After many years of apprenticeship, a monk attained the rank of Zen Teacher and decided to go over to visit his old, respected Zen Master.
It was raining and when he walked into the house the Zen Master asked, “Did you leave your wooden clogs and umbrella out on the porch?”
“Yes” responded the Teacher.
“And tell me” the Zen Master inquired, “Did you place the umbrella to the left of your shoes, or to the right?”
The Teacher could not remember and realized that he had not yet attained full awareness. So, he decided to resume his apprenticeship.
This Zen story suddenly came to mind yesterday, as I observed nature’s majesty unfolding before me.
I was up earlier than usual and was drawn to the window, peering outside in the pre-dawn darkness over the dark rooftops of the houses across the street. The inky blackness was irradiated by a very thin streak of pink suddenly shooting out; as I watched, hues of peach, lilac, orange and yellow started to emerge and paint the sky. It was a spectacular and riveting display. I opened the window a crack to feel the cold, fresh breeze on my face and stood there transfixed. Becoming conscious of the beauty around me, I was overwhelmed by gratitude for being in a state to appreciate how good it felt. To just Be. Alive.
The golden-yellow incandescent orb of the sun emerged soon and as it lit up the sky, the spell was broken. Another day had dawned.
The father of Urdu poetry, Wali Mohammed Wali (aka Wali Dakhani) could have experienced something similar when he wrote:
|“Har zarra us kī chashm meñ labrez–e–nūr hai||Each particle appears resplendent to the eyes of the one …|
|dekhā hai jis ne husn–e–tajalli bahār kā”||who has observed the radiant beauty of spring’s splendor|
Later in the day I went over to visit with my nonagenarian friend, J. Seated in his wheelchair looking out at the sunny blue sky we chatted about the coming of spring and how we would soon be able to go and enjoy the outdoors. Then, in a reflective tone J said that as a young lad he had once asked his mother, “Is there a God? I can’t see him”. She told him, “Just as you cannot see the electricity that powers the fan and moves its blades, you cannot see the power that is God. But, you see Him in the birds that fly, the flowers that bloom, the wind that blows all around you and the water that flows around your feet when you splash in the creek. If you choose to see, you will find Him everywhere.” My friend quipped, “She was an enlightened person, but not what they say these days – feminist. She was brought up to think of God as Him. She would not have used “Her” to define God if she was alive today!” He then added that even God was now being exploited and it was painful to observe the hypocrisy and arrogance displayed by leaders everywhere, who were “Using the Church, Mosque and immigrants to divide and rule just to stay in power, even if it hurt common people”.
Concurring with him, I said that my 90-plus years old uncle in India is fond of the following couplet by the acclaimed Sufi saint-poet Bulle Shah, which I recited and translated for J’s benefit:
|“Masjid dhaa de, mandar dhaa de …||Tear down the mosque, break down the temple|
|… dhaa de jo kujhh dhehndaa||… tear down whatever can be brought down|
|Par kisse daa dil naa dhaanvin …||But do not (tear down) break anyone’s heart|
|… Rabb dilaan wichh rehandaa”||… for God resides in hearts|
J liked these lines enough to give a thumbs-up sign and said, “Cheers!” I laughed, “Your Paddy’s Day celebration was over last week J, the beer is all gone now”. He smiled sardonically, “Old habits die hard. As do old folks like me”.
It is not the length, but life lived to its fullness that is the prize.
If only one chooses to remain aware and mindful of these blessings.