Spirituality * Culture * Self-Expression

Michael A. Michail

Tag: spirituality

The Dog and His Bone – a Fable

The dog and his bone

 

A young hound dog found a big tasty bone while out on his travels and held it tightly between his clenched teeth. He scowled and growled at anyone or anything that tried to take it away from him. Pleased with himself, he trotted off into the woods looking for a good place to bury his prize.

As he jogged along, he came to a stream, and merrily padded over a footbridge in his path. But his pleasure was short lived. Crossing the stream he happened to glance into the water below and saw his own reflection. Thinking it was another dog down there with an even bigger bone, he became envious and threatened the reflection in the water. He scowled and growled at the other dog; and the other dog seemed to scowl and growl right back at him.

Angry at the audacity of the other dog he thought “I’ll teach you to growl at me. I’ll get your bone as well, and then I will be truly satisfied.”

illusion of more

He opened his jaws, barked and made a grab for the other bone he saw in the water. Alas, as he tried to snap up the new prize, the big bone he held in his mouth fell with a splash, into the water and forever out of sight.

The moral of this Aesop’s Fable:  be satisfied with what you have because if you go running greedily after what somebody else has, you just might lose what you’ve already got.

Put in a more mystical way: when you seek fulfillment, be careful not to pursue false dreams and illusions or you might end up losing the good things you`ve already attained.

focus on what matters

No Gorillas at the Ballet

 

gorilla_tux

The great stand-up philosopher, Louis C.K., tells a story about a joke his 7-year old daughter told him. He’s been in the business for 25 years and knows exactly how jokes are structured, but his daughter’s joke surprised him.

Gorilla joke

Question: Who told the gorilla he couldn’t go to the ballet?

Answer: Just the people who are in charge of that decision.

Why is this joke funny? Two reasons:

1.  the answer is unexpected and

2.  it is easy to visualize.

People are lining up to see the ballet. A gorilla in a tuxedo is walking in the line, looking down at his phone, pretending to text, trying to avoid attention.

Door Keeper: Hey you. No, no, no – you’re not getting in. Yeah you – yes, the gorilla – I’m talking to you. You’re not getting in.

Gorilla: (looks up from his phone, confused) Why not?

Door Keeper: Because you’re a gorilla – I don’t even have to say anything else.

Gorilla: But don’t I get credit for talking and getting dressed up to see a ballet? Doesn’t that buy me any credibility?

Door Keeper: No. It’s a long show – it’s 3 hours – you’re not going to make it. You’re OK now but half ways through you’re going to start jumping up and down and pounding on people. That’s just the way you guys are. I ain’t gonna be burdened with that — not again. If a gorilla kills everyone at the ballet once – shame on the gorilla; but twice …

sad gorilla

OK, you can see why Louis C.K. would tell this story. But why would I include it here in a blog about meditation and spirituality?

This story makes me think about all those people who pretend to be spiritual – even pretend to be spiritual leaders. You can dress up in the robes, learn some catch phrases and prayers – maybe use a few props – but if you’re not really enlightened then you’re not getting into the big show.

The people lined up with the gorilla don’t notice he’s a gorilla – it’s up to the Door Keeper to point it out.

Who is the Door Keeper for enlightenment? Who are the people in charge of that decision?

In some traditions, the head of the particular order is in charge. The Master of the temple or school decides if the disciple has attained Enlightment or not.

In the western world, however, it is mostly a self-assessment. Just about anyone can say they are enlightened. Anyone with a little charisma and charm can gain a following and pretend to be a spiritual master. However, we find that eventually these pretend masters expose themselves as frauds.  They might not jump up and down on chairs or pound people to death – but in time they reveal their true nature and their cult group or following collapses in disgrace.

phoney guru

It’s important for each of us to evaluate the claims of self-professed spiritual masters. The Master Jesus warned us long ago to avoid the so-called teachers who do not practice what they preach. And he condemned the teachers who do everything they can to get disciples and then make them twice as fit for hell as they are themselves.  You must look past the clothes and the jargon and see into the heart of the teacher.  Anyone can claim to be a spiritual master but to prove it they must consistently act like masters. You must become the Door Keeper to your own spiritual bliss and train yourself to look past the glamour and deception of those who would seek to claim your soul.

Wake up! Wake yourself up any way you can. Wake up and then wake up everyone else.

Wake Up

Is That So? – a Zen Story

Hakuin

The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life.

One day, without any warning, a beautiful girl, whose parents owned a food store in the village, announced that she was pregnant. The parents were livid and badgered the girl to reveal the name of the father. At first she would not confess the name, but after much harassment she finally declared that Hakuin was the father.

In great anger the parents confronted the master and accused him of lechery. “Is that so?” was all Hakuin would say.

After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. “This is your responsibility,” the girl’s parent said.

“Is that so?” said Hakuin.

hakuinandthebaby

By this time he had lost his reputation with the community and he was shunned and often ridiculed behind his back. This did not seem to  trouble the master. He  took very good care of the child, seemingly delighted with the task of caretaker. Observing this, the neighbors soon accepted the situation and helped Hakuin obtain milk and everything else the child needed.

A year later the girl could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth – the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fish market.

is that so

The girl’s parents at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness and apologize at length. They also demanded that the child be returned to them.
“Is that so?” Hakuin said. But willingly relinquished the child.

Stories like this not only teach us about the lives of past Zen masters, they also help us develop personal enlightenment by offering our minds interesting vistas upon which to travel.

What was up with Hakuin? Why didn’t he just tell everyone he was not the father? What made him accept responsibility for the child? What did he mean when he said, “Is that so?”

Hakuin was always himself and not whatever other people thought of him. He did what was needful at the time. In life one day it rains the next day it’s sunny. Arguing with the sky doesn’t change anything. Cursing your fate doesn’t help you. Because Hakuin was truly free and his mind enlightened, material circumstances could not disturb or distress him.

As the poet Richard Lovelace wrote:

Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take that for a hermitage;

If I have freedom in my love and in my soul am free,

Angels alone, that soar above, enjoy such liberty.
But what do you think? What does the story say to you? How does it reveal to you the path to enlightenment?

spirit of meditation

 

Can a Religion Represent Absolute Truth?

absolute truth

 

One of the greatest causes of conflict among people has always been religious intolerance. Consider world history: How many wars have been fought for the glory of the Divine? And, how many crimes and atrocities have been committed in the name of one God or another? These wars and crimes generally originate in fanaticism which can be defined as beliefs or behavior involving uncritical zeal and very strict standards with little tolerance for contrary ideas or opinions, or with a wildly excessive or irrational devotion, dedication or obsessive enthusiasm.It is the mark of fanaticism to hold a conviction that one’s own religion is the only True religion, the only path to salvation, and is superior to all others. It is nonsense to hold such a view – no religion represents Absolute Truth – how can it? To represent Absolute Truth the religious statements must be true for all people, in all places, across all time. Can it possibly be fair to say something like the only path to salvation and liberation is obedience to the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Of course not. And substituting the name of some better known hero, prophet or deity in place of the Spaghetti Monster doesn’t make the statement any more tenable. Such convictions, whether acted upon or not, generate particularly negative karma for those who teach or defend them.

Something that is common to most, if not all religions is Mysticism: the belief in the possibility of a direct connection to the divine. This is also one of the most dangerous threats to organized practices, especially those espousing Absolute Truth. Mystics are the people who breathe life into religions, but also the people who are likely to push past the accepted boundaries of religious orthodoxy. The mystic sees through claims of Absolute Truth and religious superiority and promotes a more individualistic approach that all people can participate in. Mysticism is the opposite of fanaticism.

It is expected and perfectly acceptable for religions to have strong beliefs. But belief statements are not truth statements. A person or even a whole nation’s belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn’t validate the existence of such a being. The Monster might actually exist – but not because anyone believes in it. If everyone in the world believed in a falsehood, it would still be a falsehood. And if no one in the world believed in a truth, it would still be true.

An Absolute Truth is true for all people all the time. Truth has to be a justifiable belief. It needs to be proven at least logically and agree with reality. For example, it doesn’t matter what you believe in, what country you’re in, what race you are or what religion you practice if you fall off a building you will hit the ground. Gravity on Earth is a universal principle for all people. Your beliefs and opinions cannot circumvent the laws of nature.

Religions, especially the major religions of the world, have a historical context and have borrowed heavily from ideas, philosophies, and religious concepts and rituals of the past. They also owe much to the society and culture out of which they emerged. For any religion to assert that it represents Absolute Truth and offers the only path to salvation, liberation or enlightenment, for all people, across all time is to negate and demonize all other religions – including the past religions that provided it with its doctrines and inspiration. Those who make such claims would condemn people who do not agree with them to some form of hell.

 

bestteacher

A more enlightened position, one held by the majority of informed leaders of the world’s religions, is that there are many paths to salvation – some are more suited to our individual or cultural needs than others.  The seeker must investigate and align with the path that connects best with his or her inner spiritual base. Other paths are not wrong, they are just not as effective at bringing out our own, individual and innermost spiritual nature – perhaps due to previous training, value systems, or even environment and climate. Many cultures and societies had perfectly good spiritual practices, some of them going back thousands of years, but were forced at sword or gun point to change their beliefs by invading armies of Christian, Muslim and other powerful religious cultures. Consider the rich heritage of the Australians, Africans, Oceanic and North and South Americans that are all but lost due to the fanaticism of military backed religious practitioners claiming to own Absolute Truth.

As seekers of Light, we should release ourselves from such fanatical beliefs that would destroy the spirituality of others. We should strive to be tolerant in our mystical quest.  That doesn’t mean we have to embrace, accept or support all the various beliefs and religions that come our way, but we should remember that in the eyes of the Divine Spirit all people are brothers and sisters and all are evolving toward the same goal: the perfection of their soul.

hu-shih-philosopher-only-when-we-realize-that-there-is-no-eternal

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