Tree Glow, Watercolor
It's hard to not judge an experience or situation that, on the surface, in the context of our present culture or personal emotional life may seem like a horrible blow or a tragedy or a major pain in the butt. Something "bad". Or, something "good".
These small and large interruptions in THE WAY THINGS ARE have potential to change us within, and the course of our lives. But only if we let them. Only if we do not try to resist the situation, control the outcome, or cling to any solid thing or certain thought about THE WAY THINGS ARE GOING TO BE NOW. I mean, really, nobody knows what's going to happen next.
My favorite stories illustrating this, the ones that my mind turns to when I find myself reverberating from an unexpected "bad" or "good" situation is as follows:
(Zen Story about Hakuin)
The Zen Master Hakuin lived in a town in Japan. He was held in high regard and many people came to him for spiritual teaching. Then it happened that the teenage daughter of his next-door neighbor became pregnant. When being questioned by her angry and scolding parents as to the identity of the father, she finally told them that he was Hakuin, the Zen master. In great anger the parents rushed over to Hakuin and told him with much shouting and accusing that their daughter had confessed that he was the father. All he replied was, “Is that so?”
News of the scandal spread throughout the town and beyond. The Master lost his reputation. This did not trouble him. Nobody came to see him anymore. He remained unmoved. When the child was born, the parents brought the baby to Hakuin, “You are the father, so look after him.” The Master took loving care of the child. A year later, the mother remorsefully confessed to her parents that the real father of the child was the young man who worked at the butcher shop. In great distress they went to see Hakuin to apologize and ask for forgiveness. “We are really sorry. We have come to take the baby back. Our daughter confessed that you are not the father.” “Is that so?” is all he would say as he handed the baby over to them.
(Taoist variation on a theme)
An old farmer who had worked his crops for many years set his aging horse free to pasture. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors said, "Such bad luck, to lose your only horse." "May be," the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "May be," replied the old man.
The following day, the farmer's son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "May be," answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "May be," said the farmer.
And then, of course, the young village men were killed in the war and the farmer's son, limp and all, was the only able bodied man remaining. The farmer and his son prospered. When his neighbors praised his fortune, well, you know how the farmer replied. "May be".
Here's Eckhart Tolle’s commentary on Hakuin’s Zen story and its Taoist variation:
“The story of the Zen Master whose only response was always “Is that so?” shows the good that comes through inner nonresistance to events, that is to say, being at one with what happens. The story of the man whose comment was invariably a laconic “Maybe” illustrates the wisdom of non-judgment, and to the fact of impermanence which, when recognized, leads to non-attachment. Nonresistance, non-judgement, and non-attachment are the three aspects of true freedom and enlightened living.”
― Eckhart Tolle (A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose)