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《Lessons for Elementary School (14)》__ Kong Shiu Loon (53)

Zen Life

“Grandpa, what is Zen wisdom?” Nancy asks in a state of doubt.

‘I guess Mr. Shaw talked about it today?” Grandpa responds, not knowing how to answer. He continues after a moment of thought: “It is a very big large topic. I live by it. But, I can’t explain it in simple terms. All I can say is that Zen is a state of mind which helps you to live in peace and happiness. May be you can tell me what Mr. Shaw had said? “

“He told us a story and a poem. There was this old woman who cried everyday, because she was very unhappy. When people asked about her unhappiness, she said she had two sons. The elder son made umbrellas, the second son made cotton shoes. So, she worried when the day was sunny, because her elder son could not sell any umbrella. She also worried on a rainy day, because no one would buy any cotton shoes from the second son. One day, a Buddhist monk heard about the story and taught her how to change her thoughts and be happy. Mr. Shaw asked us to guess what the monk said to told the old woman.”

“Did anybody give a good answer?” Grandpa asks.

“I did.” Nancy says proudly. “I said the monk taught the woman to realize that her elder son was selling many umbrellas on a rainy day, and on a sunny day, her second son would have a good sale of cotton shoes. So, she should be happy everyday.”

“Good show! I guess everybody applauded.”

“No, Grandpa. Elaine did not applaud. She said my answer was not perfect, because the old woman would only be half happy in any day. She would never see both of her sons making good sales of their goods.”

“Well, what did Mr. Shaw say?”

“He said that Elaine had her point. But, she missed the truth of the Zen spirit, which is to accept what one has and be happy of the blessing. He also said that being happy means to dispel trouble and worry. The old woman was troubled because only one of her two sons could sell his goods on any day. She could dispel that trouble by realizing that, come rain or shine, her son would be making a good sale.”

“Bravo!” Grandpa applauds. “Mr. Shaw tells it so well. Zen is a state of mind, quite unaffected by material goods or money or greed. It is a typical Chinese way of life, taking things in the middle instead of the extremes.”

“Bravo to you too, Grandpa. That was what Mr. Shaw said too. He then told us about this great Chinese poet of the Song Dynasty. He was Su Shi, a genius who understood not only Buddhist wisdom, but also Chinese wisdom in general. There was this time when he was exiled by the government because he did not agree with the Prime Minister. He wrote this poem with the tune of Calm Winds and Waves to express his feelings and life outlook. He said in the first half of the poem that he was free of materials or official positions, but content in living in concert with Nature and its serene beauty. He had the lines: ‘No fear. A straw cloak is all I need to battle life’s mist and rain.’ It meant that he was a free man, happy with the rhythm of Nature in its manifold forms and sounds. Nothing could make him unhappy. Then, in the second half of the poem, he declared his final destination. He would go back to the embrace of Mother Nature, unperturbed by the possibility of any unfair treatment or difficulty. He wrote: ‘Home I go, Wind or Shine Imperious.’ Mr. Shaw told us that Zen also means courage."

“Wow! I am so happy that you have such a wise teacher.”

“But, Grandpa, I still don’t understand Zen wisdom.”

“Join the club, Nancy. In fact, I don’t think Mr. Shaw understands all of it. But, do you understand the moon?”

“I don’t. But why do you ask?”

“Well, do you like the moon and enjoy her beauty?”

“I do, Grandpa. But, why do you ask?”

“I ask to say that beautiful and useful things are not always understandable. But that would not prevent us from enjoying and appreciating them. All I know is that Zen is like the moon, being far away yet so close to us. We feel her beauty and warmth, and we do so without having to know why.”

“That was what Mr. Shaw said too. Grandpa, you and Mr. Shaw always agree with each other. He wrote down another poem for us. It is so beautiful that I have a copy of it for keeps. Here it is:‘The green hill thrives its position stays. Clouds float by day after day.’”

“May be I can explain it.” Grandpa is so moved that he wants to add his understanding. He further says: “Mr. Shaw is using this poem to say that Zen means believing in yourself, striving to grow and to achieve your goals, like the green hill with all its trees growing. But, it is not affected by things outside, like the Clouds float naturally. They cast shadows or let sun rays pass through them to shine on the hills and lands. What we should know is that we are free to do things that help us to grow and develop to be happy individuals. We can enjoy the sun and the clouds and shadows as they represent difficulties or facilities in life.”

“Grandpa, you are so good in giving simple explanations. I like your example of the moon, and I understand a bit more about the Zen wisdom now. Mr. Shaw always asks us to express ourselves at the beginning of a lesson. I will tell my friends about what you’ve just said.”

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