Monday, February 2, 2009

A Parable with Tigers and Mice

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

That is the first zen koan I ever read. It was decades ago, probably when I was but 10-12 years old. The version I read was much simpler, but the story was the same.

I must have read it twenty times and still I wondered if I knew what it meant. The meaning was on the tip of my tongue. I knew it, but didn't know it. (And yet I had no clue what zen was at the time.)

The moment I stopped thinking about it, I understood it.

Later, I would pick up books at the library that discussed zen and the teachings of the masters. I would study the books for as long as I could keep them, but would return them knowing that someone else out there would want to read them and learn what I had just barely grasped. This was a new way to think, the way to think. None of my friends understood the topic or really cared, thinking it some weird puzzle/riddle talk. My parents never spoke to me about it (that I remember). They probably assumed it to be a young boy's fancy of the moment.

I am in no way a zen master. I do not know or even recite the sutras. I do not understand all of the teachings. I have never considered the teachings of zen a religion, but many do. However, if it is a religion, then it is the religion from which I have learned the most. It was simply the fancy of a young boy, who came to understand it's importance as he aged.

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