Monday, August 22, 2011

Chuang Tzu and the Butterfly

Blessed are those who are humbled by life, for they may become meek. Blessed are the meek, for they are free of self. When we are suffering, we are being humbled, and in being humbled we are actually being blessed although it does not feel like it at the time.
"We each have a view of the universe," notes Thich Nhat Hahn. "That view may be called relativity or uncertainty or probability or string theory; there are many kind of views."

"Its okay to propose views," he notes, "but if you want to make progress on the path of inquiry, you should be able to be ready to throw away your view."

Chuang Tzu, the great Taoist master, was so amenable to changing his views of the ultimate 'realities' of life that he awoke from a dream unsure if he had been Chuang Tzu dreaming he had been a butterfly, or if he was then a butterfly dreaming that he was Chuang Tzu.

"If you worship something as a dogma, as absolute truth," Thich Nhat Hahn points out, "you are not a good practitioner. You must be totally free, even from the teachings of the Buddha. The teachings of the Buddha," he notes, are offered as instruments, not as absolute truth."

To the extent that I 'know' the truth I suffer, for I have not yet become truly humble. Yet, how often am I caught up in my view of what is 'right' and what is 'wrong'? Far too often, as it turns out, for I continue to suffer the pangs of my own 'righteousness.'

My spiritual mentor often told the following story:
"One day a man saw a butterfly shuddering on the sidewalk, locked in a seemingly hopeless struggle to free itself from its now useless cocoon. Feeling pity, the man took a pocket knife and carefully cut away the cocoon to set the butterfly free. To his amazement, it lay on the sidewalk, convulsed weakly for a while and died. Sometime later a biologist told him, "That was the worst thing you could have done. A butterfly needs that struggle in order to develop its muscles to fly. By robbing him of the struggle you made him too weak to live."
Never deny another of there struggle to be free. Do not rob them of the opportunity to be humbled by life. We all need to fulfill our own karma.

You do not have to reassure Chuang Tzu, that he is indeed Chuang Tzu. You may be mistaken. He may, in fact, be a butterfly dreaming that he is just Chuang Tzu.

"The truly Right View," notes Thich Nhat Hahn, "is the absence of all views. According to the teachings of the Buddha, we have to throw away all views, including the so-called right views. Reality, things as they are, cannot be described in terms of notions and views. That is why so-called 'right views' are only instruments to help us."

[Thich Nhat Hahn, "Beyond the Self," pp. 14-15.]

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