Things Don’t Always Show What the Observer Imagines

Lǎoshī was a teacher. He was also an exceptionally talented artist. Before he started to work on any painting, however, he would always demanded payment in advance. And his charges were exorbitant. So he came to be known as the “Greedy Teacher.”

A rich woman once sent for him to have a painting done. Lǎoshī said, “How much will you pay me?” The woman happened to be attending a business party at that time. “Name your price,” she said. “But the painting must be done right now before me.”

Lǎoshī set to work at once and when the painting was completed he asked for the highest amount he had ever charged. As the woman was giving him his money, she said to her colleague, “This man is supposed to be a teacher, but all he thinks of is money. His talent is exceptional but he has a filthy, money-loving mind. How does one exhibit the canvas of a filthy-minded man like that? His work is good enough for my dog!”

With that she called for her dog, Russell, and asked Lǎoshī to paint a picture of it. He asked the usual question before he started the work: “How much will you pay me?” The woman replied, “Oh, any price you wish to charge.” Lǎoshī named his price, painted the picture, shamelessly pocketed the money and walked away.

It was by chance that many years later someone found out why Lǎoshī was so greedy for money. A devastating drought often struck his hometown. The government would do nothing to help the people. So Lǎoshī had secret pipes with an underground reservoir built in the area and had them filled with water for such emergencies. No one knew where the water came from or who the benefactor of the town was.

Another reason why Lǎoshī wanted money was the road leading to his village from the city was in such bad condition that ox-carts could not move on it; this caused much suffering to the aged and the infirm when they needed to get to the city. So Lǎoshī had the road repaired.

The final reason was a school which Lǎoshī’s teacher had always desired to build but could not, Lǎoshī built this school as a token of gratitude to his revered teacher.

After the Greedy Teacher had built the reservoir, the road, and the school, he threw away his paint and brushes, retired to the mountains to give himself to the contemplative life and never painted another canvas again.

We Always Carry Extra Luggage

Two monks are walking from one village to another and they come across a young girl sitting on the bank of a river, crying. One of the monk goes up to her and says, “Sister, what are you crying about?”

“You see that house over there across the river?” she mutters. “I came over this morning early and had no trouble wading across but now the river has swollen and I can’t get back. There is no boat.”

“Oh,” says the monk, “that is no problem at all.” He picks her up and carries her across the river and leaves her on the other side. And the two monks continue on together.

Two hours later, the other monk says, “Brother, we have taken a bow never to touch a woman. What have you done is a terrible sin. Didn’t you have pleasure, a great sensation, in touching a woman?”

“I left her behind two hours ago,” the other monk replies. “You are still carrying her aren’t you?”

We carry burdens all the time. We are slaves to the continuity of thought, of memory. We never die to them. We never leave them behind.

I think.

Therefore, I am unconscious.

At the moment of thought,

I well in the UNREAL world of abstraction,

or of the past,

or of the future.

The Awakening of Spirituality

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On the homeward journey back from India, a spiritual disciple was confronted by a fine young man. The stranger seemed very polite, until he started chattering about being a self-described Christian. He asked, “What business did you have in India?” And the disciple told the man that he had been seeking spirituality.

“You?” the young man said, finding the notion comical. “What kind of spiritual gain can you get by going to India?”

“I was seeking a teacher,” the disciple said, “what's wrong with that?”

“Maybe if you made it to church a little more often,” the Christian said with a chuckle.

“So you’re saying if I went to a mosque, for instance, I couldn’t gain spirituality?” the disciple replied.

“Well, yes,” the young man said, amending his words. “Perhaps if you were a little more active in the Christian community, you’d be better suited to find it.”

“So it wouldn’t be possible then for a Jew to say anything about spirituality?”

The Christian follower paused. “Well, Jewish is part of the great Abrahamic tradition,” he said, sounding a tad more uncertain.

“How about the Dalai Lama? Buddhists don’t follow the Bible or even posit a God. Is the Dalai Lama not spiritual?” countered the disciple.

“Well, hmm . . . yes, I suppose,” the Christian stammered.

“Or a Hindu like Gandhi?” the disciple asked. “His faith wasn’t based on the Old or New Testaments. Was he not spiritual?”

He said yes, he thought Gandhi was a spiritual leader, but he wasn’t sure why, except that he represented a particular faith and advocated non-violence, justice, and harmony between people of all faiths.

“Well, how about a compassionate person who doesn’t follow any organized religion?” the disciple added. “Is it not possible for him or her to be spiritual?”

From the pained look on the young man’s face, you would have thought the spiritual disciple had tied his brain in a knot. Yet are these not the most elemental questions for people of faith? The disciple was surprised that the Christian hadn’t considered them.

We all know people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Apparently, there are others out there who are “religious but not spiritual.”

“Spirituality has nothing to do with compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, humility, charity, or self-transcendence,” proclaimed the religious zealots. “It is about accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. End of story!”

This puzzled me. Shouldn’t it at least be the “beginning of story?”

The word spirituality is such a broad term. Covering from the severest fundamentalist to the wackiest New Era ideas. A simple Google search reveals more than 1 million hits. There are more than 70,000 books about it being offered on Amazon. Philosophers and gurus define it more than a dozen ways. But in the most general sense, anything spiritual is used to denote “an awakening of the spirit.”

Shortly after the Sage attained enlightenment, he encountered several men who recognized him as an extraordinary being.

They asked him, “Are you God?”

“No,” he said.

“Are you a saint?”

“No.”

“Are you a prophet?”

“No,” he said again.

Perplexed, they asked, “Well, what are you then?”

The Sage replied, “I am awake.”

It is a great mystery that though the human heart longs for Truth in which alone finds liberation and satisfaction, the first reaction of human beings to Truth is one of hostility and fear. This story was written to help you discover and examine your problems by raising your awareness. All that your author has done is string different ideologies together with a specific aim in mind. Remember, I have nothing to teach you.

Your mind stands solid by itself, unmoving. Everything which we call essential - wisdom or radiance or peace - is already present within us. When your understanding has passed the thicket of delusions, there is nothing you need to learn from anyone or anything.

Ignorance is Destructive

A ten-year-old made this startling observation:

“I think many people are not happy — including my parents and my teachers. The only person who is happy around me is my little brother.”

And I said, “You’re probably right.”

If a child is unhappy you say: “What's wrong?” But if an adult is really happy, you say: “Why are you happy?”

The truth is, we are born with happiness. We are intrinsically happy creatures but we become unhappy because our egos create desire. Our omnivorous set of desires pull us out of the moment, says something is missing, and we chase that. Then we wonder why we're unhappy. And then we try to drown that sense of loss out through various escapes (drugs, drinking, sex, partying).

In many Confucianist societies, truth is often a liability when your interest is social stability and harmony. Thus, people living in such societies are being molded into believing rites, traditions, and ideologies. This reminds me a story about a boy being forced into the military, brainwashed into believing that dying for your country is the noblest thing to do.

When a student asks, “What do I need to do in order to be successful?”

A typical rusty teacher would say: “To be successful you need to get good grades and go to a good school.”

But the teacher forgot to disclose a few simple facts:

  1. What you’re learning will probably be irrelevant in the future.
  2. When it’s time for you to seek a living, you’ll most likely get flushed out by other peers with decades more experience than you.
  3. The A students work for the B students, and the C students run the companies.

True teachers do not tell their students to “imagine something 10 years from now.” Genuine teachers would tell their students to work on something NOW. You tell kids that a famous college degree is worth something, but what if something happens between now and then? What do you tell the kids when the world completely changes before they even graduate? Would you be willing to tell them: “You’ve been longing and dreaming for something that doesn’t exist?”

We tell ourselves to be in the present moment, but are we, really, in the present moment?

If you scroll down your moments timeline, chances are you’ll come across someone else’s kid reading stories online and they’ll post captions like “To alter your future, change your decisions today” and “Life is not about finding yourself, but creating yourself.” So my question is: what are you doing today to alter your future and create yourself? Because it seems to me that people are duplicating the same old things. In other words, there is no change at all.

You see, I think people don’t love their families; they don’t love their children. If they did love them with their hearts and not with their petty little brains, then they’d have a different kind of education. They wouldn’t offer them what they’re offering now. Children watch their parents and say how hypocritical you are. Is the routine of going to the office day after day what you’re offering to your children? All the unhappiness, immoral society, politics, violence, corruption — is what you’re offering to us? Any intelligent student watching all this would say, “I won’t touch it!”

The Heart Knows Where It Truly Belongs

“If you seek tranquillity, do less.” Or (more accurately) do what’s essential...Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?”

But we need to eliminate unnecessary assumptions as well. To eliminate the unnecessary actions that follow. And then you might see what the life of the good man is like - someone content with what nature assigns him, and satisfied with being just and kind himself.

                              — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


At one of my lectures, someone asked the following questions:

“William, if you have children, what kind of school would you put them in?”

“Homeschool,” I exclaimed.

“Why?”

“Two reasons. First, because it’s more efficient - I could tailor the learning pace according to each child’s learning abilities. Second, there is nothing new to teach academically, so homeschooling allows the children to learn only what is relevant. And then they could use the remaining time exploring their interests.”

“What if your children want to attend a regular school?”

“Then that’s fine - makes my job easier. Keep in mind, they must follow the school’s requirements and rules. At home, I only have one rule.”

“And what’s that?”

“Find your purpose in life - what you’re meant to do, what you’re good at. It is the only thing that is essential. Everything else is irrelevant.”

“But how are they suppose to find that?”

“Well, there are many different ways, but the key is to keep learning about yourself. You can learn more about yourself by improving your self-awareness, by simply observing yourself. In time, you’ll discover who you are. And no one can give you a system or method to find it. You have to do this yourself.”

“When someone gives you a way then it’s not yours.”

“Well said. You have learned your lesson.”


Here’s an example:

A boy was found at the edge of the forest, lying down beside a boulder. He had received a strenuous blow to the head, which had made him forget who he was. He had lost his memory.

Upon waking up at the hospital, the staff questioned him, and he would say, “I don’t know who I am, or where I come from,” and a stream of tears would start flowing from his eyes. In the end, three families claimed he belonged to them. Of course, it was not possible that he belonged to three families, so they took him to each of the three towns and left him on his own.

In two of the towns he just stood, very confused, and didn’t know what to do. But when he arrived at the third town, his dull eyes suddenly lit up and his expressionless face started showing emotion. He went to one street all by himself and, seeing a particular house, started to run toward it. It was as if some power had suddenly entered his sleepy soul. He had recognized something; he had remembered his home. With a feeling of utter joy he said, “This is my house. Now I remember who I am!”

The same thing has happened to all of us. We have forgotten who we are because we have forgotten where our home is. Once we are able to see our home, it is natural to recognize our true self.

We constantly search - in the countryside, by the sea, on the mountain - and even I, myself, is prone to this yearning. But all this is quite the contrary, when it is open to us at any moment, a seek within. No search offers someone more peace and quiet and relaxation than that into one’s own mind.

Truth exists within our very self. And it is not even so difficult to find, but we have to travel inside to do so. When one goes inside oneself, one finds truth as well as one’s self, at the deepest core of his or hers life’s breath.

All this does not mean that you simply wait and do nothing. All this, I simply mean a well-ordered life, like keeping a room in order and leaving the window open. You can never invite the wind, but you must leave the window open. Then perhaps, if you’re aware enough, a cool breeze will come in.