Below are nearly 100 stories of spiritual enlightenment. please look past any religious overtones and appreciate the spiritual meaning of each story.
Part I – Zen Master
A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly,”I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it?”
The teacher’s reply was casual,”Ten years.”
Impatiently, the student answered,”But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice every day, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?”
The teacher thought for a moment,”20 years.”
Two traveling Zen monks reached a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed.
As the monks continued on their way, the 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, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!”
“Brother,” the second monk replied,”I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her.”
When the Zen spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up.
Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.
A Japanese warrior was captured by his enemies and thrown into prison. That night he was unable to sleep because he feared that the next day he would be interrogated, tortured, and executed. Then the words of his Zen master came to him,”Tomorrow is not real. It is an illusion. The only reality is now.”
Heeding these words, the warrior became peaceful and fell asleep.
During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived – everyone except the Zen master.
Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was. When he wasn’t treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger.
“You fool,” he shouted as he reached for his sword,”Don’t you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!”
But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved.
“And do you realize,” the master replied calmly, “that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?”
Four Zen monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. By nightfall on the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out.
The first monk said, “Oh, no! The candle is out.”
The second monk said, “Aren’t we not suppose to talk?”
The third monk said, “Why must you two break the silence?”
The fourth monk laughed and said, “Ha! I’m the only one who didn’t speak.”
A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter’s accusation, he simply replied “Is that so?”
When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. “Is that so?” Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.
For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby.
With profuse apologies they explained what had happened. “Is that so?” Hakuin said as he handed them the child.
A student went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!”
“It will pass,” the teacher said matter-of-factly. A week later, the student came back to his teacher.
“My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!”
“It will pass,” the teacher replied matter-of-factly.
A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him.
“You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.”
The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon.
“Poor fellow,” he mused, “I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”
A disciple who loved and admired his Zen teacher decided to observe his behavior minutely, believing that if he did everything that his teacher did, then he would also acquire his teacher’s wisdom. The teacher always wore white, and so his disciple did the same. The teacher was a vegetarian, and so his disciple stopped eating meat and replaced it with a diet of vegetables and herbs. The teacher was an austere man, and so the disciple decided to devote himself to self-sacrifice and started sleeping on a straw mattress.
After some time, the teacher noticed these changes in his disciple’s behavior and asked him why.
‘I am climbing the steps of initiation,’ came the reply.
‘The white of my clothes shows the simplicity of my search, the vegetarian food purifies my body, and the lack of comfort makes me think only of spiritual things.’
Smiling, the teacher took him to a field where a horse was grazing.
‘You have spent all this time looking outside yourself, which is what matters least,’ he said. ‘Do you see that creature there? He has white skin, eats only grass and sleeps in a stable on a straw bed. Do you think he has the face of a saint or will one day become a real teacher?’.
A famous Zen spiritual teacher came to the front door of the King’s palace. None of the guards tried to stop him as he entered and made his way to where the King himself was sitting on his throne.
“What do you want?” asked the King, immediately recognizing the visitor.
“I would like a place to sleep in this inn,” replied the teacher.
“But this is not an inn,” said the King, “It is my palace.”
“May I ask who owned this palace before you?”
“My father. He is dead.”
“And who owned it before him?”
“My grandfather. He too is dead.”
“And this place where people live for a short time and then move on – did I hear you say that it is NOT an inn?”
There once lived a great warrior well versed in Zen. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him. One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move. Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior’s challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.
Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him.
“How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?”
“If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it,” the master replied, “to whom does the gift belong?”
Two people are lost in the desert. They are dying from hunger and thirst. Finally, they come to a high wall. On the other side they can hear the sound of a waterfall and birds singing. Above, they can see the branches of a lush tree extending over the top of the wall. Its fruit look delicious. One of them manages to climb over the wall and disappears down the other side. The other, instead, returns to the desert to help other lost travelers find their way to the oasis.
Once there was a well known philosopher and scholar who devoted himself to the study of Zen for many years. On the day that he finally attained enlightenment, he took all of his books out into the yard, and burned them all.
One disciple is bragging about his master to the disciple of another master. He claims that his teacher is capable of all sorts of magical acts, like writing in the air with a brush, and having the characters appear on a piece of paper hundreds of feet away.
“And what can YOUR master do?” he asks the other disciple.
“My master can also perform amazing feats,” the other student replies. “When he’s tired, he sleeps. When hungry, he eats”.
Part II – The Rabbi & The Abbot
A novice once went to Abbot Macario to ask his advice on how best to please the Lord. ‘Go to the cemetery and insult the dead,’ said Macario.
The brother did as he was told. The following day, he went back to Macario. ‘Did they respond?’ asked the Abbot.
‘No,’ said the novice.
‘Then go and praise them instead.’
The novice obeyed. That same afternoon, he went back to the Abbot, who again asked if the dead had responded.
‘No, they didn’t,’ said the novice.
‘In order to please the Lord, do exactly as they did,’ Macario told him.
‘Take no notice of men’s scorn or of their praise; in that way, you will be able to build your own path.’
A rabbi spent his whole life teaching that all the answers to our questions are in ourselves, but his congregation insisted on consulting him about everything they did.
One day, the rabbi had an idea. He placed a notice on the door of his house, saying: ‘ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS – 100 MOEDAS PER ANSWER.’
A shopkeeper decided to pay the one hundred moedas. He gave the rabbi the money and said: ‘Don’t you think that’s rather a lot to charge for a question?’
‘Yes, I do,’ said the rabbi. ‘And I have just answered your question. If you want to know anything else, you’ll have to pay another one hundred moedas, or else look for the answer inside yourself, which is far cheaper and much more efficient.’
From then on, no one bothered him.
A young man said to the abbot of a monastery: ‘I would really like to become a monk, but I have learned nothing of importance in my life. My father only taught me how to play chess, and that does not lead to enlightenment. And besides, I was told that all games are sinful.’
‘They can be sinful, but they can also be a diversion, and perhaps this monastery needs a little of both,’ came the reply.
The abbot called for a chessboard and summoned a monk to play with the young man. However, before the game began, he added:
‘We may need diversion, but we cannot have everyone playing chess all the time. We will have only the best players here. If our monk loses, he will leave the monastery, thus creating an opening for you.’
The abbot was deadly serious. The young man played an aggressive game, but then he noticed the saintly look in the monk’s eyes, and from then on, he began to play deliberately badly. He decided that he would rather lose because he felt that the monk could prove far more useful to the world than him.
Suddenly, the abbot overturned the chessboard onto the floor. ‘You learned far more than you were taught,’ he said.
‘You have the powers of concentration necessary to win and you are capable of fighting for what you want, but you also have compassion and the ability to sacrifice yourself for a noble cause. You have shown yourself capable of balancing discipline and mercy; welcome to our monastery!’
A certain rabbi was adored by everyone in his community, who were all enchanted with everything he said. Apart from Isaac, that is, who never missed an opportunity to contradict the rabbi’s interpretations and point out errors in his teaching. The others were disgusted by Isaac’s behaviour, but could do nothing about it.
One day, Isaac died. During the funeral, the community noticed that the rabbi was looking very sad. ‘Why so sad?’ asked someone. ‘He found fault with everything you did!’
‘I’m not sad for my friend, who is now in heaven,’ replied the rabbi. ‘I am sad for myself. While you all revered me, he challenged me, and so I was forced to improve. Now that he’s gone, I’m afraid I might stop growing.’
An emperor said to the Rabbi Yeoschoua ben Hanania: ‚I would very much like to see your God.’
‘That is impossible’ said the Rabbi.
‘Impossible? Then how can I entrust my life to someone whom I cannot see?’
‘Show me the pocket in which you have placed the love of your wife, and let me weigh it in order to see how large her love is.’
Don’t be silly; no one can keep someone’s love in their pocket.’
The sun is only one of the works which the Lord placed in the universe and yet you cannot look at it directly. You cannot see love either, but you know you are capable of falling in love with a woman and entrusting your life to her. Is it not clear then that there are certain things in which we trust even though we cannot see them?';
When the great Rabbi Yitzhak Meir was studying the traditions of his people, one of his friends said to him jokingly: ‘I’ll give you a florin if you can tell me where God lives.’
‘I’ll give you two florins if you can tell me where he doesn’t live,’ replied Meir.
One of the monks of Sceta said to Abbot Mateus: ‘My tongue is always causing me problems. When I am amongst the faithful, I just can’t control myself and I end up condemning their wrong actions.’
The old abbot said to the distraught monk: ‘If you really don’t think you are capable of controlling yourself, then leave teaching and go back to the desert. But don’t delude yourself: choosing solitude as an escape from a problem is always a proof of weakness.’
‘What should I do then?
‘Admit that you have some faults in order to avoid any pernicious feelings of superiority. And do your best to get things right when you can.’
An orthodox Jew approached Rabbi Wolf and said: ‘The bars are full to bursting and the people sit there into the small hours enjoying themselves!
‘The Rabbi said nothing.
‘The bars are full to bursting, people spend all night playing cards, and you say nothing?’
‘It’s a good thing that the bars are full,’ said Wolf. ‘Everyone, since the beginning of Creation, has always wanted to serve God. The problem is that not everyone knows the best way to do so. Try to think of what you judge to be a sin as a virtue. These people who spend the night awake are learning alertness and persistence. When they have perfected these qualities, then all they will have to do is turn their eyes to God. And what excellent servants they will make!’
‘You’re obviously an optimist,’ said the man.
‘It has nothing to do with optimism,’ replied Wolf. ‘It is merely a matter of understanding that whatever we do, however absurd it might seem, can lead us to the Path. It’s all just a question of time.’
An American tourist went to Cairo to visit the famous Polish rabbi Hafez Ayim. The tourist was surprised to see that the rabbi lived in a simple, book-lined room, in which the only pieces of furniture were a table and a bench.
‘Rabbi, where’s all your furniture?’ asked the tourist.
‘Why, where’s yours?’ retorted Hafez.
‘Mine? But I’m just passing through.’
‘So am I,’ said the rabbi.
A believer approached Rabbi Moche of Kobryn and asked: ‘How should I best use my days so that God will be contented with my actions?’
‘There is only one possible option: to live with love,’ replied the Rabbi.
Minutes later, another follower approached him and asked the same question.
‘There is only one possible option: try to live with joy.’
The first follower was taken aback. ‘But the advice you gave me was different!’
‘Not at all,’ said the rabbi. ‘It was exactly the same.’
This story is attributed to the great Rabbi Bal Shen Tov. It is said that he was standing on top of a hill with a group of students when he saw a band of Cossacks attack the city below and begin massacring the people.
Seeing many of his friends dying and begging for mercy, the Rabbi cried out: ‘Oh, if only I were God!’
A shocked student turned to him and said: ‘Master, how can you utter such a blasphemy? Do you mean that if you were God you would act differently? Do you mean that you think that God often does the wrong thing?’
The Rabbi looked the student in the eye and said: ‘God is always right. But if I were God, I would be able to understand why this is happening.’
A Rabbi gathered together his students and asked them: ‘How do we know the exact moment when night ends and day begins?’
‘It’s when, standing some way away, you can tell a sheep from a dog,’ said one boy.
The Rabbi was not content with the answer. Another student said: ‘No, it’s when, standing some way away, you can tell an olive tree from a fig tree.’
‘No, that’s not a good definition either.’
‘Well, what’s the right answer?’ asked the boys.
And the Rabbi said: ‘When a stranger approaches, and we think he is our brother, that is the moment when night ends and day begins.’
A very rich young man went to see a Rabbi in order to ask his advice about what he should do with his life. The Rabbi led him over to the window and asked him: ‘What can you see through the glass?’
‘I can see men coming and going and a blind man begging for alms in the street.’
Then the Rabbi showed him a large mirror and said to him: ‘Look in this mirror and tell me what you see.’
‘I can see myself.’
‘And you can’t see the others. Notice that the window and the mirror are both made of the same basic material, glass; but in the mirror, because the glass is coated with a fine layer of silver, all you can see is yourself. You should compare yourself to these two kinds of glass. Poor, you saw other people and felt compassion for them. Rich – covered in silver – you see yourself. You will only be worth anything when you have the courage to tear away the coating of silver covering your eyes in order to be able to see again and love your fellow man.’
Rabbi Elisha ben Abuyah used to say: ‘Those who are open to life’s lessons and who do not live on a diet of prejudices are like a blank sheet of paper on which God writes his words in divine ink.
Those who view the world through cynical, prejudiced eyes are like a sheet of paper that has already been filled and on which there is no room for any new words.
Do not concern yourself with what you know or what you do not know. Do not think about the past or the future; merely allow God’s hands to write the surprises of the present on each new day.’
Part III – Nasrudin The Wise Fool & Hasan the Mystic
Nasreddin Hodja’s two wives were constantly asking him which one of them was his favorite. “I love you both the same,” was always his answer, but they did not accept this answer, and asked him repeatedly, “Which one of us do you love the most?” Finally he secretly gave each of them a blue bead, privately instructing each woman that she should tell no one of the gift. After that whenever either of the wives would ask him, “Which one of us is your favorite wife?” he would answer, “I love best the one to whom I gave the blue bead,” and each was satisfied.
The king’s three scholars had accused Nazrudin of heresy, and so he was brought into the king’s court for trial. In his defense, Nazrudin asked the scholars:”Oh wise men, what is bread?”
The first scholar said, “Bread is sustenance; a food.”
The second scholar said, “Bread is a combination of flour and water exposed to the heat of a fire.”
The third scholar said, “Bread is a gift from God.”
Nazrudin spoke to the king,”Your Majesty, how can you trust these men? Is it not strange they cannot agree on the nature of something they eat every day, yet are unanimous that I am a heretic?”
One day Nasruddin and his friends decided to play a joke on the people in a village. So Nasruddin drew a crowd, and lied to them about a gold mine in a certain place.
When everybody ran to get their hands on the gold, Nasruddin started running with them. When asked by his friends why he was following them, he said
“So many people believed it, that I think it may be true!”
Nasrudin has been looking for a parking place for twenty minutes already. He turns around, he waits, he drives a bit further, but finds nothing. He has an important business meeting and he’s going to be late, but nothing, no parking space. Filled with despair he raises his eyes up to the sky and says: “My God, if you get me a parking space in five minutes, I promise to you that I’ll eat kosher (halal) food for the rest of my life…”
And suddenly – O miracle! – right next to him a car drives away leaving an ideal parking spot. So Nasrudin turns his eyes to the sky and says:”God, stop searching, I found one!”
Nasreddin Hodja was lying in the shade of an ancient walnut tree. His body was at rest, but, befitting his calling as an imam, his mind did not relax. Looking up into the mighty tree he considered the greatness and wisdom of Allah. “Allah is great and Allah is good,” said the Hodja, “but was it indeed wise that such a great tree as this be created to bear only tiny walnuts as fruit? Behold the stout stem and strong limbs. They could easily carry the great pumpkins that grow from spindly vines in yonder field, vines that cannot begin to bear the weight of their own fruit. Should not walnuts grow on weakly vines and pumpkins on sturdy trees?” So thinking, the Hodja dozed off, only to be awakened by a walnut that fell from the tree, striking him on his forehead.
“Allah be praised!” he exclaimed, seeing what had happened. “If that had been a pumpkin that fell on my head, it would have killed me for sure! God is merciful! He has rearranged nature only to spare my life.”
Mulla preached on Fridays at the village mosque. One day, having nothing to preach about, he asked the congregation: “Do you know the subject I am going to discuss today?” “No” said the people. “Then I refuse to preach to such an ignorant assembly. How could you not know given the events of the past week?” asked Mulla and left hurriedly. Next Friday he went up the minbar and asked: “Do you know the subject of my sermon today?” People fearing a repetition of what had taken place a week before nodded and said:”Yes yes, indeed we know.”
“Well, then. There is no point in telling you what you already know”, said Mulla and left.
On the third Friday he ascended the minbar and asked:”Do you know what I am going to speak about today?”
Not knowing what to say, some said yes and some said no.
“Then those who know can tell those who don’t”, said Mulla and left.
Mulla Nasrudin and his son were riding the donkey to the town market. A group of people passed. Mulla heard them whisper: “What times are these? Look at those two, have they no mercy on the poor animal?” Nasrudin, hearing this, tells his son to get off and continue the journey on foot. Another group of people passing by and seeing this comment: “What times are these? Look at this man. His poor son with his frail body has to walk while he at his best age is riding the donkey!” Hearing this, Nasrudin tells his son to ride the donkey and he himself gets off to walk the rest of the way. A third group of people seeing this remark: “What times are these? This young man is riding the donkey while his sickly old father has to walk!”
Hearing this, Nasrudin tells his son to get off the animal and they both walk with the donkey trailing behind. Another group passing by point to them, laughing: “Look at these idiots. They have a donkey and they are walking all the way to the market!”
It seems that the Master of Mirth and Chief of the Dervishes, Nasrudin, was once called to pontificate on the ‘Nature of Allah’ in the local mosque. Present were the many Imams and Doctors of the Islamic Law. Out of courtesy and because Nasrudin could not be counted on saying anything worthwhile, these illustrious guests explained and inspired the audience with their eloquence and wisdom.
Finally it was Nasrudin’s turn to explain ‘the Nature of Allah’.
“Allah …”, started Nasrudin impressively “is …” Nasrudin removed and held up an ovoid mauve vegetable from the folds of his turban, ” … an aubergine.”
There was uproar at this blasphemy. When order was finally established, Nasrudin was reluctantly asked to explain his words.
“I conclude that everyone has spoken of what they do not know or have not seen. We can all see this aubergine. Is there anyone who can deny that Allah is manifest in all things?”
Nobody could. “Very well,” said Nasrudin, “Allah is an aubergine.”
Two children found a bag containing twelve marbles. They argued over how to divide the toys and finally went to see Nasrudin, the Mulla. When asked to settle their disagreement, the Mulla asked whether the children wanted him to divide the marbles as a human would or as Allah would.
The children replied, “We want it to be fair. Divide the marbles as Allah would.”
So, the Mulla counted out the marbles and gave three to one child and nine to the other.
Once a renowned philosopher and moralist was traveling through Nasruddin’s village and asked Nasruddin where there was a good place to eat. Nasruddin suggested a place and the scholar, hungry for conversation, invited Mullah Nasruddin to join him. Much obliged, Mullah Nasruddin accompanied the scholar to a nearby restaurant, where they asked the waiter about the special of the day.
“Fish! Fresh Fish!” replied the waiter.
“Bring us two,” they requested.
A few minutes later, the waiter brought out a large platter with two cooked fish on it, one of which was quite a bit smaller than the other. Without hesitating, Mullah Nasruddin took the larger of the fish and put in on his plate. The scholar, giving Mullah Nasruddin a look of intense disbelief, proceed to tell him that what he did was not only flagrantly selfish, but that it violated the principles of almost every known moral, religious, and ethical system. Mullah Nasruddin listened to the philosopher’s extempore lecture patiently, and when he had finally exhausted his resources, Mullah Nasruddin said,
“Well, Sir, what would you have done?”
“I, being a conscientious human, would have taken the smaller fish for myself.” said the scholar.
“And here you are,” Mullah Nasrudin said, and placed the smaller fish on the gentleman’s plate.
A neighbor comes to Nasreddin Hoja.
“Would you lend me your donkey today, Hoja?” the neighbor asks, “I have goods to transport to the next town.”
The Hoja answers: “I’m sorry, but I’ve already lent her to somebody else.” Suddenly the donkey is heard braying loudly behind a wall.
“You lied to me, Hoja!” the neighbor exclaims, “There is the donkey!”
“What do you mean?” the Hoja replies indignantly,
“Whom would you rather believe, a donkey or your Hoja?”
A judge in a village court had gone on vacation. Nasrudin was asked to be temporary judge for a day. Nasrudin sat on the Judge’s chair with a serious face, gazing around the public and ordered the first case be brought-up for hearing.
“You are right,” said Nasrudin after hearing one side.
“You are right,” he said after hearing the other side.
“But both cannot be right,” said a member of public sitting in the audience.
“You are right, too” said Nasrudin.
The dervish Nasrudin entered a formal reception area and seated himself at the foremost elegant chair. The Chief of the Guard approached and said:”Sir, those places are reserved for guests of honor.”
“Oh, I am more than a mere guest,” replied Nasrudin confidently.
“Oh, so are you a diplomat?”
“Far more than that!”
“Really? So you are a minister, perhaps?”
“No, bigger than that too.”
“Oho! So you must be the King himself, sir,” said the Chief sarcastically.
“Higher than that!”
“What?! Are you higher than the King?! Nobody is higher than the King in this village!”
“Now you have it. I am nobody!” said Nasrudin.
A scholar asked Nasrudin the boatman to row him across the river. The journey was long and slow. The scholar was bored.
“Boatman,” he called out, “Let’s have a conversation.” Suggesting a topic of special interest to himself, he asked,”Have you ever studied phonetics or grammar?”
“No”, said the boatman “I’ve no use for those tools.”
“Too bad,” said the scholar, “You’ve wasted half your life. It’s useful to know the rules.”
Later, as the rickety boat crashed into a rock in the middle of the river, the boatman turned to the scholar and said,”Pardon my humble mind that to you must seem dim, but, wise man, tell me, have you ever learned to swim?”
“No,” said the scholar, “I’ve never learned. I’ve immersed myself in thinking.”
“In that case,” said the boatman, “you’ve wasted all your life. Alas, the boat is sinking.”
Nasreddin was walking in the bazaar with a large group of followers. Whatever Nasreddin did, his followers immediately copied. Every few steps Nasreddin would stop and shake his hands in the air, touch his feet and jump up yelling “Hu Hu Hu!”. So his followers would also stop and do exactly the same thing. One of the merchants, who knew Nasreddin, quietly asked him:”What are you doing my old friend? Why are these people imitating you?”
“I have become a Sufi Sheikh,” replied Nasreddin. “These are my Murids (spiritual seekers); I am helping them reach enlightenment!”
“How do you know when they reach enlightenment?”
“That’s the easy part! Every morning I count them. The ones who have left – have reached enlightenment!”
“All the teachers say that spiritual treasure is something one finds alone. So why are we all here together?” asked a disciple of the Sufi master Nasrudin. “You are all here together because a forest is always stronger than a lone tree,” replied Nasrudin.
“The forest maintains the humidity in the air, it resists the hurricane, and it helps to make the soil fertile. But what makes a tree strong is its root, and the root of one plant cannot help another plant to grow. Working together towards the same end and allowing each one to grow in his own way, that is the path for those who wish to commune with God.”
A hunter once caught a small bird. “Master,” said the bird, “you have eaten many animals bigger than I without assuaging your appetite. How can the flesh of my tiny body satisfy you? If you let me go, I will give you three counsels: one while I am still in your hand, the second when I am on your roof, and the third from the top of a tree. When you have heard all three, you will consider yourself the most fortunate of men. The first counsel is this:”Do not believe the foolish pronouncements of others.””
The bird flew on to the roof, from where it gave the second counsel:”Have no regrets for what is past.” Concealed in my body is a precious pearl weighing five ounces. It was yours by right, and now it is gone.”
Hearing this the man began to bewail his misfortune.”Why are you so upset?’ asked the bird.
“Did I not say, “Have no regrets for what is past”? Are you deaf, or did you not understand what I told you? I also said, “Do not believe the foolish pronouncements of others.” I weigh less than two ounces, so how could I possibly conceal a pearl weighing five?”
Coming to his senses, the hunter asked for the third counsel.
“Seeing how much you heeded the first two, why should I waste the third?” replied the bird.
When the great Sufi mystic, Hasan, was dying, somebody asked “Hasan, who was your master?”
He said, “I had thousands of masters. If I just relate their names it will take months, years and it is too late. But three masters I will certainly tell you about.
One was a thief. Once I got lost in the desert, and when I reached a village it was very late, everything was closed. But at last I found one man who was trying to make a hole in t he wall of a house. I asked him where I could stay and he said ‘At this time of night it will be difficult, but you can say with me – if you can stay with a thief’
And the man was so beautiful. I stayed for one month! And each night he would say to me, ‘Now I am going to my work. You rest, you pray.’ When he came back I would ask ‘Could you get anything?’ He would say, ‘Not tonight. But tomorrow I will try again, God willing.’ He was never in a state of hopelessness, he was always happy.
When I was meditating and meditating for years on end and nothing was happening, many times the moment came when I was so desperate, so hopeless, that I thought to stop all this nonsense. And suddenly I would remember the thief who would say every night, ‘God willing, tomorrow it is going to happen.’
And my second master was a dog. I was going to the river, thirsty and a dog came. He was also thirsty. He looked into the river, he saw another dog there — his own image — and became afraid. He would bard and run away, but his thirst was so much that he would come back. Finally, despite his fear, he just jumped into the water, and the image disappeared. And I knew that a message had come to me from God: one has to jump in spite of all fears.
And the third master was a small child. I entered a town and a child was carrying a lit candle. he was going to the mosque to put the candle there.
‘Just joking,’ I asked the boy, ‘Have you lit the candle yourself?’ He said, ‘Yes sir.’ And I asked, ‘There was a moment when the candle was unlit, then there was a moment when the candle was lit. Can you show me the source from which the light came?’
And the boy laughed, blew out the candle, and said, ‘You have seen the light go. Can you tell me where it has gone? If you can tell me where it has gone I will tell you from where it has come, because it has gone to the same place. It has returned to the source.’ My ego was shattered, my whole knowledge was shattered. And that moment I felt my own stupidity.
Since then I dropped all my knowledgeability.
It is true that I had no master. That does not mean that I was not a disciple — I accepted the whole existence as my master. My Disciplehood was a greater involvement than yours is.
I trusted the clouds, the trees. I trusted existence as such. I had no master because I had millions of masters I learned from every possible source. To be a disciple is a must on the path. What does it mean to be a disciple? It means to be able to learn. to be available to learn to be vulnerable to existence. With a master you start learning to learn.
The master is a swimming pool where you can learn how to swim. Once you have learned, all the oceans are yours.
Part IV – The Hermit
Word spread across the countryside about the wise Holy Man who lived in a small house atop the mountain, as a hermit. A man from the village decided to make the long and difficult journey to visit him. When he arrived at the house, he saw an old servant inside who greeted him at the door.
“I would like to see the wise Holy Man,” he said to the servant.
The servant smiled and led him inside. As they walked through the house, the man from the village looked eagerly around the house, anticipating his encounter with the Holy Man. Before he knew it, he had been led to the back door and escorted outside. He stopped and turned to the servant,
“But I want to see the Holy Man!” “You already have,” said the old man.
“Everyone you may meet in life, even if they appear plain and insignificant… see each of them as a wise Holy Man. If you do this, then whatever problem you brought here today will be solved.”
One of the monks at Sceta committed a grave fault, and the wisest hermit was summoned to judge him. The hermit refused, but when the other monks insisted, he answered their call. He arrived carrying on his back a bucket with a hole in it, out of which sand was spilling.
‘I came to judge my brother,’ said the hermit to the monastery superior.
‘My sins are spilling out behind me like the sand from this bucket, but since I don’t look back and don’t notice my own sins, I was summoned to judge my brother!’
The monks immediately gave up any idea of punishment.
In a faraway land, there lived a wise old man. He came everyday and sat on a stone-bench on the outset of the town. He loved watching people go by: merchants that left for faraway lands, peasants that came to sell their products in the Market place; travelers that came from a long way.
He also was looking after his grandchildren who were playing at the feet of the walls.
On that particular day, he saw a traveler approaching with a balluchon and accosted him, had a chat with him for a while and ended up asking him:
-Tell me, old man, you who have lived all your life in this town, what are the people here like?
– Where are you from? asked the elderly man.
– From the town over there, behind the mountains.
– And what were the people like over there?
– They were not very interesting. I found them cold, mean and also withdrawn, said our old man.
And the traveler, continuing his journey, disappeared in the alley-ways of the town.
A little later, another traveler started the same conversation with the same ole man and ended up asking him the same question :
– Tell me what are the people living here like?
– Where are you from? asked the old man.
– I am from the town, over there, behind the mountains.
– And what were the people like over there?
– They were fantastic, retorted the traveler whilst his face lit up. They were generous, friendly and warm.
– Here, said the old man, you will also find the people generous, friendly and warm.
And the traveler disappeared in the streets of the City.
At this moment, one of the kid who was playing nearby came up to his grand-father, pulling his sleeve towards him and said:
– You are telling lies grand-pa. That’s not nice. You taught me not to lie and you are telling the opposite to this traveler to what you are saying to the other one.
– Think about it, said the grand-father. I, during those exchanges, did not say anything. They themselves said how things were happening. All I did was mirroring and reflecting their own ways of living and looking at things. If you want, we can go and look for them and ask their first impressions about the people of this town.
However, it is not necessary, because I already know what each one of them is going to say. And you can also guess that.
A Young disciple came to ask his master:
“Master, what is compassion?”
The Master explained:
“An old man was begging at the corner of a busy street.
First an old lady passed by him and infuriated by the beggar poverty gave him a gold coin. Then a merchant noticing that a small group of men were talking about him gave 5 gold coins to the beggar, and quickly left while walking with his head held high and having a haughty smile.
Then, later, a boy who went to collect some flowers for his mom passed by the beggar; smiled to him and gave him a flower. ”
The master asked his disciple:
“Which one of them do you think felt the most compassion toward the beggar?”
“The merchant did”, replied the boy.
The master, smiling, continued.
“The merchant acted out of pride, the old lady acted out of pity; however the boy felt real compassion.
Compassion is a far greater and nobler thing than pity. Pity has its roots in fear, and a sense of arrogance and condescension, sometimes even a smug feeling of “I’m glad it’s not me.”
When your fear touches someone’s pain it becomes pity.
When your love touches someone’s pain, it becomes compassion.
Feeling compassion is more essential than showing compassion.
To train in compassion, then, is to know all beings are the same and suffer in similar ways, to honor all those who suffer, and to know you are neither separate from nor superior to anyone.”
Once a beggar asked for some help from Yudhishthir. Yudhishthir told him to come on the next day. The beggar went away. At the time of this conversation, Bhima was present. He took one big drum and started walking towards city, beating the drum furiously. Yudhishthir was surprised. He asked the reason for this. Bhima told him:
“I want to declare that our revered Yudhishthir has won the battle against time (Kaala). You told that beggar to come the next day. How do you know that you will be there tomorrow? How do you know that beggar would still be alive tomorrow? Even if, you both are alive, you might not be in a position to give anything. Or, the beggar might not even need anything tomorrow. How did you know that you both can even meet tomorrow? You are the first person in this world who has won the time. I want to tell people of Indraprastha about this.”
Yudhishthir got the message behind this talk and called that beggar right away to give the necessary help.
If not NOW, when?
One day, a man received a visit from some friends.
‘We would very much like it if you could teach us what you have learned over the years,’ said one of them.
‘I’m old,’ said the man.
‘Old and wise,’ said another of his friends. ‘All these years, we have watched you praying. What do you talk to God about? What are the important things we should be praying for?’
The man smiled.
‘In the beginning, I had the fervor of youth, which believes in the impossible. In those days, I used to kneel before God and ask him to give me the strength to change humankind. Gradually, I came to see that the task was beyond me. Then I started praying to God to help me change the world around me.’
‘Well, we can certainly vouch for the fact that part of your wish was granted,’ said one of his friends. ‘For you have helped many people by your example.’
‘Yes, I have helped many people by my example, and yet I knew that I had not yet found the perfect prayer. Only now, at the end of my life, have I come to understand what I should have been praying for from the start.’
‘And what is that?’
‘To be given the ability to change myself.’
An old man slipped on a wet rock near the edge of a river rapids and fell in. As onlookers watched in horror, he was swept toward and then over a high waterfall.
There was great joy when he emerged bruised but otherwise unharmed downstream. “How did you manage to survive?” asked one man in the crowd that gathered round.
Said the old man, “Instead of trying to make the water accommodate me,
I accommodated myself to it. Instead of fighting it, I relaxed into the swirl and allowed it to shape me. I worked with the force of the water instead of against it. That is how I survived.”
A hermit was meditating by a river when a young man interrupted him. “Master, I wish to become your disciple,” said the man.
“Why?” replied the hermit.
The young man thought for a moment.
“Because I want to find God.” The master jumped up, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, dragged him into the river, and plunged his head under water. After holding him there for a minute, with him kicking and struggling to free himself, the master finally pulled him up out of the river. The young man coughed up water and gasped to get his breath. When he eventually quieted down, the master spoke.
“Tell me, what you wanted most of all when you were under water.” “Air!” answered the man. “Very well,” said the master.
“Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”
An emperor was coming out of his palace for his morning walk when he met a beggar. He asked the beggar,
“What do you want?”
The beggar laughed and said,
“You are asking me as though you can fulfill my desire!”
The king was offended. He said,
“Of course I can fulfill your desire. What is it? Just tell me.”
And the beggar said, “Think twice before you promise anything.”
The beggar was no ordinary beggar, he was the emperor past life master. He had promised in that life,
“I will come and try to wake you in your next life. This life you have missed but I will come again.”
But the king had forgotten completely — who remembers past lives? So he insisted,
“I will fulfill anything you ask. I am a very powerful emperor, what can you possibly desire that I cannot give to you?”
The beggar said, “It is a very simple desire. You see this begging bowl?
Can you fill it with something?”
The emperor said, “Of course!”.
He called one of his viziers and told him, “Fill this man’s begging bowl with money.” The vizier went and got some money and poured it into the bowl, and it disappeared. And he poured more and more, and the moment he would pour it, it would disappear. And the begging bowl remained always empty.
The whole palace gathered. By and by the rumor went throughout the whole capital, and a huge crowd gathered. The prestige of the emperor was at stake. He said to his viziers,
“If the whole kingdom is lost, I am ready to lose it, but I cannot be defeated by this beggar.”
Diamonds and pearls and emeralds, his treasuries were becoming empty. The begging bowl seemed to be bottomless. Everything that was put into it — everything! — Immediately disappeared, went out of existence. Finally it was the evening, and the people were standing there in utter silence. The king dropped at the feet of the beggar and admitted his defeat. He said,
“Just tell me one thing. You are victorious – but before you leave, just fulfill my curiosity. What is the begging bowl made of?”
The beggar laughed and said,
“It is made up of the human mind. There is no secret. It is simple made up of human desire.”
This understanding transforms life. Go into one desire — what is the mechanism of it? First there is a great excitement, great thrill, adventure. You feel a great kick. Something is going to happen, you are on the verge of it. And then you have the car, you have the yacht, you have the house, you have the woman, and suddenly all is meaningless again.
What happens? Your mind has dematerialized it. The car is standing in the drive, but there is no excitement anymore. The excitement was only in getting it. You became so drunk with
the desire that you forgot your inner nothingness. Now the desire is fulfilled, the car in the drive, the woman in your bed, the money in your bank account – again excitement disappears. Again the emptiness is there, ready to eat you up. Again you have to create another desire to escape this yawning abyss.
That’s how one moves from one desire to another desire. That’s how one remains a beggar. Your whole life proves it again and again — every desire frustrates. And when the goal is achieved, you will need another desire.
The day you understand that desire as such is going to fail comes the turning point in your life.
The other journey is inwards. Move inwards, come back home.
Part V – Many Masters
There was a man who had four sons. He wanted his sons to learn not to judge things too quickly. So he sent them each on a quest, in turn, to go and look at a pear tree that was a great distance away.
The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in summer, and the youngest son in the fall.
When they had all gone and come back, he called them together to describe what they had seen.
The first son said that the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted.
The second son said no it was covered with green buds and full of promise.
The third son disagreed; he said it was laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful, it was the most graceful thing he had ever seen.
The last son disagreed with all of them; he said it was ripe and drooping with fruit, full of life and fulfillment.
The man then explained to his sons that they were all right, because they had each seen but only one season in the tree’s life.
He told them that you cannot judge a tree, or a person, by only one season, and that the essence of who they are and the pleasure, joy, and love that come from that life can only be measured at the end, when all the seasons are up.
If you give up when it’s winter, you will miss the promise of your spring, the beauty of your summer, fulfillment of your fall.
A man once came to see the Buddha to get help with his problems. After the man had told the Buddha one of his problems and asked for help, the Buddha replied: “I cannot help you get rid of that problem.”
The man was surprised that the Buddha could not help him in this regard, but he told the Buddha about another problem; he thought to himself that the Buddha should at least be able to help him with that problem. But the Buddha told him “I cannot help you with that problem either.”
The man started to get impatient. He said: “How can it be that you are the perfectly Enlightened Buddha, when you can’t even help people get rid of their problems?” The Buddha answered: “You will always have 83 problems in your life. Sometimes a problem will go, but then another problem will come. I cannot help you with that.”
The baffled man asked the Buddha: “But, what can you help me with, then?” The Buddha replied: “I can help you get rid of your 84th problem.” The man asked: “But what is my 84th problem?” The Buddha replied: “That you want to get rid of your 83 problems.”
The boy said, “I went to the town today with my father, to trade the furs he has collected over the past several months. I was happy to go, because father said that since I had helped him with the trapping, I could get something for me. Something that I wanted.
I was so excited to be in the trading post, I have not been there before. I looked at many things and finally found a metal knife! It was small, but good size for me, so father got it for me.”
Here the boy laid his head against his grandfather’s knee and became silent. The Grandfather, softly placed his hand on the boys raven hair and said, “and then what happened?”. Without lifting his head, the boy said, “I went outside to wait for father, and to admire my new knife in the sunlight. Some town boys came by and saw me, they got all around me and starting saying bad things.
They called me dirty and stupid and said that I should not have such a fine knife. The largest of these boys, pushed me back and I fell over one of the other boys. I dropped my knife and one of them snatched it up and they all ran away, laughing.”
Here the boy’s anger returned, “I hate them, I hate them all!”
The Grandfather, with eyes that have seen too much, lifted his grandson’s face so his eyes looked into the boys. Grandfather said, “Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do.
“But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times. It is as if there are two wolves inside me,
one is white and one is black. The White Wolf is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. But will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.
“But, the Black Wolf, is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.
“Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy, looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes, and asked, “Which one wins Grandfather?”
The Grandfather, smiled and said, “The one I feed.”
The following prayer was found amongst the personal belongings of a Jew who died in a concentration camp:
Lord, when you come in Your glory, do not remember only the men of good, but remember too the men of evil.
And on the Day of Judgement, do not remember only the acts of cruelty, inhumanity and violence that they carried out, but remember too the fruits that they produced in us because of what they did to us. Remember the patience, courage, brotherly love, humility, generosity of spirit and faithfulness that our executioners awoke in our souls.
And then, Lord, may those fruits be used to save the souls of those men of evil.
In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the kirig’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway.
The peasant learned what many of us never understand. Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.
We all have a tendency to believe that everything we do will turn outwrong, because we think we do not deserve to be blessed. Here is an interesting story about precisely that feeling.
A man was quietly eating his breakfast. Suddenly, the piece of bread which he had just spread with butter fell to the ground. Imagine his surprise when he looked down and saw that it had landed buttered side up! The man thought he had witnessed a miracle. Excited,he went to tell his friends what had happened, and they were all amazed
because when a piece of bread falls on the floor, it always lands buttered side down, making a mess of everything.
‘Perhaps you’re a saint,’ one friend said. ‘And this is a sign from God.’
Soon the whole village knew, and they all started animatedly discussing the incident: how was it that, against all expectations, that man’s slice of bread had fallen on the floor buttered side up? Since no one could
come up with a credible answer, they went to see a Teacher who livednearby and told him the story.
The Teacher demanded one night to pray, reflect and ask for Divine inspiration. The following day, they all returned, eager for an answer.
‘It’s quite simple really,’ said the Teacher.
‘The fact is that the piece of bread fell exactly as it should have fallen, but the butter had been spread on the wrong side.’
Buddha was gathered together with his disciples one morning, when a
man came up to him.
‘Does God exist?’ he asked.
‘He does,’ replied Buddha.
After lunch, another man came up to him.
‘Does God exist?’ he asked.
‘No, he doesn’t,’ said Buddha.
Later that afternoon, a third man asked the same question: ‘Does God exist?’
‘That’s for you to decide,’ replied Buddha.
As soon as the man had gone, one of his disciples remarked angrily:
‘But that’s absurd, Master! How can you possibly give such different answers to the same question?’
‘Because they are all different people, and each one of them will reach God by his own path. The first man will believe what I say. The second will do everything he can to prove me wrong. The third will only believe in what he is allowed to choose for himself.’
The Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis tells how, as a child, he found a cocoon attached to a tree and saw that the butterfly inside the cocoon was just preparing to emerge. He waited for some time, but because the process seemed so long drawn out, he decided to speed things up. He began
to warm the cocoon with his breath. However, when the butterfly did finally emerge, its wings were still stuck together, and it died a short time afterwards.
‘What it required was patient ripening by the sun, and I could not wait,’ says Kazantzakis. ‘Even now, that small corpse is one of the greatest weights I have on my conscience. But it taught me what is truly a mortal sin: to force the great laws of the universe. We must be patient
and wait for the right moment and gladly follow the rhythm God has chosen for our life.’
When I was travelling the road to Rome, one of the four sacred roads in my magical tradition, I realised, after almost twenty days spent entirely alone, that I was in a much worse state than when I had started. In my solitude, I began to have mean, nasty, ignoble feelings.
I sought out my guide to the road and told her about this. I said that when I had set out on that pilgrimage, I had thought I would grow closer to God, but that, after three weeks, I was feeling a great deal worse.
‘You are getting better, don’t worry,’ she said. ‘The fact is that when we turn on our inner light, the first thing we see are the cobwebs and the dust, our weak points. They were there already, it’s just that you couldn’t see them in the darkness. Now it will be much easier for you to clean out your soul.’
An Indian legend tells of a man who used to carry water every day to his village, using two large pitchers tied on either end of a piece of wood, which he placed across his shoulders.
One of the pitchers was older than the other and was full of small cracks; every time the man came back along the path to his house, half of the water was lost.
For two years, the man made the same journey. The younger pitcher was always very proud of the way it did its work and was sure that it was up to the task for which it had been created, while the other pitcher was mortally ashamed that it could carry out only half its task, even though it knew that the cracks were the result of long years of work.
So ashamed was the old pitcher that, one day, while the man was preparing to fill it up with water from the well, it decided to speak to him.
‘I wish to apologise because, due to my age, you only manage to take home half the water you fill me with, and thus quench only half the thirst awaiting you in your house.’
The man smiled and said:
‘When we go back, be sure to take a careful look at the path.’
The pitcher did as the man asked and noticed many flowers and plants growing along one side of the path.
‘Do you see how much more beautiful nature is on your side of the road?’ the man remarked. ‘I knew you had cracks, but I decided to take advantage of them. I sowed vegetables and flowers there, and you always watered them. I’ve picked dozens of roses to decorate my house, and my children have had lettuce, cabbage and onions to eat. If you were not the way you are, I could never have done this. We all, at some point, grow old and acquire other qualities which can always be turned to good advantage.’
A king dreams in the night that a dark shadow is putting her hand on his shoulder. He looks back. He is horrified. It is just a dark shadow, but the shadow speaks and says, “There is no need to be worried. I have just come to inform you — it is not routine; you are a great king; it is an exception — otherwise I never come to inform anybody. I come without any information.”
The king said, “But who are you?”
The dark shadow laughed and said, “I am your death, and be prepared. Tomorrow, as the sun will be setting, I am going to come to you.”
Naturally, this nightmare woke him up. Even after he was awake, knowing well that it was only a dream, he was trembling and perspiring. And his heart was beating so loudly he could hear it himself. He immediately called the council of all his wise men, and particularly the royal
astrologers, prophets, and told them the dream. He asked them the meaning of it — is it true that death is going to happen? The astrologers may be able to figure it out.
The wise men, the philosophers, the astrologers, the prophets, all started arguing about the dream. Perhaps it was the first dream analysis! But they could not come to any conclusion, just as they cannot come to any conclusion today. All the dream analysts, the so-called psychoanalysts, differ in their interpretations. You take the same dream to all and you will get different conclusions about the dream. You will be more confused than ever.
And so was the situation of the king from the middle of the night till the morning; he became more and more confused because everybody was saying something different. And when the sun started rising, the old man who used to serve the king… He was not only a servant, he had helped the king from his very childhood. He had taken care of him, because his mother had died and his father had appointed the man to take care of the child because he was his most trustworthy bodyguard. So the king respected him almost like his father.
The old man said, whispered in his ear, “These great thinkers and philosophers and astrologers have argued for centuries and they have never come to any conclusion; do you think they will come to any conclusion within twelve hours? Forget it; that is not possible. These are the people who know only how to argue; they never come to any
conclusion. They argue well but the question is not the beauty of the argument, the question is what is the conclusion of all your philosophies? There is no conclusion at all. No two philosophers agree with each other.”
The king asked him, “Then what do you propose?”
He said, “My understanding is let them discuss; there is no harm. But you take our fastest horse and get away as far as possible from the palace. It is dangerous to be at this place, for at least the coming twelve hours. After the sun has set, you can start turning back, but not
before that.” It looked practical. The old man said, “These people can go on arguing; there is no need to stop them. If they come to any conclusion, I will follow you immediately. The best way is towards Damascus, another capital of another kingdom. So I will know where to find you, to give you their conclusion. I will come behind you.”
The king was convinced by the old man. He left all those great philosophers discussing, and slipped quietly out of the palace with the best horse he had. The whole day the horse was running as fast as possible. They did not stop to eat or even to drink water. It was not a time to think of water or food. And the horse seemed to be in a certain
understanding that it was a very critical moment for his master.
They reached near Damascus, just outside the city, as the sun was setting. They stopped in a mango grove and as he was tying the horse to a tree, he patted it and he said, “You prove to be a great friend. You have never run so fast before; you must have understood my situation. And we have come hundreds of miles away.”
As the sun was setting he immediately felt the same hand on his shoulder from behind. The shadow was there and said, “I also have to thank your horse. I was worried whether you would be able to reach this place at the right time or not. That’s why I had come to inform you. This is the place destined for your death, and your horse has brought you right on time.”
You were on your way home when you died.
It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal
nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless
death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body
was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.
And that’s when you met me.
“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”
“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.
“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”
“Yup,” I said.
“I… I died?”
“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.
You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is
this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”
“More or less,” I said.
“Are you god?” You asked.
“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”
“My kids… my wife,” you said.
“What about them?”
“Will they be all right?”
“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your
main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”
You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I
just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority
figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will
remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow
contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be
secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If
it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling
“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or
“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”
“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”
“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with
You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we
“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while
“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn,
I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and
everything I did in this life won’t matter.”
“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and
experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right
I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more
magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A
human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like
sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold.
You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it
back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.
“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t
stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we
hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But
there’s no point to doing that between each life.”
“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”
“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said.
“This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”
“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”
“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your
universe. Things are different where I come from.”
“Where you come from?” You said.
“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And
there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like
there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”
“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get
reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with
myself at some point.”
“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their
own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”
“So what’s the point of it all?”
“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the
meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”
“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.
I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this
whole universe, is for you to mature.”
“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”
“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life
you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”
“Just me? What about everyone else?”
“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just
you and me.”
You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”
“All you. Different incarnations of you.”
“Wait. I’m everyone!?”
“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the
“I’m every human being who ever lived?”
“Or who will ever live, yes.”
“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”
“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.
“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.
“And you’re the millions he killed.”
“And you’re everyone who followed him.”
You fell silent.
“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing
yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to
yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was,
or will be, experienced by you.”
You thought for a long time.
“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”
“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you
are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”
“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”
“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve
lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough
to be born.”
“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”
“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your
And I sent you on your way.
In ancient China, around the year 250 B.C., a certain prince of the region of Thing-Zda was about to be crowned emperor; however, according to the law, he first had to get married.
Since this meant choosing the future empress, the prince needed to find a young woman whom he could trust absolutely. On the advice of an wise man, he decided to summon all the young women of the region in order to find the most worthy candidate.
An old lady, who had served in the palace for many years, heard about the preparations for this gathering and felt very sad, for her daughter nurtured a secret love for the prince.
When the old lady got home, she told her daughter and was horrified to learn that her daughter intended going to the palace. The old lady was desperate.
‘But, daughter, what on earth will you do there? All the richest and most beautiful girls from the court will be present. It’s a ridiculous idea! I know you must be suffering, but don’t turn that suffering into madness.’
And the daughter replied:
‘My dear mother, I am not suffering and I certainly haven’t gone mad. I know that I won’t be chosen, but it’s my one chance to spend at least a mfew moments close to the prince, and that makes me happy, even though I know that a quite different fate awaits me.’
That night, when the young woman reached the palace, all the most beautiful girls were indeed there, wearing the most beautiful clothes and the most beautiful jewellery, and prepared to do anything to seize the opportunity on offer.
Surrounded by the members of his court, the prince announced a challenge.
‘I will give each of you a seed. In six months’ time, the young woman who brings me the loveliest flower will be the future empress of China.’
The girl took her seed and planted it in a pot, and since she was not very skilled in the art of gardening, she prepared the soil with great patience
and tenderness, for she believed that if the flowers grew as large as her love, then she need not worry about the results.
Three months passed and no shoots had appeared. The young woman tried everything; she consulted farmers and peasants, who showed her the most varied methods of cultivation, but all to no avail. Each day she felt that her dream had moved farther off, although her love was as alive as ever.
At last, the six months were up, and still nothing had grown in her pot. Even though she had nothing to show, she knew how much effort and dedication she had put in during that time, and so she told her mother that she would go back to the palace on the agreed date and at
the agreed hour. Inside she knew that this would be her last meeting with her true love and she would not have missed it for the world.
The day of the audience arrived. The girl appeared with her plantless pot, and saw that all the other candidates had achieved wonderful results: each girl bore a flower lovelier than the last, in the most varied
forms and colours.
Finally, the longed-for moment came. The prince entered and he studied each of the candidates with great care and attention. Having inspected them all, he announced the result and chose the servant’s daughter as
his new wife.
All the other girls present began to protest, saying that he had chosen the only one of them who had not managed to grow anything at all.
Then the prince calmly explained the reasoning behind the challenge:
‘This young woman was the only one who cultivated the flower that made her worthy of becoming the empress: the flower of honesty. All the seeds I handed out were sterile, and nothing could ever have grown from them.’
For years, Hitoshi tried in vain to awaken the love of the woman he believed to be the love of his life. But fate is ironic: on the very day that she finally accepted him as her future husband, she learned that she had an incurable disease and would not live for very much longer.
Six months later, when she was about to die, she said to him:
‘Promise me one thing: never fall in love with anyone else. If you do, I will come every night to haunt you.’
And then she closed her eyes for ever. For many months, Hitoshi avoided other women, but fate continued to be ironic, and he discovered a new love. When he was preparing to remarry, the ghost of his ex-beloved kept her promise and appeared to him.
‘You are betraying me,’ the ghost said.
‘For years, I offered you my heart and you rejected me,’ replied
Hitoshi. ‘Don’t you think I deserve a second chance of happiness?’
But the ghost of his ex-beloved was not interested in excuses and came every night to frighten him. It described in detail what had happened during the day, the words of love that he had spoken to his fiancée, the kisses and embraces they had exchanged.
Hitoshi could no longer sleep and so he went to consult the Zen master Basho.
‘It’s certainly a very intelligent ghost,’ said Basho.
‘It knows everything down to the last detail! And now it’s ruining my relationship because I can’t sleep and during intimate moments with my fiancée, I feel somehow constrained.’
‘Don’t worry, we’ll get rid of the ghost,’ said Basho.
That night, when the ghost returned, Hitoshi spoke first, before the ghost could say a word.
‘You’re such a clever ghost, I’d like to make a deal with you. Since you watch me all the time, I’m going to ask you about something I did today.
If you answer correctly, I will give up my fiancée and never take another wife. If you answer wrongly, you must promise never to appear again, or else be condemned by the gods to wander for ever in the darkness.’
‘Agreed,’ replied the ghost confidently.
‘This afternoon, when I was in the grocer’s shop, at one point, I picked up a handful of grain from a sack.’
‘Yes, I saw you,’ said the ghost.
‘My question is the following: how many grains of wheat did I have in my hand?’
The ghost realised that it would never be able to answer that question and, in order to avoid being pursued by the gods into eternal darkness, it decided to disappear for ever.
Two days later, Hitoshi went to Basho’s house.
‘I came to thank you.’
‘Be sure to learn the lessons your experience has taught you,’ said Basho. ‘First: the spirit kept coming back because you were afraid. If you want to rid yourself of a curse, simply ignore it. Second: the ghost took
advantage of your feelings of guilt. Whenever we feel guilty, we always unconsciously long to be punished. And finally, no one who truly loved you, would force you to make such a promise. If you want to understand love, first learn about freedom.’
The giraffe gives birth standing up, so the first thing that happens to a new-born giraffe is a fall of about two metres.
Still dazed, the baby tries to stand up on its four legs, but its mother behaves very strangely: she gives the baby giraffe a gentle kick which sends it sprawling. It tries to get up and is again knocked down.
This process is repeated several times, until the new-born giraffe is too exhausted to stand. At that point, the mother kicks it again, forcing it to get to its feet. After that, she does not push the baby giraffe over again.
The explanation is simple: in order to survive predators, the first lesson a giraffe must learn is to get to its feet quickly. The mother’s apparent cruelty finds support in an Arabic proverb:
‘Sometimes, in order to teach something good, you have to be a little rough.’
The 92-year-old, petite, well-poised and proud lady, who is fully dressed each morning by eight o’clock, with her hair fashionably coifed and makeup perfectly applied, even though she is legally blind, moved to a nursing home today.
Her husband of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary.
After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window.
“I love it,” she stated with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy.
“Mrs. Jones, you haven’t seen the room …. just wait.”
“That doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she replied.
“Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged … it’s how I arrange my mind.
I already decided to love it … It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away … just for this time in my life.”
When he died, Juan found himself in an exquisite place, surrounded by all the comfort and beauty he had always dreamed of. A man dressed in white spoke to him:
‘You can have anything you want, any food, any pleasure, any diversion,’ he said.
Delighted, Juan did everything he had dreamed of doing while alive. Then, after many years of pleasure, he again searched out the man in white.
‘I’ve done everything I wanted to do. Now I need a job, so that I can feel useful,’ he said.
‘I’m sorry,’ replied the man in white. ‘But that is the one thing I can’t give you; there is no work here.’
‘How awful!’ said Juan angrily. ‘That means I’ll spend all eternity bored to death! I wish I was in Hell!’
The man in white came over to him and said softly:
‘And where exactly do you think you are, sir?’
Wise King Weng asked to visit the palace prison. And he began listening to the prisoners’ complaints.
‘I’m innocent,’ said a man accused of murder. ‘I’m here simply because I wanted to give my wife a fright, but I accidentally killed her.’
‘I was accused of taking a bribe,’ said another, ‘but all I did was accept a gift.’
All the prisoners declared their innocence to King Weng, until one of them, a young man of only twenty or so, said:
‘I’m guilty. I wounded my brother in a fight and I deserve to be punished. This place has made me reflect on the pain I caused.’
‘Remove this criminal from the prison immediately!’ cried King Weng.
‘He’ll end up corrupting all these entirely innocent men.’
I dreamed I had an interview with God.
“Come in,” God said. “So, you would like to interview Me?”
“If you have the time,” I said.
God smiled and said “My time is eternity. It is enough to do everything. What questions do you have in mind to ask me?”
I asked, “What surprises you most about mankind?”
God thought for a few moments and then answered “That they get bored of being children, are in a rush to grow up, and then long to be children again.
That they lose their health to make money and then lose their money to restore their health.
That by thinking anxiously about the future, they forget the present, such that they live neither for the present nor the future.
That they live as if they will never die, and they die as if they had never lived”
God placed my hands in His and we were silent for while. Then I asked,
“As a parent, what are some of life’s lessons you want your children to learn?”
God replied with a smile “To learn that they cannot make anyone love them. What they can do is to let themselves be loved.
To learn that what is most valuable is not what they have in their lives, but whom they have in their lives.
To learn that it is not good to compare themselves to others. All will be judged individually on their own merits, not as a group on a comparison basis.
To learn that a rich person is not the one who has the most, but is one who needs the least.
To learn that it only takes a few seconds to open profound wounds in persons we love, and that it takes many years to heal them.
To learn to forgive by practicing forgiveness. To learn that there are persons that love them dearly, but simply do not know how to express or show their feelings.
To learn that money can buy everything but happiness.
To learn that two people can look at the same thing and see it totally differently.
To learn that a true friend is someone who knows everything about them… and likes them anyway.
To learn that it is not always enough that they be forgiven by others, but that they have to forgive themselves.”
I sat there for awhile enjoying my visit with God.
I thanked Him for His time and for all that He has done for my family and me.
He replied, “Anytime. I’m here 24 hours a day. All you have to do is ask for me, and I’ll answer.”
Saadi of Shiraz used to tell the following story:
‘When I was a child, I used to pray with my father, my uncles and my cousins. Every night we would gather together to listen to a passage from the Koran.
On one such night, while my uncle was reading a passage out loud, I noticed that most of the people were asleep. I said to my father: “Not one of these dozy people is listening to the words of the Prophet. They’ll never reach God.”
And my father replied: “My dear son, look for your own path with faith and let others take care of themselves. Who knows, perhaps they are talking to God in their dreams. Believe me, I would much prefer you to be sleeping alongside them than to hear your harsh words of judgement and condemnation.”‘
In the twenty-third year of the reign of Zhao, Lao Tzu realised that the war would ultimately destroy the place where he lived. Since he had spent years meditating on the essence of life, he knew that there are times when one has to be practical. He made the simplest possible decision: to move.
He took his few belongings and set off for Han Keou. As he was leaving the city, he met a gatekeeper.
“Where is an eminent sage like you going?” asked the gatekeeper.
“Somewhere far from the war.”
“You can’t just leave like that. I would like to know what you have learned after all these years of meditation. I will only let you leave, if you share what you know with me.”
Simply in order to get rid of the man, Lao Tzu wrote a slender volume right there and then, and gave that one copy to the gatekeeper. Then he went on his way, and was never heard of again.
Further copies of Lao Tzu’s book were made, it crossed centuries, it crossed millennia, and reached our time. It is called Tao te ching and is, quite simply, essential reading. Here are a few examples from its pages:
He who knows others is wise.
He who knows himself is enlightened.
He who conquers others is strong.
He who conquers himself is powerful.
He who knows joy is rich.
He who keeps to his path has will.
Be humble and you will remain whole.
Bow down and you will remain erect.
Empty yourself and you will remain full.
Wear yourself out and you will remain new.
The wise man does not show himself, and that is why he shines.
He does not attract attention to himself, and that is why he is noticed.
He does not praise himself, and that is why he has merit.
And because he is not competing, no one in the world can compete with him.
Once when Confucius was travelling with his disciples, he heard tell of avery intelligent boy living in a particular village. Confucius went to seeand talk to him and he jokingly asked:
‘How would you like to help me do away with all the irregularitiesand inequalities in the world?’
‘But why?’ asked the boy. ‘If we flattened the mountains, the birdswould have no shelter. If we filled up the deep rivers and the sea, thefish would die. If the head of the village had as much authority as the madman, no one would know where they were. The world is vast enough to cope with differences.’
A Hindu saint who was visiting the river Ganges to take a bath found a group of family members on the banks, shouting in anger at each other.
Smiling, he turned to his disciples and asked, ‘Why do people in anger shout at each other?’
The disciples thought for a while, and then one of them said, ‘Because when we lose our calm, we shout.’
‘But, why should you shout when the other person is just next to you? You can as well tell him what you have to say in a soft manner,’ asked the saint.
The disciples gave more answers but none satisfied the saint. Finally he explained:
‘When two people are angry at each other, the distance between their hearts is larger. To cover that distance they must shout to be able to hear each other. The angrier they are, the stronger they will have to shout to hear each other to cover that great distance.
What happens when two people fall in love? They don’t shout at each other but talk softly, because their hearts are very close. The distance between them is either nonexistent or very small…’
The saint continued, ‘When they love each other even more, what happens?
They do not speak, only whisper and they get even closer to each other in their love. Finally they even need not whisper, they only look at each other and that’s all. That is how close two people are when they love each other.’
He looked at his disciples and said, ‘So when you argue, do not let your hearts get distant. Do not say words that distance you from each other more, or else there will come a day when the distance is so great that you will not be able to find the path to return.’
The son of a master thief asked his father to teach him the secrets of the trade. The old thief agreed and that night took his son to burglarize a large house. While the family was asleep, he silently led his young apprentice into a room that contained a clothes closet. The father told his son to go into the closet to pick out some clothes. When he did, his father quickly shut the door and locked him in. Then he went back outside, knocked loudly on the front door, thereby waking the family, and quickly slipped away before anyone saw him. Hours later, his son returned home, bedraggled and exhausted.
“Father,” he cried angrily,
“Why did you lock me in that closet? If I hadn’t been made desperate by my fear of getting caught, I never would have escaped. It took all my ingenuity to get out!”
The old thief smiled.
“Son, you have had your first lesson in the art of burglary.”
Once there was a wealthy businessman who lived in a penthouse with a breathtaking view of the city. He had a childhood friend who was poor but happy. This friend had a loving wife who adored him and greatly appreciated how hard he worked to provide for the family. The tycoon was a successful businessman and had to spend many evenings away from home socializing and finalizing business deals. He was quite envious of his friend’s simple lifestyle and thought to himself, “What is the point of having all this money if I cannot enjoy it? My friend may be poor, but he is enjoying a wonderful life with his wife. Sometimes I wish my life could be more like his.”
One day, someone told him, “If you want to be more like your friend, just give some of your money to him.” He was tickled with the suggestion and decided to give his poor friend two hundred thousand dollars, a small fraction of what he had. The poor couple was ecstatic.
They thought the money was the best thing that could happen to them.
When night fell, they began to worry about how to safeguard their newfound wealth. Should they put it in the drawer? Someone might steal it. How about under the mattress? That did not sound like such a good hiding place, either. Worried about their fortune, they hardly got a wink of sleep that night. After a few days, they began to argue about how best to use the money. The wife wanted to do one thing, while the husband wanted to do something different. Their fights almost destroyed their marriage. Upon reflection, they realized that all their problems had started when they were given the money. They decided to return the money to their tycoon friend, instead.
A monk lived near the temple of Shiva. In the house opposite lived a prostitute. Noticing the large number of men who visited her, the monk decided to speak to her.
‘You are a great sinner,’ he said sternly. ‘You reveal your lack of respect for God every day and every night. Do you never stop to think about what will happen to you after your death?’
The poor woman was very shaken by what the monk said. She prayed to God out of genuine repentance, begging His forgiveness. She also asked the Almighty to help her to find another means of earning her living.
But she could find no other work and, after going hungry for a week, she returned to prostitution.
But each time she gave her body to a stranger, she would pray to the Lord for forgiveness.
Annoyed that his advice had had no effect, the monk thought to himself:
‘From now on, I’m going to keep a count of the number of men who go into that house, until the day the sinner dies.’
And from that moment on, he did nothing but watch the comings and goings at the prostitute’s house, and for each man who went in, he added a stone to a pile of stones by his side.
After some time, the monk again spoke to the prostitute and said:
‘You see that pile of stones? Each stone represents a mortal sin committed by you, despite all my warnings. I say to you once more: do not sin again!’
Seeing how her sins accumulated, the woman began to tremble.
Returning home, she wept tears of real repentance and prayed to God:
‘O Lord, when will Your mercy free me from this wretched life?’ Her prayer was heard. That same day, the angel of death came to her house and carried her off. On God’s orders, the angel crossed the street and took the monk with him too.
The prostitute’s soul went straight up to Heaven, while the devils bore the monk down into Hell. They passed each other on the way, and when the monk saw what was happening, he cried out:
‘Is this Your justice, O Lord? I spent my whole life in devotion and poverty and now I am carried off into Hell, while that prostitute, who lived all her life steeped in sin, is borne aloft up to Heaven!’
Hearing this, one of the angels replied:
‘God’s purposes are always just. You thought that God’s love meant judging the behaviour of your neighbour. While you filled your heart with the impurity of another’s sin, this woman prayed fervently day and night. Her soul is so light after all the tears she has shed that we can easilybear her up to Paradise. Your soul is so weighed down with stones it is too heavy to lift.’
I arrive in Madrid at eight o’clock in the morning. I will only be here a few hours, so it’s not worth phoning friends and arranging to see them. I decide to go for a walk alone in my favourite places, and I end up sitting smoking a cigarette on a bench in the Retiro Park.
‘You look miles away,’ says an old man, joining me on the bench.
‘Oh, I’m here,’ I say, ‘but I’m sitting on this same bench with a painter friend of mine, Anastasio Ranchal, twelve years ago in 1986. We are both watching my wife, Christina, who has had a bit too much to drink and is trying to dance the flamenco.’
‘Enjoy your memories,’ says the old man. ‘But don’t forget that memory is like salt: the right amount brings out the flavour in food, too much ruins it. If you live in the past all the time, you’ll find yourself with no present to remember.’
Struggling against certain things which will pass in time anyway is a waste of energy. This very brief Chinese story illustrates this very well.
In the middle of the countryside, it began to rain. Everyone scurried off to seek shelter, except for one man, who continued to walk slowly along.
‘Why aren’t you running for shelter?’ someone asked.
‘Because it’s raining up ahead too,’ came the answer.
“When you look at your companions, try to see yourself,” said the Japanese teacher Okakura Kakuso.
“But isn’t that an awfully selfish attitude?” asked a disciple.
“If we are always concerned about ourselves, we will never see the good things that others have to offer.”
“If only we did always see the good things in others,” replied Kakuso. “But the truth is that when we look at another person, we are only looking for defects. We try to discover his wicked side because we want him to be worse than us. We never forgive him when he hurts us because we do not believe that we would ever be forgiven. We manage to wound him with harsh words, declaring that we are telling the truth, when all we are doing is trying to hide it from ourselves. We pretend that we are important so that no one else will see how fragile we are.
That is why whenever you judge your brother, be aware that you are the one who is on trial.”
During a momentous battle, a Japanese general decided to attack even though his army was greatly outnumbered. He was confident they would win, but his men were filled with doubt. On the way to the battle, they stopped at a religious shrine. After praying with the men, the general took out a coin and said, “I shall now toss this coin. If it is heads, we shall win. If tails, we shall lose. Destiny will now reveal itself.”
He threw the coin into the air and all watched intently as it landed. It was heads. The soldiers were so overjoyed and filled with confidence that they vigorously attacked the enemy and were victorious. After the battle, a lieutenant remarked to the general, “No one can change destiny.”
“Quite right,” the general replied as he showed the lieutenant the coin, which had heads on both sides.
There was once a stone cutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life.
One day he passed a wealthy merchant’s house. Through the open gateway, he saw many fine possessions and important visitors. “How powerful that merchant must be!” thought the stone cutter. He became very envious and wished that he could be like the merchant.
To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever imagined, but envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. Soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. “How powerful that official is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a high official!”
Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around. It was a hot summer day, so the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. “How powerful the sun is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the sun!”
Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. “How powerful that storm cloud is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a cloud!”
Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. “How powerful it is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the wind!”
Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, feared and hated by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it – a huge, towering rock. “How powerful that rock is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a rock!”
Then he became the rock, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the hard surface, and felt himself being changed. “What could be more powerful than I, the rock?” he thought.
He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stone cutter.
Many years ago, in a poor Chinese village, there lived a farmer and his son. His only material possession, apart from the land and a small hut, was a horse he had inherited from his father.
One day, the horse ran away, leaving the man with no animal with which to work the land. His neighbours, who respected him for his honesty
and diligence, went to his house to say how much they regretted his loss. He thanked them for their visit, but asked:
‘How do you know that what happened was a misfortune in my life?’
Someone muttered to a friend: ‘He obviously doesn’t want to face facts, but let him think what he likes, after all, it’s better than being sad about it.’
And the neighbours went away again, pretending to agree with what he had said.
A week later, the horse returned to its stable, but it was not alone; it brought with it a beautiful mare for company. The inhabitants of the village were thrilled when they heard the news, for only then did they understand the reply the man had given them, and they went back to the farmer’s house to congratulate him on his good fortune.
‘Instead of one horse, you’ve got two. Congratulations!’ they said.
‘Many thanks for your visit and for your solidarity,’ replied the farmer.
‘But how do you know that what happened was a blessing in my life?’
The neighbours were rather put out and decided that the man must be going mad, and, as they left, they said: ‘Doesn’t the man realise that the horse is a gift from God?’
A month later, the farmer’s son decided to break the mare in.
However, the animal bucked wildly and threw the boy off; the boy fell awkwardly and broke his leg.
The neighbours returned to the farmer’s house, bringing presents for the injured boy. The mayor of the village solemnly presented his condolences to the father, saying how sad they all were about what had occurred.
The man thanked them for their visit and for their kindness, but he asked:
‘How do you know that what happened was a misfortune in my life?’
These words left everyone dumbstruck, because they were all quite sure that the son’s accident was a real tragedy. As they left the farmer’s house, they said to each other: ‘Now he really has gone mad; his only soncould be left permanently crippled, and he’s not sure whether the accident was a misfortune or not!’
A few months went by, and Japan declared war on China. The
emperor’s emissaries scoured the country for healthy young men to besent to the front. When they reached the village, they recruited all theyoung men, except the farmer’s son, whose leg had not yet mended.
None of the young men came back alive. The son recovered, and the two horses produced foals that were all sold for a good price. The farmer went to visit his neighbours to console and to help them, since they had always shown him such solidarity. Whenever any of them complained, the farmer would say: ‘How do you know that what happened was a misfortune?’ If someone was overjoyed about something, he would ask:
‘How do you know that what happened was a blessing?’ And the people of the village came to understand that life has other meanings that go beyond mere appearance.
”You may choose to be any Part of God you wish to be,” I said to the Little Soul. “You are Absolute Divinity, experiencing Itself. What Aspect of Divinity do you now wish to experience as You?”
“You mean I have a choice?” asked the Little Soul. And I answered,
“Yes, You may choose to experience Any Aspect of Divinity in, as, and through you.”
“Okay,” said the Little Soul, “then I choose Forgiveness. I want to experience my Self as the Aspect of God called Complete Forgiveness.”
Well, this created a little challenge, as you can imagine.
There was no one to forgive. All I have created is Perfection and Love.
“No one to forgive?” asked the Little Soul, somewhat incredulously.
“No one,” I repeated. “Look around you. Do you see any souls less perfect, less wonderful than you?”
At this the Little Soul twirled around, and was surprised to see himself surrounded by all the souls in heaven. They had come from far and wide throughout the Kingdom, because they heard that the Little Soul was having an extraordinary conversation from God.
“I see none less perfect than I!” the Little Soul exclaimed. “Who, then, shall I have to forgive?”
Just then, another soul stepped forward from the crowd. “You may forgive me,” said this Friendly Soul.
“For what?” the Little Soul asked.
“I will come into your next physical lifetime and do something for you to forgive,” replied the Friendly Soul.
“But what? What could you, a being of such Perfect Light, do to make me want to forgive you?” the Little Soul wanted to know.
“Oh,” smiled the Friendly Soul, “I’m sure we can think of
“But why would you want to do this?” The Little Soul could not figure out why a being of such perfection would want to slow down its vibration so much that it could actually do something “bad”.
“Simple,” the Friendly Soul explained, “I would do it because I love you. You want to experience your Self as Forgiving, don’t you?
Besides, you’ve done the same for me.”
“I have?” asked the Little Soul.
“Of course. Don’t you remember? We’ve been All Of It, you and I.
We’ve been the Up and Down of it, and the Left and the Right of it.
We’ve been the Here and the There of it. We’ve been the Big and the
Small of it, the Male and the Female of it, the Good and the Bad of it.
We’ve all been the All of It.
“And we’ve done it by agreement, so that each of us might experience ourselves as the Grandest Part of God. For we have understood that… In the absence of that which You Are Not, that Which You ARE, is NOT.
In the absence of ‘cold’, you cannot be ‘warm’. In the absence of ‘sad’, you cannot be ‘happy’, without a thing called ‘evil’, the experience you call ‘good’ cannot exist.
If you choose to be a thing, something or someone opposite to that has to show up somewhere in your universe to make that possible.”
The Friendly Soul then explained that those people are God’s Special Angels, and these conditions God’s Gifts.
“I ask only one thing in return,” the Friendly Soul declared.
“Anything! Anything,” the Little Soul cried. He was excited not to know that he could experience every Divine Aspect of God. He understood, now, the Plan.
“In the moment that I strike you and smite you,” said the Friendly Soul, “in the moment that I do the worst to you that you could ever imagine – in that selfsame moment… remember Who I Really Am.”
“Oh, I won’t forget!” promised the Little Soul. “I will see you in the perfection with which I hold you now, and I will remember Who You Are, always.”
Jean was out walking with his grandfather in Paris. At one point, they saw a shoemaker being insulted by a customer who claimed that there was something wrong with his shoes. The shoemaker calmly listened to his complaints, apologised and promised to make good the mistake.
Jean and his grandfather stopped to have a coffee. At the next table, the waiter asked a man if he would mind moving his chair slightly so that he could get by. The man erupted in a torrent of abuse and refused to move.
‘Never forget what you have seen,’ said Jean’s grandfather. ‘The shoemaker accepted the customer’s complaint, while this man next to us did not want to move. Men who perform some useful task are not bothered if they are treated as if they were useless, but men who do no useful work at all always think themselves very important and hide their incompetence behind their authority.’
The mystic Ramakrishna began his dedication to the spiritual life when he was sixteen. At first, he used to weep bitterly because, despite his devotion to the work at the temple, he seemed to be getting nowhere.
Later, when he was famous, a friend asked him about that period of his life. Ramakrishna replied:
‘If a thief were to spend the night in a room with only a thin wall separating him from another room full of gold, do you think he would be able to sleep? He would lie awake all night, scheming. When I was young, I desired God as ardently as a thief would desire that gold, and it took me a long time to learn that the greatest virtue in the spiritual search is patience.’
Water knows no fear, anticipation, or surprise.
Remaining calm, clear, and true,
It suffers not the future
And reflects beauty in tranquility.
Water neither seeks nor resists conflict.
Flowing with simplicity and efficiency,
It suffers not the present
And reflects beauty in turbulence.
Water dwells not on drama or regret.
Resuming the original condition,
It suffers not the past
And reflects beauty in equilibrium.
… Become Water!
A grocer came to the Master in great distress to say that across the way from his shop they had opened a large chain store that would drive him out of business. His family had owned his shop for a century—and to lose it now would be his undoing, for there was nothing else he was skilled at.
Said the Master, “If you fear the owner of the chain store, you will hate him. And hatred will be your undoing.”
“What shall I do?” said the distraught grocer?
“Each morning walk out of your shop onto the sidewalk and bless your shop, wishing it prosperity. Then turn to face the chain store and bless it too.”
“What? Bless my competitor and destroyer?”
“Any blessing you give him will rebound to your good. Any evil you wish him will destroy you.”
After six months the grocer returned to report that he had had to close down his shop as he had feared, but he was now in charge of the chain store and his affairs were in better shape than ever before.
To a woman who complained about her destiny the Master said, “It is you who make your destiny.”
“But surely I am not responsible for being born a woman?”
“Being born a woman isn’t destiny. That is fate. Destiny is how you accept your womanhood andwhat you make of it.”
“What is it you seek?” asked the Master of a scholar who came to him for guidance.
“Life.” was the reply.
Said the Master, “If you are to live, words must die.” When asked later what he meant, he said.
“You are lost and forlorn because you dwell in a world of words. You feed on words you are satisfied with words when what you need is substance. A menu will not satisfy your hunger. A formula will not slake your thirst.“
While the Master seemed to relish life and live it to the full he was also known to take great risks, as when he condemned the tyranny of the government, thereby courting arrest and death; and when he led a group of his disciples to serve a plaguestricken village.
“The wise have no fear of death.” he would say.
“Why would a man risk his life so easily?” he was once asked.
“Why would a person care so little about a candle being extinguished when day has dawned?”
“What kind of a person does Enlightenment produce?”
Said the Master:
“To be publicspirited and belong to no party,
to move without being bound to any given course,
to take things as they come.
have no remorse for the past.
no anxiety for the future.
to move when pushed,
to come when dragged.
to be like a mighty gale.
like a feather in the wind,
like weeds floating on a river.
like a millstone meekly grinding,
to love all creation equally
as heaven and earth are equal to all
—such is the product of Enlightenment.”
On hearing these words one of the younger disciples cried, “This sort of teaching is not for the living but for the dead,” and walked away, never to return.
“How does one seek union with God?”
“The harder you seek, the more distance you create between Him and you.”
“So what does one do about the distance?”
“Understand that it isn’t there.”
“Does that mean that God and I are one?”
“Not one. Not two.”
“How is that possible?”
“The sun and its light, the ocean and the wave, the singer and his song. Not one. Not two.”