Buddha and the butterfly

One day a child goes to his mother and asks her, ” Ma, who is that old man sitting on the mountain? ” Mother answers, ” Don’t call him an old man, for he is Lord Buddha, who knows the answer to every question in this universe. ”

” Really, he knows answers to all questions? ” asks the child. ” Yes my dear ” replies the mother.

The child goes to the mountain where Buddha is meditating, catches a butterfly in from the garden, and cupping the butterfly gently in his hands, he approaches Buddha. Keeping his hand behind his back, he asks Buddha, ” Is the thing in my hand alive or dead? ”

The child thinks that if Buddha answers that the thing is alive, he will crush the butterfly in his hand and show the dead butterfly proving Buddha wrong. And if Buddha answers that the thing is dead, he will open his gently cupped hand, allowing the butterfly to fly away showing that the butterfly was alive and again proving Buddha wrong. Thus Buddha did not know the answer to all questions. ” Is the thing in my hand
alive or dead? ” repeats the eager child.

The Buddha opens his eyes, nods his head and replies, ” My dear son, the answer lies in your hands!

Your teacup is full (Empty your cup)

The teacup story is around in different versions, here is one version:

Once, a long time ago, there was a wise Zen master. People from far and near would seek his counsel and ask for his wisdom. Many would come and ask him to teach them, enlighten them in the way of Zen. He seldom turned any away.

One day an important man, a man used to command and obedience came to visit the master. “I have come today to ask you to teach me about Zen. Open my mind to enlightenment.” The tone of the important man’s voice was one used to getting his own way.

The Zen master smiled and said that they should discuss the matter over a cup of tea. When the tea was served the master poured his visitor a cup. He poured and he poured and the tea rose to the rim and began to spill over the table and finally onto the robes of the wealthy man. Finally the visitor shouted, “Enough. You are spilling the tea all over. Can’t you see the cup is full?”

The master stopped pouring and smiled at his guest. “You are like this tea cup, so full that nothing more can be added. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind.”

Here is another version:

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

Like this cup, Nan-in said, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?

I like the tea story a lot, it is a great reminder that in order to learn we have to be humble, to empty our mind and make room for the new.

Here are some quotes about learning, I love the one about beginner’s mind.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few. – Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn – Alvin Toffler

When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before. – Henry David Thoreau

Knowledge is learning something every day. Wisdom is letting something go every day. – Zen Proverb

This was originally posted in 2009 at another blog of mine.

The Grinch Stole Christmas

Part of the dialogue goes like this:

Narrator: Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling

Grinch: How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!

Narrator: And he puzzled and puzzled, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more.”

Text borrowed from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!.

The Starfish Story

The Starfish Story is spread over the internet, Google shows 225,000 hits for that search term. My source is The Starfish Story where it says the story is adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977).

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

The lesson is even small deeds can make a big difference.