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I Have Stopped . . .


Reading Shohaku Okumura’s commentary on Dogen’s Ikka Myoju (One Bright Pearl) this week, I came across this

When we chase after desirable things, in some rare cases we are successful and our desires are completely fulfilled, making us feel like heavenly beings.  But more often our desires are not completely fulfilled.  We want more and more and feel instead like hungry ghosts.   

“So true,” I thought.  “I’m just like Angulimala.” 

Angulimala was a famous serial killer in the Buddha’s time.  When he arrived in Savatthi where the Buddha was living with the local sangha for a season, everyone was worried and afraid.  Except the Buddha, who was curious.  One morning after the meal, he got his outer robe and set out on the road to where Angulimala was.  As he walked quietly in the morning air, Angulimala spotted him and thought “Marvelous!  A single person comes – this must be fate. Why should I not take this monk’s life?”  He grabbed his sword and started following the Buddha.  But a funny thing happened.  Running as fast as he could, he could not catch up with the Buddha, who was just ambling along.  Finally, in desperation he called “Stop, monk!  Stop!”  The Buddha replied, “I have stopped, Angulimala.  Why don’t you stop also?”  Angulimala stopped and there’s more to the story, but let’s stop here and think about this.

How are we like Angulimala?  As Okumura Roshi says, we always chase after desirable things.  Sometimes we get them.  Mostly we don’t.  We exhaust ourselves with pursuing and not getting because what we want is only in our minds.  Reality is not the perfect thing we dream of, so no matter how hard we run we won’t catch it.  Even if we get it, we soon kill its spirit by tweaking it to fit what we had in mind just a little better. 

To thirst for something different or something more is human – neither good nor evil.  The thirst to be comfortable and have wellbeing is a survival skill, and it’s brought many good things.  It’s easy, though, to always want a little more or something different and for that want to force us into running after the perfect dinner when we already have a fine dinner in front of us. 

Rather than confusing our ideas with how reality should be, let’s interview them.  Hello, my desire, why have you come?  What do you want?  If I get what you say I should get, what happens then?   

When we stop taking our thirsts so seriously, we see reality and begin to catch up with it and go at its pace.  Our ideas and desires are still there but we’re free to decide whether there’s a need to do what they say or not.  We can relax and be and hang out with the annoying parts as well as the enjoyable parts.  Stopping our desire to own and manipulate, we let go.  Curiosity and acceptance replace thirst and running.  We walk with reality at its pace.


Image – Buddha and Angulimala, Srilanga Temple, Sravasti, India, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Shohaku Okumura’s essay can be found in Dharma Eye, no. 35 at https://www.sotozen.com/eng/library/journal/index.html

Angulimala’s full story is in Bhikku Nanamoli, The Life of the Buddha (Seattle:  BPS Pariyatti Editions, 1992), pp. 132 – 138.  The original is in the Majjhima Nikaya, no. 86.

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Quote of the week

One Leaf
One day in a lecture Suzuki Roshi said, “When you see one leaf falling, you may say, Oh, autumn is here! One leaf is not just one leaf; it means the whole autumn. Here you already understand the all-pervading power of your practice. Your practice covers everything.”


Excerpted from:

Zen Is Right Here: Teaching Stories and Anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki, author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
by Shunryu Suzuki,
Edited by David Chadwick,
page 18


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