There is a tradition in Zen Buddhism of recording short tales that are able to teach us about the world and make us question our preconceived notions in just a few words. Below are two such stories, one traditional and one contemporary, that might just give you a fresh perspective.
The Tiger and the Strawberry #1
‘While out walking one day, a man came across a tiger. He fled from the snarling creature, until he came to a cliff. With the tiger behind him, the only way to survive was to descend. He grabbed hold of a vine nearby, and began to climb down. However, half way down, the vine ended, and below he saw only jagged rocks. There was no way out.
Two mice, one white and one black, came out of the cliff and began nibbling at the vine. The doomed man noticed a strawberry near him. With one hand, he reached out, plucked it, and ate it―and how sweet it tasted!’
This is a traditional Zen story, told by the Buddha. It can be a frightening account, if you focus on the tiger and on the jagged rocks, or it can be sweet if you focus on the strawberry. In a similar way, we can do in our lives.
Here, the tiger represents our birth, the jagged rocks – our eventual demise. The vine is life, and the mice are day and night, gnawing away at it, bit by bit.
If the climber focuses on his mortality – he will spend those moments in panic and despair. However, by tasting the fruit, he gets to enjoy what is left to him. This is a classic ‘smell the roses along the way’ story. Wherever we are in life, whatever age or health, we can still choose to enjoy the moments available to us, and make the most of what we have.
The Dreamland Sages #2
‘Every afternoon at the same time, a schoolteacher took a nap while his students worked. Eventually, the students asked why he did it.
“I go to Dreamland to consult the sages,” he replied, and left it at that.
Another day, some of the students fell asleep in the classroom. When the teacher scolded them, in their defense they claimed that they, too, had gone to dreamland to consult the sages.
“And what did the sages say?” He demanded, hoping to trick them.
“We asked them if our teacher went there every afternoon, but they said they’d seen no such person.”
This tale is a more contemporary story, associated with Soyen Shaku, the first Zen Buddhist Master to teach in America at the turn of twentieth century. Though a fun story, this school-based narrative is full of lessons.
From the perspective of the students, we learn not to blindly trust what we’re told, and that sometimes ‘self-investigation’ is the best path. We are taught to question and explore, and that a little wit goes a long way.
From the perspective of the teacher, we learn not to underestimate either children or those of a lower status than ourselves. Just because we have age or education on our side, that does not make us better, or smarter, than those further behind us on the road of life.
Do you have any favourite Zen stories?
Mention your favourites (titles) or leave the link in the comments.
P.S. You know Ray… lazy bastard 😬 he is here, and sometimes he is not 😂.
My 2 trips – to London & Amsterdam (one for 6 pers, another – for 2) are fully planned, booked and paid. Yo! 🕺☕️
I decided to change the date of publishing “Dulcinea and The Death Code”, because my hands are full right now, and I have to feel satisfied with the end-result (book). So, pre-order somewhere in May, publishing – on 3d June (my birthday).
Review “Small Town Kid”, Frank Prem & Libre Paley “In the Calyx” – will be published on Amazon/Goodreads today, but full reviews will be posted on my website during April.
New (updated) plan is here – Click/About Ray page
Thanks to all who messaged me! I love my readers! 💕💕 I’ll do my best to check your latest posts! Hugs ✌️
Next post – Book Review “Small Town Kid”, Frank Prem (memoir book, 1)