance, this is a common problem while reciting sutras. If you understand the Pali language naturally then it makes sense but Pali is not anyone’s mother tongue.

​The Buddha chose to spread his message in the Pali language only because it was the common dialect & lay people did not understand the prevalent language of sutras – Sanskrit. So why can’t we speak the sutras in English or Hindi?

Wouldn’t it be better, instead of saying – Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami; to say – “I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.”?

I remember once I had been to a house warming ceremony. Again it was a Buddhist ritual & everyone recited the five precepts including this one – Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami. It means “I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.”

To my utter disgust I saw the people, after the Puja got over, get into a party mode with alcohol & meat.

So what the people said a while back in Pali language had no effect on them. If they had spoken the sutra in English or Hindi, it would have caused a contradiction in their minds.

You can repeat a sutra in an unknown language for a hundred thousand times without any benefit. but if you repeat it in a language you understand, it may sink in.

Have You Found What is Lost?


Finding something that you had lost brings great joy & relief. Even if it is a trivial thing like locating a misplaced TV remote or something significant like getting in touch with a lost friend after decades, there is that unique feeling when you find something you had lost.

Even when we see others finding their lost things, we experience the same joy. It is a universal feeling across nations, cultures & history.

We have enjoyed numerous Bollywood movies based on the “Lost & Found” theme. Manmohan Desai used it in many films & we were never tired of it.

Every time we lose something we feel the same anxiety & every time we find it we feel the same relief. The joy & relief is directly proportional to the time after which you find it multiplied by the value of the thing in your life.

On one occasion, I forgot my laptop bag in the train & I realized it only after reaching home. Imagine the anxiety! l rushed back to the station – a crazy 10 km drive – & was lucky enough to get it back. Imagine the relief!

There is tremendous anguish when you realize you lost something of great value. However, with time you adjust to the loss and come to terms with it. Things like lost keys, lost valuables & lost money can be replaced. If you find them after you got the replacement, the joy is not that much. As life goes on, you will even forget that you had lost something.

Awakening is similar to finding your true self – the original mind – the Tao – that which is, before anything else is. There is joy & relief of tremendous intensity. Because you simultaneously realize that you had forgotten who you are & that you had forgotten it for an infinite time & now you suddenly find it. You were lost in living & dying & have found back that which was never born & can never die. It cannot be put into words.

Paradoxically, you also realize that you had never lost anything. Just that, to explain to another, the theme of lost & found can be a metaphor.

Note to a Seeker: Stop Seeking


A seeker is searching for something higher, some meaning in life, God, enlightenment or inner peace. That something, he may believe is external and in order to find it, he will visit sacred places and meet holy people. If the seeker believes that what he seeks is within, he will read scriptures, meditate, or practice different techniques in order to attain it.

Now, seeking may have two orientations – seeking for something you do not have or seeking for something you had but have lost. Although the two may seem very different, eventually those who believe that they are seeking for something they do not have, come to understand as they investigate deeper, that it makes more sense to believe that they are seeking for something they had and now it is lost.

Seeker, I tell you to stop seeking.

Lets say you dropped your pen somewhere but do not know that you have dropped it. Your mind is not agitated. Suddenly you realize you have misplaced it or someone tells you that your pen is missing and you start seeking for it. Now your mind becomes agitated. You do not need the pen to write anything but you still want to know where the pen is so you continue to search. You spend an hour searching and finally you find the pen under the chair. Great relief. The mind is calm again.

The mind was calm when you did not know you had misplaced the pen. When you knew you had lost it, the mind was agitated even though the pen was right there under the chair. When you found the pen, the mind was happy again.

The pen was there all the time. The only change was in your knowledge. First you did not know that you had lost the pen. Then you knew you had lost it. You spent an hour in agitation and mental torture searching for the pen even though there was no use of it immediately. Finally, when you found it, the relief that resulted was not an attribute of the pen but due to the dropping of the stress you developed in yourself during the search!

So Seeker, I tell you to stop seeking. What you are seeking is right there. It will always be there.

You may ask whether the mental state of a person who does not know he has lost the pen is different from the mental state of the person who has found the pen. The mind is calm before also and after also. It is possible that the person may forget once again where he has kept the pen but this time he will not be so troubled because he knows the pen is there somewhere. There is no need to search.

So Seeker, I tell you to stop seeking.

What you seek is right there. Only you do not know. All your seeking is because you know there is something to be sought. Those who do not know, do not seek. You may cause them great harm by telling them there is something to seek. Because once a person starts seeking, it becomes a passion, difficult to stop.

So Seeker. I tell you to stop seeking. If you renounce seeking, that which you are seeking will appear to you on its own. You will then laugh at yourself and all the seeking you did.

So Seeker. I tell you to stop seeking.

Ground Yourself in Impermanence


Change is the basic fact of nature. Everything around us and within us is changing every moment. Take a second to stop, see and listen. You can hear sounds changing, you can see things moving, you can feel the air on your skin, you can sense the breath going in and coming out. You can feel the sensations in your body and know the thoughts in your mind. Changing.. changing.. changing..

​Impermanence is the only permanent thing. Even the things which are seemingly solid like walls, wood, iron and stones are also changing at the microscopic level. It would be foolish to say that they do not change at all and are permanent.

When you strive for permanence in an impermanent world, it makes for a lot of sorrow, frustration, dissatisfaction and discontent. Real happiness can only be found when you ground yourself in impermanence all the time. Stay with impermanence, flow with it, and allow impermanence to flow through you.

It is a paradoxical notion that when nothing is permanent, how can there be a ground? And yet, the only refuge is the ground of impermanence.

One only needs to observe to penetrate this paradox. It is only when you are not aware that the nature of things is to change that you try to hold on to them – you want the good situation to continue, you want the good relationship to continue, you want the pleasant experience to extend and so on.

When you are continuously conscious of change, you have no experience. You ARE the very impermanence. In this state, there is no separation of experience from one who experiences. You have reached home.