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Thread: a parable for commentary

  1. #1
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    a parable for commentary

    This is copied from thedailyenlightnement.com, and I thought it would be interesting to put up here for comments:
    There was once an old woman, who supported a monk for more than twenty years. She had taken the trouble to build him a small hut, for his both his lodging and meditation. She even offered him food for his meals. One day, she decided to test him for what he's worth, so as to know the progress of his spiritual cultivation. This she did by getting a girl who desired much to make love to go forth and embrace him. The girl did as she was told. Caressing him, she asked him what he was going to do about it. To that, he poetically replied, 'An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter. Nowhere is there any warmth.' When the girl recalled his reply to the old woman, she angrily exclaimed, 'To think I fed that fellow for twenty years! He showed no consideration for your need, no disposition to explain your condition. He need not have responded to passion, but at least he could have showed some compassion.' With that, she went to his hut and torched it down.
    What's the lesson here?
    Who's the teacher here: the monk, the girl, or the old woman?
    How might this story get rewritten with a better ending?
    Other thoughts?

  2. #2
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: a parable for commentary

    Ok, I'll comment. I have never heard this story before and I found it very interesting and challenging in a variety of ways.

    For a lady critical of a person that she thinks is supposed to show compassion, her burning down the monk's hut sure doesn't seem like a compassionate act. She might be right, however, in feeling that the monk's zennie remark to the girl is not a very compassionate one. (Here on the forum when Chet wants somebody's personal response and they give a zennie response instead, he "burns" them for it.) And the girl that seems trapped by desire gets used by the woman and receives no usable help from the monk, so she's more of a victim than the monk who lost his hut. Seems to me all three could've acted a little better, but they are what they are, and the story is what it is.

    So, what's the lesson?
    1, Don't give zennie remarks when a more compassionate personal response will do.
    2, Don't be expecting people/monks to be anything more than what they are.
    3, Be careful who your Buddhist patrons are :roll:

    Any other thoughts?

  3. #3
    Treeleaf Unsui rculver's Avatar
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    Re: a parable for commentary

    I read that story a ling time ago and it ever really "spoke" to me. I think your commentary sums it up nicely.

    Ron

  4. #4
    disastermouse
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    Re: a parable for commentary

    Sorry Al, didn't meant to ignore it - it's just a very old and well-known story.

    Chet

  5. #5
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: a parable for commentary

    I didn't know it was old or well known, or I wouldn't have put it up. But I suppose all these stories are old and well-known, huh. Anyway, thanks for letting me know that it was the story getting ignored and not me :wink:

  6. #6
    disastermouse
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    Re: a parable for commentary

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    I didn't know it was old or well known, or I wouldn't have put it up. But I suppose all these stories are old and well-known, huh. Anyway, thanks for letting me know that it was the story getting ignored and not me :wink:
    Do I ever ignore you, Alan?

    A good way to get these stories is a delightful little book of comics called 'Zen Speaks'.


    Chet

  7. #7
    Treeleaf Unsui rculver's Avatar
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    Re: a parable for commentary

    I think I read it in something called "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones" by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki.

    Ron

  8. #8

    Re: a parable for commentary

    Hi Al,

    Yes, it is actually an old Koan, and Master Ikkyu (the great master and poet who did not hide his sexual and romantic relationships) once wrote a poem in response to the story ...

    The old woman intended to make a "ladder" for that rascal, So to the "celibate" she gave the girl as a partner. This evening, if a beautiful young girl were to offer love to me, My old willow tree would surely put forth fresh sprouts
    or, as someone else phrased Ikkyu's point ...

    "If a beautiful girl were to embrace this monk, my old tree would spring straight up!"

    With Koans such as this one, it would not be necessarily true to say that there is but one right response. In fact, the Koan deals directly with the Precept on "Not Misusing Sexuality", and I ask you to look there for the real discussion of this issue ... for the subject is as complex and powerful as the entire subject of Buddhist practice, life, love and sexual relationships presented there ...

    viewtopic.php?f=7&t=2044

    ... and from last year's Jukai ...

    viewtopic.php?f=7&t=1207

    I have seen the story usually presented without the old woman's concluding words in your version ...

    He showed no consideration for your need, no disposition to explain your condition. He need not have responded to passion, but at least he could have showed some compassion
    That's one interpretation. I tend to see the story as counseling us that, while we need not be prisoners of the passions, and while some of us may choose the path of celibacy and others a life with sexual relations, one should not extinguish the passions (a teaching of some flavors of Buddhism and other Eastern schools). Instead, we should recognize them, channel them in healthful ways, see through their dreaminess, not be led around by them or misled, keep balance and moderation. Even if we should choose to be celibate, we should not drain the life out of our living, turning ourselves into an "an old withered tree", as some versions of the story phrase it. We should remain a warm and green tree in any case, full of life.

    In my search for Ikkyu's poem, I found a commentary by a Vietnamese master (although probably emphasizing more the need to be free of the passions) who had this to say ...

    In truth, it is rare enough these days for anyone to cultivate to the level of that monk. As far as the old woman is concerned, she is said to be a Bodhisattva in disguise. Her action of burning down the hut was to "enlighten" the Master. Why is this so? It is because, while not moved by sexual desire, he still saw himself as pure and was still attached to the empty and still aspects of samadhi. Thus, he had not attained true and complete Awakening.
    http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf61.htm
    Gassho, J

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