The Buddha taught us
how to become living Buddhas;
not to mimic lifeless Buddha statues.
There was once an old woman, who supported a monk for more than twenty years. She had taken the trouble to build him a small hut, for his both his lodging and meditation. She even offered him food for his meals. One day, she decided to test him for what he’s worth, so as to know the progress of his spiritual cultivation. This she did by getting a girl who desired much to make love to go forth and embrace him. The girl did as she was told. Caressing him, she asked him what he was going to do about it. To that, he poetically replied, ‘An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter. Nowhere is there any warmth.’ When the girl recalled his reply to the old woman, she angrily exclaimed, ‘To think I fed that fellow for twenty years! He showed no consideration for your need, no disposition to explain your condition. He need not have responded to passion, but at least he could have showed some compassion.’ With that, she went to his hut and torched it down.
This is truly a very powerful story that offers counterintuitive lessons on on many levels – so much so that it leaves many readers puzzled as to what it really means. For one, the actual teacher is the old woman, instead of the typical ‘Zen master’. The tables are totally turned. Her self-devised test might seem incredibly crude and irreverent, yet it was totally relevant for the monk. In fact, it offered probably the biggest lesson that he had been missing during his twenty odd years of practice. A dramatically fiery wake-up call! His meditation had rendered him into an unfeelingly dispassionate person. If that was the goal of meditation, we might as well freeze up to become statues. Obviously, this is wrong. Even Buddha statues remind us of the need to nurture compassion while cultivating wisdom – by their gentle but definite smiling expressions. Indeed, what good is the deepest wisdom within oneself if it is never expressed with the deepest compassion for helping everyone else?
Meditation is not merely about becoming personally calm and composed. The Buddha even specifically taught about the need to cultivate loving-kindness via meditation. When we look inward too much, we become too detached to the suffering of the world out there. Was the old woman’s reaction too drastic? Well, if she did not do what she did, the monk might end up wasting a few more decades meditating complacently in a skewed manner. The monk had displayed no hint of kindness; just giving a cryptic expression of apathy that probably didn’t mean much to the girl. Instead of seizing the golden opportunity to inquire on what the girl yearned and to teach her how to not to be enslaved by her desires, he simply expressed disinterest… and perhaps with a tinge of stand-offish pride too? The old woman had wanted to help nuture a future Buddha; not maintain the life of a useless old tree! Her sole mistake was to had given rise to anger, that came with attachment to expectations. But maybe she was secretly a Zen master who manifested wrathful tough love!
We need more warmth of compassion;
less heat of passion;
less cold of dispassion.