Thursday, June 13, 2013

Finding Your Precious Bowl

There is a story about a young Buddhist monk and an old Buddhist monk who were walking along the countryside, carrying their begging bowls. They came to a stream and began to cross it, stirring up the sediment on the bottom as they made their way across. In the middle of the stream, with the water now up to their waist, the young monk suddenly stumbled, losing the grip on his begging bowl, which promptly sank and disappeared into the murky current. He lurched to save it, but all he came back with was dirty water and empty hands. The old monk quickly came over, and together they probed the bottom with their feet, trying find that begging bowl. After a fruitless ten minutes of searching, shuffling along a whole stretch of the stream, the young monk grew frustrated. “What will I do now? That bowl was my most precious possession? What a stupid thing to lose it. I’ll never find it again!”
    The old monk calmly looked at him and said, “Settle down. Don’t get all excited. The bowl is still there. You just can’t see it right now. But I have a suggestion for how you can find it. Do you see that large tree on the other side of the stream?”
    The young monk said, “You mean that really big one by the edge? Yes, I see it.”
    “I want you to go over to that tree,” said the old monk, “sit down on the ground beneath it, close your eyes, and meditate quietly for 30 minutes.”
    “What good will that do?” said the young monk. “My begging bowl is somewhere in this stream, not under that tree.”
    “Just do as I say,” replied the old monk. “I will go ahead of you, and you can catch up with me later on. Just go sit beneath that tree and meditate. You will find that all things will become clear.”
    The young monk did as the old monk had told him. He walked out of the stream, sat down beneath the tree, and meditated for a full 30 minutes. The old man walked off and disappeared over the hill. After 30 minutes, indeed the young monk had calmed down. His spirit had settled, and his mind had begun to clear. The frustration was gone, and now he was just a little sad about losing his bowl.
     But when he opened his eyes, he found out that the stream had cleared up as well. All the sediment that they had stirred up had settled down to the bottom, and now the water was crystal clear, with the sun dancing on the surface of the rippling current. He was able to see to the bottom of the stream in all directions, and straightaway he saw where his begging bowl had landed, gleaming in the reflected sunlight.
     He stood up, walking into the stream, reached down, and picked up the bowl. Then he rushed to catch up with the wise old monk who had known how to find clarity. His most precious possession was all the more precious for having been found.

The end of a school term and the beginning of a vacation is a time of excitement and thoughts of precious things yet to be. Plans and packing lead to unanticipated experiences, probing ventures or adventures, and the occasional stumble. Perhaps there will even be a time when it appears that a precious thing was dropped or lost – through the unkind word, the forgotten gesture, the genuine mistake. In the turbulence of the situation, the effect may easily become greater than the cause, and suddenly a small thing has become a large one, the mouse has transmogrified into a monster. For reasons quite unclear, some precious object (friendship, love, forgiveness, kindness, tolerance, peace, etc.) appears to be irretrievably lost.

This is the time to allow the point of a vacation or break to come forward. Find a quite place. Be still. Let things settle, both inside and outside. At the appropriate time, open your eyes and observe the clarity of genuine reality, unfettered by swirling sediment, as clear as a sparkling stream. Find where that precious thing has landed. Heave a sigh of relief, and then walk over – please do walk over – and pick it up from below the surface. Then be on your way with new appreciation and a firmer grip on the thing that once was lost and now is found.