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.