Saturday, December 10, 2011


The student saved his money for many weeks to buy a gift for his retiring Master. Finally, after much searching, he found and purchased a new fishing rod. He knew how much the old teacher enjoyed fishing, and since he would be leaving soon, it seemed like a perfect idea.

The next day, during a break in their classes, he approached the Master and handed him the gift. The student explained this was his way of saying thank you for all that he learned during his time at the school. The Master reached out, took the rod from the young man's hands, nodded, then turned and walked away.

Surprised by the reaction of his teacher, the young man questioned one of the senior students. "Have I offended our Master in some way?" he asked. "I gave him a gift that I thought he would find most enjoyable. He took the gift, but then he simply turned around and left me standing there."

"What did you expect in return?" asked the older student.

"I don't know, perhaps some kind words of appreciation. I certainly did not expect much, but far more than I received," replied the young man.

"Then you did not give anything at all," said the senior. "You merely traded one gift for what you hoped would be another. That is not giving."

"We do not give, with the hope of receiving anything in return," continued the senior. "If you must have recognition for your gift, know that our Master will enjoy it for many years. That knowledge is your reward."


Friday, October 28, 2011

Good and Bad

The teacher was holding a week long meditation at his school, and pupils from many parts of the country were in attendance. During one of  the gatherings a pupil was caught stealing. The matter was reported to the teacher, with the request that the culprit be expelled. The request was ignored.

Later, the same pupil was caught in a similar act, and again the matter was disregarded. This angered the other pupils, who drew up a petition, asking for the dismissal of the thief, stating that otherwise they would all leave the meditation.

When the teacher had read the petition, he called everyone before him. "My brothers, you are very wise," he told them. "You know what is right, and what is not. You may go somewhere else to study if you wish, but this poor young man does not even know right from wrong. Who will teach him if we do not? I am going to keep him here, even if all the rest of you leave."

"If we stay, are we now to be teachers for this thief?", asked one of the astonished students.  

"Yes, but you are only half-right", said the Master. "We are also his students. We must first learn how to help this young man, and only he can teach us that."


When we see all beings, and all situations, as our teacher, we can continue to learn and to grow.

Labeling something as good, or bad, allows us to pass judgement quickly, and move on with our lives.  Then we enjoy the satisfaction of thinking we are right, but without ever having learned anything.  

The students had a thief among them.  Their first instinct was to label him, and then quickly be rid of him.  They wanted to make the thief a problem for someone else to deal with.  Instead, the teacher saw an opportunity to teach, and to learn.

Verse 27 of the Tao Te Ching says:

What is a good person, but a bad person's teacher?
What is a bad person, but a good person's job?
If you do not understand this, you will get lost, however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Teaching Peace

"I have just come from the marketplace, and I am troubled." said the student. "The men there, they quarrel, and fight over the smallest of things."

"Why does this trouble you?" asked the teacher.

"I want these men to know peace," replied the student. "We should teach them our ways."

"We cannot teach someone that does not want to learn," replied the teacher. "Let me ask you, what is required for the world to be at peace?"

"Well, we would need peace among the nations," answered the young man.

"Agreed," replied the teacher. "Then what?"

"We need peace among the cities and towns," said the student. "We also need peace in our neighborhoods and homes. Then, peace among all people, as individuals."

"All true," said the teacher. "Now tell me, where does peace begin?"

"It begins with me," replied the student.

"Well done," said the teacher. "Peace is innate, it does not need to be taught. It only needs to be practiced."


Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Stolen Axe

One cold morning, a farmer went out to chop wood and realized his axe was missing.  He always kept the axe in the same place, next to the woodpile. Now it was nowhere to be seen.

"I'll bet that boy next door took it," he thought.  "That kid's always watching me work, and he's so quiet.  He seems like the sneaky type that would steal something.  I'll keep an eye on him...."

The next day, the man watched the young boy whenever he was outside.  The boy seemed nervous and jumpy. "He's guilty as sin," thought the man.  "I bet he knows I'm on to him.  Look at the way he walks, with his head down, like he's ashamed of something."  

Later that evening, the farmer decided to go into town and purchase a new axe. "But I'll keep an eye on that kid for a few days," he thought.  "He'll slip up soon enough, and when he does, I'll catch him!"

The man walked out to the barn to saddle up his horse, and when he did, he saw the axe.  There it was, just inside the door.  He had brought it in for sharpening two days ago, and had completely forgotten about it. 

The next morning, the man saw the boy out in the yard again.  The boy was doing the same things he had always done; walking around, sitting on the steps, performing a few chores, but something was different about him. 

"What a nice young man," thought the farmer. "He's so quiet and polite, spending time with his family, and doing his chores every morning." 

"I was a fool to think someone like that could steal from me."   


The farmer believed the boy next door was a thief.  The boy had never harmed him, or taken anything from him, yet the farmer was convinced his neighbor was a thief. What evidence did he have?  Only his own imagination.

If we allow our minds to proceed, unchecked and unquestioned, we will believe every thought we create.  Our thoughts have the power to see a circle in place of a square, or to see the truth where there exists only a lie.

The farmer thought the boy had stolen his axe.  From that very moment, once the decision was made, our farmer looked for every piece of information he could find to prove his thoughts were correct.  He began to see what he wanted to see.  Why would the farmer do that?  Why was he so quick to believe the boy next door had stolen his axe?

We put so much importance on our thoughts, believing they carry so much value, that when they appear we don't question them.  We believe that our thoughts must be true.  They're so important to us, how could they not be true?  We're smart, we're good, we're usually right, therefore, our thoughts must be all of those things too.

They're not.  They're just thoughts.  Our thoughts are easily manipulated by the desires of our egos.  It can be our self esteem, our need to be right, the need for attention, or even to be a victim. Now throw in greed, lust, envy, jealousy, etc.  You get the picture.  The list of influences over our thoughts goes on forever. 

How do we stop it?   We start by questioning our thoughts.  We can look at them.  We can ask ourselves, "Am I being negative, am I judging and labeling, just because it satisfies or protects my ego?"  If the thought is garbage, which many of them are, we can simply throw them away.  

When we use our thoughts to judge others, we do not define others, we define ourselves. 


Monday, July 25, 2011

The Tree and the Shrub

A young woman approached a Zen Monk and asked, "Why are you always so blissful and happy, and why am I not?"

The Monk responded, "I will tell you my secret.  First, look outside of the window. Do you see the large tree that towers above all others?"

She said, "Yes, I see it."

The Monk asked, "Do you also see that small shrub by its side?"

She said, "Yes, I see that, too."

The Monk continued, "I have never heard the shrub saying to the tree, why are you so big, while I am so small? Why do you reach toward the sky, while I remain near the ground? The tree is big, and the shrub is small, but so what? Both are unique. Both serve the purpose they were put on this earth for. They don't compare themselves, even though they stand side by side.  Both are perfectly happy."

The Monk continued, "You are unhappy because you are constantly comparing; you are living in comparison. I am happy because I have dropped all comparison; I have simply accepted myself as I am. That is my secret."

"But I would also like to improve myself," replied the young woman.  "I want to be better at certain things in my life, things that I believe will make me happier."

"Good for you", replied the Monk. "Go and do those things, but do not compare yourself to others while doing them."

The Monk continued, "I learned this lesson many years ago, anyone who bases their happiness upon comparisons to others, is destined to be unhappy."


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Blue Ribbon Corn

A farming community held a county fair each year.  There were many different events during the week, and one of the most competitive was the contest among the farmers to see who could grow the best crop of corn.

For years, one particular farmer had dominated the competition.  Somehow, he always managed to win.  Each summer his corn was voted the best by all of the judges, and it was always a unanimous decision.  His crop was always a beautiful, bright yellow, and so sweet and tender it would melt in your mouth after it was prepared.

After each competition, and after the farmer had received his blue ribbon for first place, he would hand out bags of his best seed corn to all of the other farmers at the fair.  He had done this, without fail, following each victory.

One of the judges had noticed the old farmer giving away his best seed corn, and decided to inquire.

“Why do you hand out your winning crop to the other farmers each year?” asked the judge.  “Surely you know you're just helping the competition.”

"Not at all,” said the farmer, “it is actually a matter of self-interest.”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked the judge.

The farmer explained, “As you know, the winds are strong all year in this region.  They pick up the pollen and carry it from field to field. Therefore, if my neighbors grow inferior corn, the cross-pollination brings down the quality of my own corn. That is why I ensure they plant only the very best."

Is our farmer a giver or a taker?  Is he sharing, or is he just being greedy for another blue ribbon?

He explains that he gives away his best seed corn because it helps the other farmers keep their crop at a higher standard.  The old farmer didn't say he did it for the blue ribbon, only that he wants the best corn he can grow. Should we take him at his word? 

A farmer's job is to grow food, enough food to feed his family, his neighbors, and if need be, the entire world.  The blue ribbon is nice, but we can't eat ribbons. 

Our lead character in this story follows the Tao.   He knows something very deep. He knows he doesn't own the corn; he's just using it to the best of his ability. Our farmer has dropped the idea of possession.  A man cannot possess corn any more than a fish can posses the ocean, or a bird can possess the sky.

Verse 2 of the Tao Te Ching says: 

 "The sage acts without doing
 and teaches without saying.
 Things arise and she lets them come,
 things disappear and she lets them go.
 She has, but doesn't possess.
 She acts, but doesn't expect.
 When her work is done, she forgets it.
 That is why it lasts forever."

Our farmer gives away the best that he has, in order to keep the best that he has.

Enjoy the ride.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chuang Tzu's Wife

Chuang Tzu was a Taoist philosopher in ancient China. He was an eccentric old man, living his life in peace and solitude in a small hut on the outskirts of a village. He taught infrequently, but when he did, people would come from miles around to hear his teachings.

One summer morning Chuang Tzu's wife became very ill. The village doctors did all they could, but her illness moved too swiftly. Within a few days, her life had been taken from her.

Everyone mourned the loss of Chuang Tzu's wife. She had always been so kind and patient with visitors, especially the young students who would drop by, unannounced, hoping to have a word with the old Master.

Upon hearing news of the death, Chuang Tzu's old friend Huizi came to visit him and offer his condolences. The two men had attended school together as boys, matched wits often, and over time, had become close friends.

Huizi arrived at Chuang Tzu's home. There he saw his old friend, sitting outside, banging on a drum and singing as loudly as possible.

“I expected to find you in mourning”, said Huizi. “You loved her for decades. She raised your children, and you grew old together; but here you are, a smile on your face, banging on a drum and singing at the top of your lungs. Don't you think this is a bit much?”

“Not at all”, said Chuang Tzu, still smiling. “I mourned for a short while, but then I realized mourning would defy my own teachings.”

“People will think you never loved or cared for her” said Huizi, “You must grieve. People need to know how much she meant to you, how fortunate you were to have shared a life with her.”

“Yes, I was lucky” said Chaung Tzu. “I spent most of my life with someone I loved, and she loved me in return. Many men will live their entire lives and never know the joy that I had.”

Chuang Tzu continued, “That is why I do not mourn.”


Chuang Tzu doesn't have the heart to tell his friend the truth. The truth is, the old sage never mourned after his wife's death, not even for a moment. Instead, he celebrated their life together.

A new chapter now begins for him. His wife is not dead. How can anything die when it is still loved by the living? Her physical body has left our world, but everything else about her lives on in Chuang Tzu. He celebrates their lives together through his singing and drumming. He is fully aware that all living beings must leave this world at some point, but that is no reason to mourn.

Huizi, on the other hand, believes that if you don't suffer, it means you don't care. Chuang Tzu considers that to be nonsense, but Huizi is just repeating what he has been taught. He's concerned about the perception people will have of his old friend. Chuang Tzu, of course, couldn't care less.

When Chuang Tzu says, “Mourning would defy my own teachings”, he's talking about his teachings on reality. In the game of life, the sage knows that reality is undefeated.

He shared his life with someone he loved. He was happy then, and he is happy now. 

Enjoy the ride.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Bucket of Water

There once was a young, and impatient Prince. He wanted to learn meditation, in the hopes that it would make him a better leader, and maybe one day, a better King. He found a teacher in the village that agreed to help, and their journey together began.

At his first lesson, the Prince struggled with remaining still. He was constantly moving his hands and feet, readjusting his posture, clearing his throat, and always looking around.

"Why do I have to sit quietly?" asked the Prince. "Couldn't you just tell me the secrets you've learned from meditation? That way we could skip all of this and go straight to the advanced classes."

“I will show you why I cannot tell you,” said his teacher. The teacher got up and walked outside and the Prince followed behind. It was dark, but the moon was full and the stars were shining brightly.

The teacher put a hand into a bucket of water and stirred it quickly. "Look into the bucket," he told the Prince, "and tell me what you see."

"I see water swirling around," replied the Prince.

"Now we wait," said the teacher.

The teacher and the student sat down and watched the calming surface of the water for several minutes. Once the water was still, the teacher asked, "Now what do you see?"

"The moon, the stars, my own reflection," replied the Prince.

The teacher then added, “So too, the only way to see ourselves clearly is through a calm and settled mind.”


Our young Prince wants understanding, but he's too impatient to wait for it. He wants to be a better leader, but he doesn't want to be led.

The teacher knows that learning starts from within. The young Prince must see himself clearly before he can learn anything. He has to see and accept all of his flaws, his past mistakes, and his current weaknesses. Then he can go about improving himself.

In order to let go of something, we must first grasp it. We cannot throw a pebble, without first picking it up. We cannot give away clothing, without first owning the clothes.

In the same way, we cannot let go of a flaw until we first accept that it is ours.

Like the still water in a bucket, a calm mind enables us to see, and eventually accept, all things.

Enjoy the ride.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Carpet The Earth

One day, a young King decided to visit the local townspeople. He rarely went outside of the palace grounds, but he did enjoy meeting the people that came to visit him. He also enjoyed being barefoot. He loved to stroll through his scenic gardens and green lawns, enjoying the feel of the well tended earth beneath his feet.

The day was beautiful, so, with his court accompanying him, the King began walking towards the nearest town.

The road was hard and barren, with wheel ruts, and sharp pebbles in the street, and while the townspeople were thrilled to see their King, the poor King was in terrible discomfort the entire time.

After returning to his palace, the King examined his feet. They were blistered and bruised from the day's walk. He had never been in so much pain.

He didn't want this to dampen his spirits, though. He had enjoyed his visit with the local people, and he wanted to see them more often, but he couldn't bare the thought of spending another day on that terrible road.

While sitting on his throne, with his advisers all around him, the King suddenly had an idea. He shouted, "I hereby decree that all roads be covered in the finest carpets we have!"  

"Well," his advisers thought, "this was a brilliant idea." and quickly set about making plans to carpet the road.

The Court Jester happened to be nearby when the announcement was made, and he began to laugh.

"What are you laughing at?" shouted the King. "I've solved the problem of the horrible road, and my blistered feet, and now I can spend more time with my people."

"Certainly my Lord,"
replied the jester. "You truly are a generous and caring ruler."

"Then why are you laughing?"
asked the King.

"Well I was wondering," replied the jester, "wouldn't it be easier just to put on a pair of shoes?"


There's an old Zen saying: "It is easier to put on a pair of sandals, than to carpet the entire earth."

Like a lot of Zen sayings, this one is about looking inward and changing ourselves. Most of the time we do the opposite of this. We look outward, we see everything that everyone else is doing wrong, and then we set about trying to change everyone.

The king in our story suffers from this same way of thinking. His intentions are good, but in the end, the King is trying to carpet the earth, instead of just putting on his shoes.

When we shout, people shout back. When we push, people push back. When we use force, an opposite force will eventually oppose us. Our good intentions are irrelevant.

Mohandas Gandhi once said: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

If we want the world to be peaceful, then we should be peaceful in dealing with others. If we want the world to be smarter, we can educate ourselves. If we want the world to be cleaner, we can clean up our own backyards.

After all is said and done, we can only change ourselves.   That is one of the hardest lessons to learn.

Enjoy the ride. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Cracked Pot

A water bearer for the King had two very large pots, each hung on the end of a pole that the bearer carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

Several times per day the water bearer would bring water from the local river to the King's palace, but the cracked pot always arrived only half full. For years this went on, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots of water each time to the King's palace.

One day the King finally took notice and asked about the half filled pot. "Why do you keep that thing?" asked the King. "I want you to get rid of it. You could save yourself some work with two pots that remained full."   

"My King, do you and your wife enjoy the beautiful flowers at your dinner table every evening?" asked the water bearer.

"Certainly," replied the King, "But what does that have to do with a half-filled water pot?"

The bearer responded, "I would like to ask my King to accompany me to the river this afternoon. I will show you what I mean."

The King agreed, and that afternoon both men walked to the river. Along the way, the King noticed the beautiful flowers on one side of the path.

"These are the flowers that decorate our palace and dinner table," said the King. "But why are they only on one side?"

The bearer responded, "After I discovered the cracked pot, I planted flower seeds on that side of the path. When I return from the river, I water the flowers with the cracked pot. This means a little more work for me, but I am able to enjoy a beautiful path for my efforts, and the flowers now grace your home."

After a pause, the water bearer added, "I understand your wife also loves the flowers very much, Sir."

"Keep your cracked pot," said the King.


Accepting flaws, making the best of things, being innovative, sharing... all are important points in this story.

Our water bearer is a sage and probably doesn't know it. Or maybe he does?  

Enjoy the ride.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gone Fishing

One day, a fisherman was lying on a beautiful beach, but he wasn't fishing. He had put away his net, and was enjoying the beautiful sunset and the crashing surf, when a man came walking towards him. The man noticed the fisherman just lying there, and decided to find out why he wasn't working harder.

"You're not going to catch many fish that way," said the man, "You should be working harder, rather than just sleeping on the beach!"

The fisherman looked up, and replied, "Then what?"

"Well, you could get bigger nets and catch more fish!" was the man's answer.

"And then what?" asked the fisherman.

"You will make more money and you'll be able to buy a boat, which will result in larger catches of fish!"

"And then what?" asked the fisherman again.

The man was starting to get a little annoyed with the fisherman's questions. "You could buy a bigger boat, and hire some people to work for you!" he said.

"And then what?"

Now the man was really getting angry. "Don't you understand? You could build up a fleet of fishing boats and let your employees catch fish for you. You could become so rich that you would never have to work again. You could spend your days sitting on the beach, without a care in the world!"

The fisherman looked up and asked, "What am I doing now?"


Our story touches on moderation and balance in our lives, two very important themes.

The fisherman in our story is just enjoying what he can. He works hard on most days, he makes money for himself and his family, but quite often he stops and enjoys the moment. Sure, he could work harder, everyone could work harder, but then how much more work is enough?

A small net becomes a larger net. One net becomes ten nets. A small boat becomes a larger boat. A larger boat becomes a fleet. Where does it end?

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says, "He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough."

Our fisherman has found his center. He works hard, but he also takes moments for himself. He doesn't constantly push for more, just because more is possible. He enjoys the moment when he is fishing. He enjoys the moment when he watches a sunset. He even enjoys the questions from a stranger on the beach. Moderation and balance have become companions in his life.

Our fisherman lives in the center.

Enjoy the ride. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Three Teachers

A young Zen student approached a sage, and asked about the first test he would undergo.

"It is simple," replied the sage. "Walk through the woods and follow the path you see before you. Along the way you will encounter three teachers."

"That's it?" replied the astonished young man, "When can I start?"

"Right away if you would like, but do not forget about the teachers."

The young man walked outside of the village and found the path. After a few hundred yards, he encountered a creek. The water was muddy and shallow, and someone had already placed a log across the creek, so he used it to cross over. The log was very slippery though, and after two steps the young man lost his footing, and fell into the water. His shoes were now wet and filled with mud.

The young man cleaned himself up as best as he could and continued on his way, but he was furious with himself for having been so careless.

A few minutes later he saw a huge boulder in his path. As he approached it, he realized he'd never be able to move it, so he decided to go around. On both sides of the boulder there were thick brier patches and the briers clung to his pants and scraped against his legs.

"This is crazy!" he thought. "Why doesn't someone clear this path? And where are the teachers?!" Angry, annoyed, and in a bit of discomfort, the young man continued on. He walked for several hours, but no one appeared. "This is horrible." he thought, "I've wasted my entire afternoon!" After another hour he finally reached the end of the path. It had brought him back to his village.

Once there, he found the sage waiting for him. "Did you meet the other teachers?" the old man asked.

"No," the angry student replied. "I have scrapes on my legs, mud in my shoes, and the teachers never showed up!"

"That's not true at all," said the sage. "Your first teacher was the log. You trusted it and used it to benefit yourself, but in the end it let you down. You will encounter many people in life that are just like that log. Next you encountered a boulder. It was large and immovable, and it forced you to change your path. This caused you to experience pain. You will encounter many people in life that are just like that boulder."

The sage added, "Anything that is angering you, annoying you, or testing your patience, see that as your teacher."

"I understand," said the student, "But what was my third teacher?"

"You," said the sage. "You carried patience with you on this journey, but you refused to use it. You also carried anger, annoyance, and impatience, and at the first opportunity you chose to use those negative feelings. Did they make your trip easier?"

"No," replied the young man.

"We all carry good and bad with us everywhere we go," said the sage. "You must choose which one will help you on this great journey."


We've all known the slippery log. It can be a person we trusted, or a situation in life that we thought would be favorable to us, but in the end things did not work out well.

We've also encountered people who are like the boulder. Their presence is large in our lives, they seem immovable, and quite often they are in our way. Having to go around them causes us pain.

Our young student only encountered two difficulties on his path, yet he allowed them to ruin his entire walk. He never noticed the beauty of the trees, the song birds, or the sunlight through the leaves. He walked for hours after seeing the boulder, yet he spent the entire time miserable and angry.

Every life will have boulders and slippery logs. That is a fact. All we can do is accept them, learn from them, and continue on.

Enjoy the ride. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Her Mirror

There once was a young woman who carried a mirror in her purse everywhere she went. Now there's nothing strange about carrying a mirror, lots of women carry them, the unusual part was how she used it. She would take the mirror out of her purse, look into it for a moment, and immediately put it back. Then she would quickly repeat the process. Always looking into the mirror twice.

One day a shopkeeper, who was new in town, noticed the young woman's behavior and thought to himself, "That woman must be so preoccupied with the way she looks that she has to carry a mirror around all the time. She shouldn't worry about the way she looks on the outside, it's what's inside that counts."

The shopkeeper decided to approach the woman and satisfy his curiosity. He walked over and asked, "Miss, why do you use your mirror in such an odd manner?"

The woman turned to the shopkeeper and said, "I use it when I feel troubled, sir. I look into it and it shows me the source of my problems."

"Well, that sounds rather depressing," said the shopkeeper. "Every time you look into your mirror you see a problem?"

"Not at all," said the woman. "When I look into it the second time, I see the person that can solve it."


Like many Zen stories, this one is about looking inward, at ourselves. In this case, the young lady in our story has taken an extra step, and literally looks at herself in the mirror first. It may seem strange, but it's effective.

Our young lady has figured out that everything in her life begins and ends with her. That doesn't mean she's selfish or narcissistic, quite the opposite, actually.

She has accepted that all of her problems are hers to solve. She owns them. She doesn't blame others when trouble comes her way. She doesn't try to control people, or tell them how to live their lives, or change their behavior. Even if the behavior of others is the source of her problems, she still looks inward for the solution.

Our young woman knows that the only thing in this world she can truly control is herself. 

Enjoy the ride.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Become a Lake

An aging Hindu master grew tired of his apprentice complaining. One morning, he sent the young man out for some salt.

When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to pour a large handful of salt into a cup of water, and then to drink it.

"How does it taste?" the master asked.

"Salty, bitter, just horrible," replied the apprentice.

The master chuckled, then asked the young man to pick up another large handful of salt. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake. Once there, the old master told the young man to toss the salt in. After the apprentice swirled his handful of salt into the water, the old man said, "Now drink from the lake."

As the water dripped from the young man's chin, the master asked, "How does it taste?"

"The same as always, delicious," remarked the apprentice.

"Do you taste the salt?" asked the master.

"No," said the young man.

At this, the master sat down beside the young man and said, "I want you to see the pain of life as pure salt, my son. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same, but the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain into. When you are in pain, the best thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things."

"Stop being a cup. Become a lake."


Enjoy the ride. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Giving Away the Orchard

An old farmer was feeling very ill, so he visited the town doctor.  After his examination, the doctor informed the farmer that he had only a few more weeks to live. Time had finally caught up to the old man, and his body had worn down.

The farmer owned several acres of land and had maintained a cherry orchard for decades. He decided to give away some of his earthly belongings before he passed on. He hung this sign on a fence post next to his orchard: I WILL GIVE THIS FARM TO ANYONE WHO IS TRULY SATISFIED.

Of course word spread quickly, and people came from miles around, all hoping to convince the farmer they were truly satisfied. Each one went into the farmer's home, had a private chat, and then left, empty-handed. This went on for several days. Apparently, no one was able to convince the farmer they were truly satisfied with their lives.

One day a wealthy businessman was riding by. He read the sign and said to himself, "Since our friend the farmer is so eager to part with this orchard, I might as well claim it before someone else does. I am a rich man. I have more than anyone, so I certainly qualify as being satisfied."

With that, he went up to the door and explained what he was there for.

"Are you truly satisfied?" asked the old farmer.

"I am indeed, for I have everything in my life I could want, including a large home, several businesses, a beautiful wife, and more money than anyone in town."

"Friend," said the farmer, "if you are truly satisfied, why do you want my farm?"


This story is about our idea of satisfaction. It's a clue to help us find true satisfaction within ourselves, not just the temporary happiness that comes from material things or whatever satisfies our egos at the moment. 

How does anyone know when they're truly satisfied though?  The businessman thought he was, but with just a single question he was shown to be wrong. The farmer's offer is trickier than it seems...

The gift in our story is a free cherry orchard, but can a new car, a big raise, or free land bring us satisfaction?  Those things can certainly bring happiness, temporary happiness, but that is not the same as satisfaction, though it certainly is easy to confuse the two.

We often see people with great wealth that are caught breaking laws in order to acquire even more.  Remember all of the times you've heard of a person that was wealthy and famous, yet they seemed miserable in their lives. Those people obviously were not satisfied, or they wouldn't have continued to try and acquire even more of what their egos desired.  

True satisfaction cannot be found in anything external. True satisfaction is always inside of us. We carry it with us everywhere we go.

The problem is finding it.

Enjoy the ride. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Almond Trees

A traveler came upon an elderly woman who was busy planting almond trees in her garden.  It was a scorching hot, summer day, and the sun was beating down mercilessly on her as she worked.

The traveler passed close by and asked her, "Forgive me for my question dear lady, but how old are you?"

The old woman replied, "I'm eighty-seven."

"You are too old to be out in this heat!" said the young man.  "Why are you still working so hard?"

"Well, because I'm here," she replied.

"Yes I can see that," said the traveler, "but why are you working under the scorching sun?"

"Because the sun is there," replied the old woman.

The traveler became slightly concerned at this point, and he thought perhaps the old woman had gone mad from the heat.

He decided to ask another question to gauge her response.  Knowing that almond trees take many years to mature, he commented, "Dear lady, it seems odd that a woman of your advanced age would plant such a slow-growing tree."

The old woman replied, "Young man, I live my life based on two principles. One is that I will live forever; the other is that this is my last day."


The old woman loves to work in her garden.  She's not concerned with how hot it is, or how cold.  Maybe the soil is too dry today, it may be too wet tomorrow.  What does it matter?  The time and the conditions are never perfect to do what we enjoy.  They're never going to be perfect for anything.

She likes to work in her garden.  She likes planting almond trees.

Life for her may last another 20 years, or perhaps another 20 minutes.   What difference would it make?   She's doing something she loves.

She's planting almond trees.

Enjoy the ride. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Letting Go

Two traveling monks reached a river, where they met a young woman. She was attempting to cross the river, but she was wary of the fast moving current.

Seeing as there was no bridge, she asked if the two men could help her across. The first monk hesitated, but the other quickly took her arm, wrapped another around her waist, and assisted her across the water, onto the other bank. She thanked him and departed.

As the monks continued on their way, the first one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. "Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, yet you wrapped your arms around her and practically carried her across the river!"

"Brother," the second monk replied, "I let go of her on the other side. Why you are still carrying her?"


Enjoy the ride. 

Digging Wells

A young man arrived at the monastery, eager to learn all that he could.

On his first day, he was given the task of going into town and working as a laborer. His job was to help dig wells for the local people. It was back breaking work, and the young man was exhausted at the end of it.

This continued for two more days.

At the end of the third day, the young man decides he can't take it anymore. He's planning to leave the monastery if all he's allowed to do is dig holes. He didn't come here so he could spend all day using a shovel. 

The fourth day arrives, and he is not given a task. He spends the day brooding and worrying, still angry and sore over the first three days of hard work.

The fifth day arrives, and again he is not given a task, but our young man is still miserable.

The sixth day arrives, but again no task. Our young friend's attitude is still sour.   Now he's worried he'll never be asked to do anything again.  He begins to worry that he's been forgotten. 

On the morning of the seventh day, the young man sees one of the senior monks headed his way. "Here it comes," he thought. "I'm digging wells today."

To his surprise, the old monk approached him and asked, "I'm here to check on your lesson brother. What have you learned this week?"

"What have I learned?" replied the astonished young man. "Are you kidding me? The only lesson I've learned is that my back hurts when I spend all day digging wells! That's what I've learned!"

The old monk smiled knowingly and asked, "which was worse, digging the wells, or worrying about it?"

In a moment of reflection, the young man realized what he had done. He had spent three days doing back breaking work, but then wasted three days being angry and sullen, when he could have been relaxing and enjoying himself.

The old monk saw the realization in the younger man's eyes and said, "Your first lesson is complete."

He bowed slightly, and left the young man with these parting words: "Remember brother, doing is easy, worrying is hard."

Enjoy the ride. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

We'll See...

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically.

"We'll see," the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses.

"How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed!  "Not only did your horse return, but you received two more.  What great fortune you have!"

"We'll see," answered the farmer.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.  "Now your son cannot help you with your farming," they said.  "What terrible luck you have!"

"We'll see," replied the old farmer.

The following week, military officials came to the village to conscript young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

"We'll see," he said...


At first glance, the farmer seems like he doesn't care about anything.  He just shrugs and goes on with his life. This story is deeper than that though.

The old farmer understands that all things change.  Millions of events occur every day, every second actually, without our control.  The farmer simply controls what he can.  He wakes up in the morning, he eats, he works on his farm, he laughs, he talks with friends and neighbors, and at the end of the day he gets a good night's rest.

The farmer has quieted his mind.  He doesn't concern himself with future events because he accepts that change is inevitable.  Sometimes it's change for the better, sometimes it's for the worse, but change will definitely come, and bring with it many events beyond his control. He not only accepts that, he finds peace in it.

The farmer has found the center.

Enjoy the ride. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Eat the Strawberry

Buddha used to tell this parable during his travels:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger chasing after him. Coming to a cliff, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine, and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above.

Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

This was a horrible situation. He couldn't go up; he couldn't go down. His only lifeline was the vine he was clinging to.

The man's hands began to sweat and his muscles started to ache. He knew he couldn't hold on much longer.  It was obvious the end was near...

Suddenly, the man saw a luscious strawberry on a vine beside him. It was bright red, perfectly ripened and just within reach. 

Holding on with only one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!


When I first read this story, I thought it was the silliest thing I had ever seen on paper. Who in the world would care about a strawberry when they're about to eaten by a tiger?!

What's the moral of this story?  What's the point?

Granted, it is an extreme example, but this story is about living in the moment.

We have a habit of thinking the future will be better, or much worse, depending on our mood at the time. This makes us forget about the present moment. 

Living right now is more important than the future, and certainly more important than the past.

How many times have we passed up a delicious strawberry because we were so worried about the future?

The present moment is always standing right beside us, waiting to be enjoyed.

Eat the strawberry.

Enjoy the ride. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gold Coins and Insults

One day, a monk was sitting under a banyan tree, meditating and enjoying the cool shade.

A few minutes into his meditation, a rather large man appeared before him. The man had heard of this monk and his teachings, and thought they were useless in the real world. He believed the calmness shown by the monk could be destroyed if only enough pressure could be applied.  A test was in order...

The man began to hurl insults at the monk, calling him names, ridiculing him, and mocking his teachings as nonsense.

To his utter surprise, there was not the slightest change in the expression on the monk's face as the insults flew towards him.

Now the man became angry. He hurled more and more abuses; however, the monk was again completely unmoved.

Ultimately the man grew tired of insulting the monk.  He asked, "I have been insulting you with the most vile abuses I could hurl, and yet you are not angry at all?"

The monk calmly replied, "My dear brother, I have not accepted a single insult from you."

"But you heard all of them, didn't you?" the man argued.

The monk replied, "I do not need the insults, so why would I even hear them?"

Now the man was even more puzzled. He could not understand the calm reply.

Looking at his disturbed face, the monk further explained, "All of those insults remain with you."

"That cannot be possible. I hurled all of them at you!" the man persisted.

"My dear brother," said the monk, "suppose you attempt to give gold coins to someone and he refuses to accept them, with whom will those coins remain?"

The man replied, "If I have attempted to give the coins and they are not accepted, then they would remain with me."

With a meaningful smile on his face, the monk said, "Now you are right. The same has happened with your insults. You came here and hurled them at me, but I have not accepted a single one from you; hence, all of those insults remain with you, so there is no reason for me to be angry."


If I had a dollar for every time I've let an insult get to me, I could probably retire today. I could live on my  yacht in the Caribbean, docked next to an island, which I would also own. I'm just saying...

The monk in our story has decided he doesn't need the insults, so why accept them?  That philosophy is so simple it seems silly. How can we choose not to accept an insult?

We find the answer in the refusal of the gold coins. We turn down lots of things during our time on this Earth;  invitations to parties, job offers, free stuff we don't need, etc. We refuse them for a variety of reasons, but in the end we just say no because we've decided we don't want those things. Now the monk's philosophy begins to makes sense.

If we can refuse things that are good, why can't we simply refuse things that are bad?  Because our ego tells us that each insult, each slight to us, must be defended.  When someone harms us or challenges us, we've been taught to harm them back.  If we do not fight back, we are viewed as a pushover or a coward. 

Now view the situation above through the eyes of the monk.  He's had enough insults in his lifetime. It seems as though he's bored with the man that is yelling at him.  The monk goes so far as to say, "I do not need the insults, so why would I even hear them?"

Since the monk has had enough insults, he simply says no to any more of them.  It's the same way you and I would say no to an offer of more food when we're full, or no to free tickets to a football game we know we can't attend.

If we can say no to things that make us feel good, we can also say no to things that make us feel bad.

Enjoy the ride.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It Is Only a Burden If...

Two monks were working in the forest, outside of their monastery. It was hot, they were both tired from their labor, and it had been a very long day.

The older monk, Ajahn Chah, decided to call it a day and head back in. The younger, Ajahn Brahm, quickly followed suit. Ajahn Brahm loved walking with the older Ajahn Chah, because he knew sometimes, at the end of the day, the old monk would give a lesson, or a "talk" as they sometimes called it.

The older monk didn't speak very often, and certainly not at great length, so when he did speak it was important to pay attention.

A lot could be learned on a long walk home.

Ajahn Brahm had a lot on his mind recently. His problems had started small, like most usually do, but he was finding it harder and harder to meditate and free himself of the constant noise in his mind. It seemed his small problems were steadily growing. He was having trouble sleeping, and that just made the situation even worse. Of course, that caused him to worry more, meditate less, and lose even more sleep, and around and around it went.

He mentioned all of this to Ajahn Chah, as they started their walk.

Ajahn Chah stopped and turned towards the younger monk. He told him to find the largest stick on the ground, pick it up, and carry it with him.

Well Ajahn Brahm did just that. He looked around for a bit, found a large stick, picked it up and started walking.

Not another word was spoken for a long while. The time continued to pass, and the monks were getting closer and closer to home.

"Why in the world am I carrying this stick?" thought Ajahn Brahm. "This is silly. Maybe the old monk has forgotten about my question".

Ajahn Brahm summed up his courage and spoke. "What is the meaning of this stick Ajahn Chah?  Have you forgotten about my problem?"

The old monk stopped, turned toward the young man and asked, "Is the stick heavy Ajahn Brahm?"  

"Yes" replied the young monk.

"And does it feel as if it has gotten heavier during our walk?" asked Ajahn Chah.

"Yes" again replied the young monk.

The old monk reached out, took the stick from the young monk's hands, and threw it on the ground.

"It is only a burden" he said, "if you carry it with you".


The longer we hold on to life's problems, whether they are big or small, the heavier they become.

Small sticks become heavy sticks. 1 stick becomes 2, 2 sticks turn into 3, and the next thing we know, we're carrying around a whole basket full of sticks.

Put them down. It's okay to think and solve our problems, but lying awake at 4AM, worrying about a problem that may or may not occur, is a waste of our time and energy. Even if a problem should occur in the future, you're not going to prevent it from happening by losing sleep over it.

We can be certain that no one on their death bed ever thought, "Boy I sure wish I had spent more time worrying".

Stop it. Put down the sticks. Refuse to pick up any more. Just continue walking on your path, and enjoy your journey, without the unnecessary burdens. You'll encounter plenty of necessary burdens along the way. You're going to need all of your strength to deal with those, so don't waste it. 

[The story above uses real characters.  I first heard it years ago from the Buddhist monk, Ajahn Brahm. It is from an interview he gave to a local reporter in his monastery in Australia.  Ajahn Brahm's version is much shorter, and brilliant.  My version here is embellished solely for the sake of  this blog.  However, the point of the story remains exactly the same. If you'd like to know more about Ajahn Brahm, just do an internet search for him. He is a wonderful teacher, with a great sense of humor. I promise you will enjoy him.]

Enjoy the ride.

Friday, February 11, 2011

All Boats Are Empty

A young man decided the day was simply too beautiful for work. He grabbed his small fishing boat, some food, a canteen of water, and headed down to the river. Fishing, drifting, perhaps even a nap, all were possible on a day like today.

The young man drifted down the river for awhile. He enjoyed the clean spring air, listened to the birds, and watched the fish splashing about.

After drifting along for a mile or so, he decided a nap was in order. He found a spot in the shade along a row of trees and tied off his boat.  "Perfect" thought the young man.

Within minutes he was napping.  That deep, "zombie-like" kind of napping that you can only get on a lazy river, on a lazy day.  Life just couldn't get any better.

Then came the crash.  In the middle of his peaceful slumber, the young man was shaken awake by a God awful ruckus. Another boat had slammed into his, throwing him side to side and awakening him from his nap.  

The young man jumped up full of anger. He yelled out, "Somebody better apologize to me and be damn quick about it"!  He wanted the whole world to know his outrage, to see his hurt, to feel his anger directed at them.

No one spoke. No one answered.  No one was there. The other boat was empty. It was simply floating down the river. It could have been drifting unattended for hours, days, or even years.

At that moment of realization the young man's anger instantly dissipated. His desire to fight, to curse,  to humiliate someone with a verbal barrage... all gone. He actually felt a little embarrassed at having yelled at no one. In the blink of an eye, his attitude had changed. Why, and how?   How could a man so full of anger, and so eager to fight, simply go back to the peacefulness he had been enjoying a few seconds before?

Because the boat was empty. There was no villain. There was no one to watch as the young man played his "victim card", and vented his anger. Without an audience to watch, and a bad guy to blame, there was no reason to put on a show.


I can't remember all of the times I have cursed someone that cut me off in traffic, or I've made a mean spirited remark about someone that I witnessed doing something stupid. But when I was the one making the mistake, I always had a ready-made and perfectly reasonable excuse in my head. Even if I didn't have a reason for my screw up, I'd always downplay it. "Oh that wasn't so bad". "Lots of people make that mistake".

I could rationalize any mistake as long as I was the one making it.

Now imagine if all of the boats that bump into us in life are empty. Instead of looking for someone to blame or someone to ridicule, we can treat each incident as an empty boat. Why let an empty boat ruin a beautiful day? Why let an empty boat make us angry, and take us away from our peaceful existence that we were enjoying just moments before?

Every so often, in the course of our daily lives, a situation is going to "bump" into us. When that happens, we immediately have a decision to make. We can either become angry, begin shouting and arguing, and probably staying mad all day, or we can accept the fact that we live in a world of  6 Billion people, and we are, quite often, going to get bumped.

Without bad, we would not know good.

Enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Resources for Taoism

What resources are available for philosophical Taoism? Well, it's a philosophy that's over 2,500 years old, so there has to be some stuff out there that clearly and easily defines it.  You would think that after 2,500 years people would have pared it down and made it pretty simple, right?

Ha! Wrong. We're not even in the ballpark of simple.  The U.S. Congress, and a truck load of drunk lawyers, couldn't have done a better job of making Taoism more confusing. 

Okay, so exactly why is Taoism so confusing?  Why is it so hard to define and nail down?  Well, it's not difficult, it's actually simple.  The problem is it's so simple, and so far in the opposite direction of Western culture, that it's difficult to grasp.

Now, having said that, here are some resources that will help you get your hold on Taoism. They'll start you on your path, which will be unique.  I'm just going to post the titles of the books and their authors below.  No links, you can find them on your own.  Just use a search engine.

  • The Tao Te Ching - The main book on Taoism, the Granddaddy, the number one source of all things Tao.  Probably written a few thousand years ago.  Written by?  No one is really sure.  Lao Tzu is the usual suspect, but many historians claim it was written by many different people over many generations. Some people even claim there never was a Lao Tzu.  There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of versions of the Tao Te Ching.  Go search for it. I won't recommend any particular translation as you should read several different versions.

  • Zhuangzi, or the book of Chuang Tzu - Chuang Tzu was a Chinese philosopher back in the day, and by "back in the day", I mean sometime around the 4th Century BC.   He's part poet, part philosopher, and part comedian. Sometimes he's brilliant, sometimes not, but he must be read.

  • The Second Book of the Tao - Stephen Mitchell.  Compiled and adapted from the book of Chuang-tzu and the Chung Yung, with commentaries by the author, Stephen Mitchell.   I make no secret of the fact that I'm a Mitchell fan.  This book means the world to me.  Mitchell's commentary on each verse sheds as much light on Taoism as Chuang Tzu himself.  Deep and enlightening. 

  • Anything by Alan Watts on Taoism -  Seriously.  Anything.  Just Google Alan Watts.  Go to youtube, search for Alan Watts.  Listen and learn.  Don't judge.  Just clear you mind, be still, and absorb the info. 

  • The Tao of Pooh - Benjamin Hoff.  Simply brilliant.  A silly little bear can teach you everything you ever wanted to know about being happy in life.  Hint - it involves simplicity and living in the moment, a  practice you will hear about over and over again in Taoism. Pooh may look and act like a goofy, little bear, but when it comes to being happy, he's way ahead of the game.

  • Wikipedia.  Yeah, it's that easy.  Just type "Taoism" in Wikipedia and check it out.   
Those 6 should be enough to get you started and at the same time, completely confuse and aggravate you.  If you're still around after being annoyed by those sources, then you might be hooked.   There's a lifetime of info available about Taoism.   

Enjoy the ride.

Welcome to Tao-how!

 Hi,  and welcome to Tao-how.

I'll be posting lots of old Taoist, and Zen fables. Okay, maybe they're just plain, good advice. Maybe they're teachings that are still relevant today?  I don't know.

Some are succinct and brilliant. Some are so paradoxical in their logic and method that a headache is bound to follow.  Some are just weird.

Sometimes I'll add my own commentary after a story.  I'll be talking through them, sharing my thoughts and explaining the meanings of some of them while at the same time realizing I have no idea what I'm talking about. One thing I'm always certain of is that I'm never 100% certain of anything.  Wait, that's contradictory.  Yeah, welcome to Taoism.

Oh well, this should be a great journey, and that's what it's all about.  :-)

Enjoy the ride.