Welcome to the archived web site of
Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. Psychologist (1950-2013)
California License No. PSY 10092
Specializing in Presence-Centered Therapy
balancing mind and heart, body and spirit

Now in memoriam - This website is no longer being updated
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From His Book | Meditations For Life | The Flow of Money, Business and Innovation | Transpersonal/Mind-Body | Approaches, Worldview and Will-isms

Skills For Life: The Core Playing Field | Free the Ego, and You Are Free | Feeling, Thought, Communication & Action

Strategies/Distinctions For Life: The Core Playing Field | Free the Ego, and You Are Free

Awakening Stories/Metaphors For Life: The Core Playing Field | Free the Ego, and You Are Free | The Way It Is

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Awakening Stories/Metaphors For Life: The Core Playing Field

Awakening Stories For Life 3

Mental Asylum

It doesn't hurt to take a hard look at yourself from time to time, and this should help get you started. During a visit to the mental asylum, a visitor asked the Director what the criterion was which defined whether or not a patient should be institutionalized.

"Well," said the Director, "we fill up a bathtub. Then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the patient and ask him or her to empty the bathtub."

"Oh, I understand," said the visitor. "A normal person would use the bucket because it's bigger than the spoon or the teacup."

"No." said the Director, "A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want a bed near the window?"



There's a Zen story in which a man is enjoying himself on a river at dusk. He sees another boat coming down the river toward him. At first it seems so nice to him that someone else is also enjoying the river on a nice summer evening. Then he realizes that the boat is coming right toward him, faster and faster. He begins to get upset and starts to yell, "Hey, hey watch out! For Pete's sake, turn aside!" But the boat just comes faster and faster, right toward him. By this time he's standing up in his boat, screaming and shaking his fist, and then the boat smashes right into him. He sees that it's an empty boat. This is the classic story of our whole life situation.
-Pema Chodron, in Start Where You Are


The Brahman Dona saw the Buddha sitting under a tree and was impressed by his peaceful air of alertness and his good looks. [Dona was the first person to greet Siddhartha Gautama following his enlightenment.]

He asked the Buddha: "Are you a god?"

"No, Brahman, I am not a god."

"Then an angel?"

"No, indeed, Brahman."

"A spirit, then?"

'No, I am not a spirit."

"Then, what are you?

"I am awake."

—Anguttara Nikaya


You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.

—Anne Lamott


A young and rather boastful champion challenged a Zen master who was renowned for his skill as an archer. The young man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he hit a distant bull's eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his second shot.

"There," he said to the old man, "see if you can match that!"

Undisturbed, the master did not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young archer to follow him up the mountain. Curious about the old fellow's intentions, the champion followed him high into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy and shaky log. Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady and certainly perilous bridge, the old master picked a far away tree as a target, drew his bow, and fired a clean, direct hit. "Now it is your turn," he said as he gracefully stepped back onto the safe ground.

Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless and beckoning abyss, the young man could not force himself to step out onto the log, no less shoot at a target.
"You have much skill with your bow," the master said, sensing his challenger's predicament, "but you have little skill with the mind that lets loose the shot."

—Tai-Chi story


Life is a banquet. And the tragedy is that most people are starving to death. That's what I'm really talking about. There's a nice story about some people who were on a raft off the coast of Brazil perishing from thirst. They had no idea that the water they were floating on was fresh water. The river was coming out into the sea with such force that it went out for a couple of miles, so they had fresh water right there where they were. But they had no idea. In the same way, we're surrounded with joy, with happiness, with love. Most people have no idea of this whatsoever. The reason: They're brainwashed. The reason: They're hypnotized; they're asleep.

—Anthony DeMello


The Buddha compared faith to a blind giant who meets up with a very sharp-eyed cripple, called wisdom. The blind giant, called faith, says to the sharp-eyed cripple, "I am very strong, but I can't see; you are very weak, but you have sharp eyes. Come and ride on my shoulders. Together we will go far." The Buddha never supported blind faith, but a balance between heart and mind, between wisdom and faith. The two together will go far. The saying that blind faith can move mountains unfortunately omits the fact that, being blind, faith doesn't know which mountain needs moving. That's where wisdom is essential, which means that a thorough understanding of the teaching is crucial.

—Ayya Khema


The great mythologist Joseph Campbell never tired of speaking and writing of the Net of Indra as a magnificent mythic metaphor for our interrelated lives. In the ancient sacred text of the Upanishads in India, the god Indra wove a net of gems that reflected and refracted, both differentiating and unifying, all thing to all other things, like godly interwoven tapestries. Campbell paints a beautiful image:

"…where at every crossing of one thread over another there is a gem reflecting all the other reflective gems. Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can't blame anybody for anything."


Mulla Nasrudin found himself on the bow of a ferry boat with a pompous intellectual. Bloated with his own knowledge, scholarship and erudition, the professor began to quiz and criticize Nasrudin's education.

"Have you ever studied astronomy?" asked the professor.

"I can't say that I have," answered Nasrudin.

"Then you have wasted much of your life. By knowing the constellations, a skilled captain can navigate a boat around the entire globe."

A few minutes later the learned one asked, "Have you ever studied meteorology?"

"No, I haven't."

"Well, then, you have wasted most of your life," the academician chided.

Methodically capturing the wind can propel a sailing ship at astounding speeds."

After a while the fellow inquired, "Have you ever studied oceanography?"

"Not at all."

"Ah! What a waste of your time! Awareness of the currents helped many ancient peoples find food and shelter."

A few minutes later Nasrudin began to make his way toward the stern of the ship. On his way he nonchalantly asked the fellow, "Have you ever studied swimming?"

"Haven't had the time," the professor haughtily responded.

"Then you have wasted all your life—the boat is sinking."

—Indries Shah


Disciple (to Swamiji) "Swamiji, If this life is an Illusion then Nothing can harm me?"

Swamiji replies: "Yes that is correct."

Disciple: "Then If I harm a Dog he won't bite me?"

Swamiji: "Wrong, The Illusion dog will give you an Illusion of a bite!"


Nothing Exists

Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku. Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received."

Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. The youth became quite angry over this action.

"If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?"

—Author Unknown (From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki & Paul Reps, 1968)


One Day Tesshu, the famous swordsman and Zen devotee, went to Dokuon and told him triumphantly he believed all that exists is empty, there is no you or me, and so on. The master, who had listened in silence, suddenly snatched up his long tobacco pipe and struck Tesshu's head.

The infuriated swordsman would have killed the master there and then, but Dokuon said calmly, "Emptiness is quick to show its anger, isn't it?"

Forcing a smile, Tesshu left the room.

—Author Unknown (From Soul Food - Stories to Nourish the Spirit & the Heart, Ed. Jack Kornfield & Christina Feldman (Eds.)]


The Slap

—An adapted Zen Koan and Story

Several monks were meditating when the wind started flapping the temple flag on top of the monastery. All were noticing this movement when one asks, "What moves?"

The youngest monk who had been meditating only for 20 years (really a newbie kid), uttered in his best profound voice, "It is the flag which moves".

The second youngest monk who had been meditating for 30 years, uttered scornfully, "Not the flag, it's the wind that moves." This exchange escalated into an argument. The arguing continued for a while without any agreement.

A Patriarch, who had been meditating for 40 years, finally speaks up with an indulgent smile at such foolishness, observed, "Gentlemen! It is not the flag that moves. It is not the wind that moves. It is your mind which moves." At hearing this, both monks were thunderstruck in absolute awe.

[Some renditions of the story end here, while the story continues of course....]

A fourth monk, who had been meditating for 60 years, snapped, "Not the $#&^% flag, not the $#&^% wind, not the $#&^% mind,...... it's tongues which move."

A passing mystic, observing all these profound utterances, walked up to the guy who had put in 60 years doing meditative practice and spiritual stuff... lovingly slapped him and then hugged him with pristine equanimity, walking away into the mist in silence.

Three Days More

—A Zen Story

Suiwo, the disciple of Hakuin, was a good teacher. During one summer seclusion period, a pupil came to him from a southern island of Japan.

Suiwo gave him the problem: "Hear the sound of one hand."

The pupil remained three years but could not pass this test. One night he came in tears to Suiwo. "I must return south in shame and embarrassment," he said, "for I cannot solve my problem."

"Wait one week more and meditate constantly," advised Suiwo. Still no enlightenment came to the pupil. "Try for another week," said Suiwo. The pupil obeyed, but in vain.

"Still another week." Yet this was of no avail. In despair the student begged to be released, but Suiwo requested another meditation of five days. They were without result. Then he said: "Meditate for three days longer, then if you fail to attain enlightenment, you had better kill yourself."

On the second day the pupil was enlightened.

—Author Unknown (From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki & Paul Reps, 1968)



—An Awakening Zen Tale

Somehow-I [Jakuso Kwong] didn't drop it-the teacup, a temple treasure, dropped itself. You know how those things go? You're positive you didn't drop it, but somehow the teacup left the table. And I missed it and it fell on the floor and broke! And I felt so bad. And then Katagiri Roshi went, "Oh ooooooh." And then Suzuki Roshi went "ooooooh, ooooooh, ooooh, ooh, oh." But Suzuki Roshi came over and we picked up the pieces. And he took the pieces and he stuffed them into the garbage so deep that even my mind couldn't get to them.


A riddle: How many healers does it take to pick the sweetest, juiciest, ripest peach at the very top of the tree of life? In reality, none. All true growth, life, empowerment and evolution comes from within. The healer simply holds and steadies the ladder. Go pick your own peach. The healer is picking her own peach all the time and doesn't need yours; and you learn nothing by taking the healer's peach since it has not been earned by you.


Alan Cohen, author of I Had It All the Time (1995) gives an interesting twist to flickering images on movie screens in an anecdote he calls "Don't Shoot the Screen": "When motion pictures first became popular, a group of cowboys went into a Montana town to watch their first movie. The film came to a scene in which a band of Indians was kidnapping a young pioneer woman and dragging her back to their camp. Upon viewing this abduction, a cowboy in the back of the theater stood up and furiously fired a barrel of bullets at the screen. The film stopped, the lights came on, and the audience laughed to behold but a blank screen with six bullet holes in it."


Two Frogs

—Retold by Neo-Advaitin Robert Adams in Silence of the Heart

Once there were two frogs. They inadvertently jumped into a vat of milk. There was a fat frog and a skinny frog. And they couldn't get out. They were swimming around, the sides were slippery, and the fat frog said to the skinny frog, "Brother frog, there's no use paddling any longer. We're going to drown, so I might as well give up."

The skinny frog said, "Hold on brother, keep paddling. Somebody will get us out." They paddled for hours. Again the fat frog said, "Brother frog, I'm becoming very tired now. I'm going to just let go and drown. There's no way that anybody can ever get us out of here. It's Sunday, nobody's working. We're doomed. There's no possible way we can ever get out of here."

And the skinny frog said, "Keep trying. Keep paddling. Something will happen, keep paddling." Another couple of hours passed. And the fat frog said, "I can't go on any longer. There's no sense in doing it, because we're going to drown anyway. What's the use." And he let go, he gave up. He drowned in the milk. But the skinny frog kept on paddling. Ten minutes later he felt something solid beneath his feet. He had churned the milk into butter and he hopped out of the vat."

"So it is with us. We go through so many experiences in life. We think there's no way out. We believe we're human and we're caught in Maya. (…) It's only your mind that creates these conditions, and your mind doesn't exist.


There was a man who, while asleep one day with his mouth open, swallowed a fly. This woke him up so that he knew what had happened. Thereafter, he became obsessed with the fly, believing that it was still alive and moving about inside his body.

The worrying made him ill and he had to visit doctors. Eventually he was referred to psychiatrists since no doctor would accept that his claims were true. But they, too, failed to help him, since they insisted that there could not possibly still be a fly alive in is body. It had now been six months and it would have dissolved away and been excreted long ago.

By chance, he was introduced to Osho, who, hearing of the problem, offered to treat him. Osho immediately acknowledged the truth of the situation. Of course, he said, the fly was still alive and must be removed from the body before the man could recover. The man was told to lie down and close his eyes, keeping very still so that Osho could charm the fly to the surface and capture it. Osho, then left the room and rushed around the house with a bottle looking for the fly…Needless to say, the man was persuaded that the fly had come out of his body and he was then cured.

—Osho, I am That. Discourses on the Isa Upanishad, retold by Dennis Waite, The Book of One (2003)


Someone on a bank of a river yelled to Mulla Nasrudin seated on the opposite bank: "Sir, how do I get across?"

"You are across!" yelled Nasrudin back."

—Indres Shah


Seeing the Invisible Tenth Man

—Adapted from Author Unknown

On a journey to a distant village through rugged, challenging terrain, a group of ten peasants encountered a river swollen with heavy winter rains. Taking hands to stay safe in braving the river crossing, the current was too much for them and their linkage was broken sending them hurling in different direction. Much wetter and out of breath, the peasants assembled on the banks of the river. The leader and each peasant counted the members and came up with only nine, each omitting himself. They feared and bemoaned that someone might have drowned.

Dismayed that one of them was missing, the group spent many unhappy hours searching the river. By one account an inquiring passer-by was able to solve the problem by suggesting to the leader that he count himself first. By another account, a passing monk used his stick to hit the first man once calling out, "One," hitting the second man twice and counting, "Two," and so on until finally hitting the tenth man ten times and replying, "Ten!" In both versions, all ten were accounted for. Each had counted the others and did not remember to count himself! The peasants were overjoyed to find no one was lost and all proceeded happily on their way."


Zen teacher Issan Dorsey, who established the Maitri Hospice in San Francisco was on his deathbed when one of his closest friends came to visit him.

"I'm going to miss you," the friend said.

"I'm going to miss you, too," responded Issan. He was silent for a moment. Then he asked, "Are you going somewhere?"


Who Cares?—That's It!

—An Adapted and Retold Zen Story of Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche

It is not uncommon for a Zen mediation student to stay in close touch with their teacher regarding their continued spiritual progress and evolution. One Zen student wrote his teacher monthly letters to keep his teacher informed of his development. Over time the student's letters began to describe an ever more mystical, ecstatic set of experiences.

In one letter the Zen student wrote, "I am experiencing a oneness with the entire universe." In receiving this letter, the teacher just gave it a passing glance and threw it away.

A month later the student wrote, "I have come to the realization that the divine is present in everything." The teacher used the letter the start a fire.

The following month the student wrote in the utmost exuberance, "I am in astounded in wonderment to have the mystery of the one and the many revealed to me." At this, the teacher stretched, yawned and went to sleep.

The next letter succinctly stated, "No one is born, no one dies and there is no self."

At the moment the teacher read this, he threw up his hands in utter disgust and despair. With no replies from his teacher, the student wrote no more and the letters ceased to come. After a year the teacher became quite concerned and wrote the student asking to be informed of his continued spiritual development.

The student responded by letter saying, "Who cares?" When the teacher read these words, he gently smiled and said out loud to no one in particular, "That's it! At last! He's finally got it."

After I read my first book on Zen, I phoned the temple to inquire about meditation schedules. To my surprise, the Roshi himself answered the phone. Instead of telling me when meditation was available, he asked me, "Why do you want to come? Are you sick?"

"No, I'm not sick"

"Then, you shouldn't come. I have a very contagious disease."

"What's its name?"

"I don't know, maybe it has no name."

"How is it caught?

"If you look at me you're in mortal danger, if you touch me you'll die."

I laughed. "When can I come?"

When I saw him in person, I reminded him of the conversation. He laughed good
naturally." Yes, it's a matter of time now. Nothing can save you."

"How long you think I'll last?" I joked.

He shook his head."A long time. You're a thinker, they take a long time to die.
Very painful." He shook his head again, "Not good!"

—Author Unknown


An eager Zen student arrived at the temple. He sought out the Master and said: "I want to join your community and attain enlightenment. How long will it take me?"

"Ten years," the Master replied.

"How about if I really work hard, and double my efforts?"

"Then twenty years," the Master said.

"That's no fair! Why did you double it?"

"After which the Master said: "In your case, I'm afraid it will be thirty years."

—Author Unknown


A student visiting with Thich Nhat Hanh asked after a meal if he might help out by doing the dishes.

"Go ahead," said Thich Nhat Hanh, "but if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them.'

"Do you think I don't know how to wash the dishes?" the student asked.

"There are two ways to wash the dishes," replied Thich Nhat Hanh. "The first is
to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes. The second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes."



—A Zen Tale (by Phillip Kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen)

One day a man of the people said to Zen Master Ikkyu: "Master, will you please write for me some maxims of the highest wisdom?" Ikkyu immediately took his brush and wrote the word "Attention."

"Is that all?' asked the man. "Will you add something more?" Ikkyu then wrote twice running: "Attention. Attention."

"Well," remarked the man rather irritably, "I really don't see much depth or subtlety in what you have just written."

Then Ikkyu wrote the same word three times running: "Attention. Attention. Attention."

Half-angered, the man demanded, "What does the word 'Attention' mean anyway?"

And Ikkyu answered gently: "Attention means attention."


A master noticed a student sat all day long in meditation. "What are you seeking in this way?" he asked.

The pupil replied, "To become a Buddha."

The master picked up a brick and began to polish it on a stone.

"What are you doing?" asked the student.

"Making a mirror," said the master.

"You won't make a mirror by polishing a brick" remarked the student.

"And no amount of sitting cross legged will make you a Buddha," affirmed the master.

—From Zen Wisdom (Ed. Timothy Freke)

It's Far Too Simple

—An Adopted Zen Parable

A seeker, student and devotee worked up the courage one day to ask his Zen master, "What is it like to be enlightened?"

Neither acknowledging nor rejecting the seeker's question or the premise within the question, the Zen master remained poised, unmoved and peaceful. After a time of generous silence and palpable serenity, the teacher spoke these words: "I eat when I'm hungry. I sleep when I'm tired."

The questioner replied, "Well, isn't that what everyone else does?"

The Zen master looked in some surprise and a hint of a smile graced his lips. "Oh, you think so? Oh, no! When others eat, they think of ten thousand things and their minds endlessly run from one thing to another. When other sleep, they dream of ten thousand things and their minds create endless fantasies and dramas." He closed his eyes and paused for a time, then continued. "When I eat, I just eat. When I sleep, I just sleep… It's far too simple, I know."


Press "C"

Zen teacher Barbara Rhodes likens the process of training the mind to using a pocket calculator.

"Between each thought there's a resting place. If you studied an electroencephalograph you'd see that the mind has resting places. In order for us to perceive something clearly it's important to return to our resting place-not to carry over an idea from the past or an idea bout the future.

"It's somewhat like a calculator. You put in one plus two and you get three. Then you put in two plus two and you'll get seven-unless you've pushed 'C' for 'Clear' between the two calculations. So it's very important to push 'C' or you're going to carry over the last calculation into the present one. So let go of any ideas, just push 'C'! the point is to return to your center and listen, trust, have faith, have courage. Push 'C'!"


The Door of Compassion

—Author Unknown (Trans./Ed. By Thomas Cleary—Zen Antics, 1993)

Jimon was the daughter of a samurai. Her mother died when she was eleven years old, and her father passed away a few years later, when she was fifteen. When she turned eighteen, she shaved her head and became a nun.

Jimon was rich in kindness and compassion, doing whatever she could to help those in need. One winter night, during a severe snowstorm, two little beggar boys showed up at her door. They looked so cold to her that she immediately took off her outer robe and gave it to them.

On that occasion, she composed a poem, saying,

The plight of the desolate—
how wretched these sleeves
too narrow for shelter
to keep them
from spending the night outside.

On another freezing night, a burglar entered her cottage looking for money or other valuables. Jimon got up calmly and said, "You poor thing! Imagine crossing the fields and mountains to come here on a cold night like this! Wait a minute, and I'll make you something warm!"

So saying, Jimon boiled some gruel for the burglar, seating him by the fireside. Then as he ate, she began to talk to him. "I've renounced the world," she said, "so I have nothing of value. But you can take whatever you want."

"There is something, however, that I want from you in exchange. I've been watching you, and it seems to me that you could make a decent living doing any sort of work or business you wished. And yet here you are in this wretched state, not only disgracing yourself but also disgracing you're family. Isn't that a shame!

"I want you to change your attitude and give up burglary. Take everything in my cottage and pawn it for money to start a suitable business. You'll be much so much easier in mind that way!"

Profoundly moved, the young burglar voiced his thanks and left without taking anything at all.

The Thief Who Became A Disciple

— Author Unknown, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki & Paul Reps, (1968)

One evening as Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras a thief with a sharp sword entered, demanding either his money or his life.

Shichiri told him: "Do not disturb me. You can find the money in that drawer." Then he resumed his recitation.

A little while afterwards he stopped and called: "Don't take it all. I need some to pay taxes with tomorrow."

The intruder gathered up most of the money and started to leave. "Thank a person when you receive a gift," Shichiri added. The man thanked him and made off.

A few days afterwards the fellow was caught and confessed, anong others, the offence against Shichiri. When Shichiri was called as a witness he said: "This man is no thief, at least as far as I am concerned. I gave him money and he thanked me for it."

After he had finished his prison term, the man went to Shichiri and became his disciple.


Right and Wrong

—Author Unknown, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki & Paul Reps, (1968)

When Bankei held his seclusion-weeks of meditation, pupils from many parts of Japan came to attend. During one of these gatherings a pupil was caught stealing. The matter was reported to Bankei with the request that the culprit be expelled. Bankei ignored the case.

Later the pupil was caught in a similar act, and again Bankei disregarded the matter. This angered the other pupils, who drew up a petition asking for the dismissal of the thief, stating that otherwise they would leave in a body.

When Bankei had read the petition he called everyone before him. "You are wise brothers," he told them. "You know what is right and what is not right. You may go somewhere else to study if you wish, but this poor brother does not even know right from wrong. Who will teach him if I do not? I am going to keep him here even if all the rest of you leave."

A torrent of tears cleansed the face of the brother who had stolen. All desire to steal had vanished."


The Buddha stood beside a lake on Mount Grdhakuta and prepared to give a sermon to his disciples who were gathering there to hear him speak.

As the Holy One waited for his students to settle down, he noticed a golden lotus blooming in the muddy water nearby. He pulled the plant out of the water—flower, long stem, and root. Then he held it up high for all his students to see. For a long time he stood there, saying nothing, just holding up the lotus and looking into the blank faces of his audience.

Suddenly his disciple, Maha Kashyapa, smiled. He understood!


Thoroughly Cooked Pastry

—A Zen parable

Three scholars on the way to a civil service examination stopped to buy refreshments from a woman who sold pastries. One scholar was calm and quiet while the other two argued over literature. The woman asked where they were going, and the latter two told her. "You two won't pass the exam," she said, "but the other man will."

The results turned out just as the woman predicted, and the two who failed went back to find the woman and ask her if she knew some mystical art to predict the outcome. "No," she said, "all I know is that when a pastry is thoroughly cooked it sits there quietly, but before it's finished it keeps making noises."


Someone asked, "What am I"

Guangfan answered, "There is nothing in the whole universe that is not you."

—Zen mondo


A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

—Zen parable attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha (Nyogen Senzaki & Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones)

Eating the Blame

—Author Unknown, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki & Paul Reps, (1968)

Circumstances arose one day which delayed preparation of the dinner of a Soto Zen master, Fugai, and his followers. In haste the cook went to the garden with his curved knife and cut off the tops of green vegetables, chopped them together, and made soup, unaware that in his haste he had included a part of a snake in the vegetables.

The followers of Fugai thought they had never had tasted such good soup. But when the master himself found the snake's head in his bowl, he summoned the cook. "What is this?" he demanded, holding up the head of the snake.

"Oh, thank you, master," replied the cook, taking the morsel and eating it quickly.


There is a story in Zen circles about a man and a horse. The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts, 'Where are you going?" and the first man replies, I don't know! Ask the horse!" This is also our story. We are riding a horse, we don't know where we are going, and we can't stop. The horse is our habit energy pulling us along, and we are powerless. We are always running, and it has become a habit. We struggle all the time, even during our sleep. We are at war within ourselves, and we can easily start a war with others."

—Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching


A deceptively simple yet poignant television ad for Starkist tuna that ran for decades is remarkably astute in portraying perception in judgment and witnessing in being. Here was a tuna named Charlie that persisted in training for different careers, like being an art critic, master chef or wine connoisseur, all to demonstrate what good taste he had, all so he could be in one of their cans of tuna! When the hook came down empty it had a note saying, "Sorry Charlie," and the voice over said, "Starkist doesn't want tuna with good taste, it wants tuna that tastes good."

In a nutshell, this silly commercial communicates a profound spiritual lesson: it isn't what we do or what we accomplish in the external world that really matters, it's who we are in our internal world that supremely matters.


Immersed in a Sea of Zen Masters

Adaptation by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.

© 2011 by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Your enemy is your greatest teacher
—Buddhist saying

A young seeker and devotee of the Zen Buddhist tradition goes on retreat after retreat, and engages in Zazen or sitting meditation spiritual practice. The Zen master moves almost imperceptivity through the Dojo carrying a hardwood stick. With any grown, sigh, grunt, anxious movement or divided attention or consciousness, the stick swiftly and deftly strikes the aspirant with the pure intent of awakening to present moment attention and honoring ahimsa or non-harming. The practicer, in classic Zen tradition, turns to the Master, bows with folded hands and quietly whispers, "Thank you, Master." This pattern continues for the entire session of three to four hours. The Zen master is helping the devotee come awake and continue to stay awake.

The story doesn't end here, so here's the rest of the story. After weeks, months, years or decades possibly, a fundamental shift in the one engaged in Zazen meditation slowly occurs. There sometimes comes the day when the inner silence of Presence, the still peace of equanimity and Being itSelf is embodied in the authentic liberated self. This presence is palpable. After some number of extended sessions over a number of days without any false physical movement, second-guessing or inauthentic behavior, and no use or need to use the stick, the Zen master approaches this one at the conclusion of the mediation time while readying to leave. Quite inconspicuously and almost unnoticeably, the Zen master bows to the aspirant who deeply bows back. Then very quietly the Zen master whispers in this one's ear, "You are welcome to continue Zazen in your own space and you are welcome to come share Zazen here." Again bows are exchanged.

In departing it slowly dawns upon this one that this is graduation day. All dross has been surrendered and all that remains is the Self. This is That and That is This.

Each of our Zen masters and teachers, almost without exception, is our nearest, hardest and most challenging people in our lives, and they will remain difficult for us until absolutely nothing sticks in our craw. Instead of being reactive or hating, being resistive or oppositional, the opportunity is to pause and see that each encounter is in all honestly a healing moment or our awakening. It may be an awakening to some attachment, animosity or closed-mindedness on our part. It may be an awakening to grow through and beyond an old childhood hurt, unworkable belief, false identity or untrue story. It may be an awakening to see all instigating arguments and rudeness as purely a cry for love, attention, understanding and belonging, and to find our compassionate, kind-hearted love for this one and so directly express it.

Usually it takes so little to make such a huge difference in our own lives and those we are privileged to be with and touch. The crossroads: see through the ego-mind's lenses of frustration and curse, or be willing to look through the True Self's lenses of growth opportunity and blessing? The first is a common story; the second is nearly unheard of. There are no "how's", methods, techniques, practices or formulas to be free, since we already are free. Sage Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma or Ammachi) says Love is her only method, manifesting as patience, fierceness and compassion in any situation. Spiritual teacher Ram Dass writes, "All methods are traps," in Journey of Awakening (1982). The only path is the pathless one each being authentically traverses moment-by-moment life-long. When can we see every single being on our path as our teacher, Zen master, and blessing?


Freeing Michaelangelo's David From the Marble

—Adapted by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. from Author Unknown

Take the famous example of Michelangelo who had a vision of a mammoth statue of the Biblical David. Reportedly Michelangelo went from quarry to quarry looking for the slab of the finest white Carrara marble of a specific quality, marbling and size that had David in it. After untold visits to the best quarries and much reflective "seeing," one day Michelangelo did spot his slab of Carrara marble with David within it. He negotiated to have it cut and transported to his studio, and somehow this occurred. Once at his studio, he again studied it at great length and made numerous sketches of his vision. Then he embarked on his loving journey to chip away all that was not David, literally freeing David from the marble slab. When everything had been chipped away, only David remained.

George Demont Otis        Hills of Two Counties


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