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.