I had a great day and a half conversation with a dear friend who came to town for a visit. We talked politics and religion. It was the best conversation ever. (Ha! Who says you shouldn't bring those topics into polite conversation?)
Anyway, I filled her in on all my "world shakin", and she replied:
"You know Kel, you are just like my sister Diane. She has her causes, and bless her heart, she gets out there and fights for em. But I just don't have that fire in my heart. I never have.
I have always just felt the best I can do for the world, is to be the best I can be.
She then reminded me of this story:
The Zen Master and the Baby.
In the Shoin-ji temple of Hara, there stands a great Zen Temple. Zen practice is the way of harmony, of no problems, of living fully in each moment, accepting what comes without judgment, not looking backwards or forward, of just being.
In order to do this it is necessary to release ourselves and others from expectations that have little to do with who we truly are. All experiences are welcomed as part of the great journey.
Master Hakuin (1686-1769) was greatly revered in his village, and known as a wise and saintly man. Hakuin was praised by the people as a teacher living an exemplary life, in harmony with Zen. Master Hakuin always accepted all that life brought him without judgment or lament, no matter how difficult the test.
Across from the temple was a store, run by a prominent man, along with his wife and beautiful daughter. One day to the shock and dismay of her parents, the young girl revealed she was pregnant. Her parents were terribly angry, and demanded to know who the father was. The girl would not confess, but after much harassment, she pointed shyly at the honorable monk Hakuin, as he happened by.
In a fit of rage the parents went to the temple and scolded him in front of all the people of the village.
“You have made my daughter pregnant!” they cried.
“You are a terrible, terrible man!”
“You have taken advantage of an innocent young girl!”
Hakuin calmly replied “Is that so?”
All the townspeople were in shock. They stopped coming to the temple for his teachings. They stopped bringing food and offerings. They vilified Hakuin, and steered away from him on the streets, leering and calling him names.
"You are the worst of all beings," they said.
“You should be ashamed, old man!”
To which Hakuin would gently say "Is that so?"
When the baby was born, the family brought the child to Hakuin’s temple.
"This baby is yours, YOU take care of it." exclaimed the girls father, as he thrust the child into the arms of the old monk.
"Is that so?" Hakuin said, while smiling warmly at the innocent babe.
For the next three years, Hakuin devoted himself to the child. He begged for milk and bread on the streets, and spent every waking moment of his days caring for the baby.
He had lost his reputation. His disciples left him. He and the child were sent away from the temple, and now lived in a nearby cave. But Hakuin was not disturbed. He loved caring for the child, and found it to be one of the most rewarding experiences of his life. He was actually glad to be free of his priestly duties, so that he could fully devote himself to the babe.
In true Zen fashion, he lived within the moment, accepting the joys and sorrows of life, with passive acceptance; like clouds rolling across the sky. Some bring storms, while others bring shade, neither good or bad, right or wrong, all simply part of the whole, with necessary purpose, beyond the ability of the mind to comprehend.
On the occasion of the child’s fourth birthday, Hakuin brought the child into the store to buy a piece of candy. The young girl was now grown, and married. When she saw her child, she broke into tears, and announced to everyone that Hakuin was not the father. Her husband was the real father, but she was afraid that if she revealed this at the time, her parents would never have allowed the marriage.
The father and mother addressed Hakuin at once. Bowing low, they asked his forgiveness and apologized profusely.
“Great Master, we have shamed you wrongly, please forgive us, and release the child to his mother, where he rightly belongs. He is not your child Master Hakuin, he is ours.”
Hakuin expressed no more surprise or concern over the apologies than he had over the accusations. Although He loved the child as his own, he hugged his little wonder one last time, returned the babe into his mothers loving arms, and said,
“Is that so?”
Today, I honored the teaching of my friend, set my feminist political activism aside, and made the world a better place by building a treehouse with my son.
And while I will not give up the fight for right, I will, from now on, temper my frustrations on those issues with the words of Master Hakuin.
"Is That So?"