A Japanese Zen story about responding to whatever happens in the present moment with acceptance, or about observing troubling emotions with kindness. Like all of these stories it functions on a symbolic level, challenging us to open up to new ways of living when faced with surprises and disruptive situations:
The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbours in the village as one who lived a pure life. Then a beautiful girl in the village became pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious girl finally pointed to Hakuin, whom everyone revered for his pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter’s accusation, he simply replied “Is that so”
When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a outcast by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child. It was now his responsibility. He said simply “I see” and calmly accepted the child.
For many months he took very good care of the child until the girl could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened. “Is that so” Hakuin said as he handed them the child.
Hakuin Ekaku, 1686 – 1769, was one of the most influential figures in the history of Zen.
The Japanese, Sōdesu ka, translated normally as “Is that so” can also be rendered as “I see”
I think of Gloucester, blind, led through the world To the world’s edge by the hand of a stranger Who is his faithful son. At the cliff’s verge He flings away his life, as of no worth, The true way is lost, his eyes two bleeding wounds– And finds his life again, and is led on By the forsaken son who has become His father, that the good may recognize Each other, and at last go ripe to death. We live the given life, and not the planned.
Wendell Barry,A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997
Very wet and windy this morning, the beginning of of a storm. The news today is full of agitation and uncertainty, including Brexit, Ukraine, migration and the lack of vision of our “leaders”. Where can we find a firm ground?
O to be self-balanced for contingencies, to confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs, as the trees and animals do
Our hermitage is the act of living with attention in the midst of things; amid the rhythms of work and love, the bath with the child, the endlessly growing paperwork, the ever-present likelihood of war, the necessity for taking action to help the world. For us, a good spiritual life is permeable and robust. It faces things squarely, knowing the smallest moments are all we have, and that even the smallest moment is full of happiness.