Case 44: Basho’s Staff
Basho (Chinese Master Ma-tsu) said to his disciples, “If you have a staff, I will give you a staff. If you have no staff, I will take it from you.” (The Gateless Gate)
“The flowers depart when we hate to lose them; The weeds arrive when we hate to watch them grow.” (Alan Watts, The Way of Zen)
The Kingdom of Heaven is thus: To every one that has shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that has not shall be taken away even that which he has. (Matthew 25)
Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. (Mark 11:24)
Sadi Benzahmare, one of Yeshua’s teachers:
They are the laws of nature. The law of manifestation: that one desires, and then one knows that it shall be fulfilled, and the need shall be fulfilled. These laws are the basic laws of nature. (Cannon, Jesus and the Essenes, p. 213)
Layman P’ang (d. 808):
During the Chen-yuan era of T’ang he gave away his house to be used as a temple and he loaded the treasure of his household—several tens of thousands of strings of coins—onto a boat and sunk it in a river. After that he lived like a single leaf.
The Layman had a wife, a son, and a daughter, all Buddhists. They sold bamboo utensils in order to obtain their morning and evening meals. (Ruth Fuller Sasaki, The Recorded Sayings of Layman P’ang)
You should have only one desire: a desire for complete liberation, complete realization. Any other desire will keep you in suffering.
Wanting is the sensation of lacking. First, to want something means we feel we don’t have it. We feel empty, lonely, lacking or deprived, and we believe that if we possessed that object or had that experience, we’d feel filled up and we would be happy. So behind all desiring and seeking is first a motivation to be happy, and second a belief that happiness lies in the fulfillment of desires.
On the contrary, desire is the problem. Being in a state of desire is suffering, wanting, lacking, hurting, and looking to a future time when we will have what we desire and be happy. Desire is an admission that we are lacking. If I am the infinite One I desire nothing—I am the All. (1993)
If there were a man who possessed all the world, and he gave it up as freely as he received it for God’s sake, then our Lord would give him back all this world and eternal life as well. And if there were another man who possessed nothing but good will, and he thought: Lord, were this whole world mine, and if I had another world and yet another (or as many more as you please); if he were to pray: Lord, I will give up these and myself as freely as I received them from you, then God would give that man just as much as if he had given it away with his own hand. Still another man who had nothing physical or spiritual to renounce or give up, it is he who would give up the most. A man who completely gave up self for a single instant, to him all would be given. But if a man gave up self for twenty years and then took it back for a single instant, it would be as if he had never given it up. One who has given up self and keeps giving up self, and never casts a glance at what he has given up but remains firm, unmoved in himself and unchangeable, he alone has left self behind. (Sermon Fifty Seven)
Hakuin’s Letter in Answer to an Old Nun of the Hokke (Nichiren) Sect
The 25th day of the Eleventh Month of Enkyo (C.E. 1747)
Once there were two children of Mr. Chang. The elder brother was named Chang Wu and the younger Chang Lu. One day they bundled up some provisions and set out on a long journey. While on the way they happened to find a bar of gold, and they danced for joy at the discovery. But later they parted ways and some thirty years passed in which each of the brothers did not know whether the other was dead or alive. Lu, wondering about his brother, sought him in all directions, and finally having discovered his brother’s whereabouts, journeyed there from afar to pay him a visit. When Lu came finally to his brother’s place, he was amazed at its opulence: the water wheels groaned as they turned and carts filled with grain came rumbling past. Oxen and horses filled the stables, flocks of geese crowded the ditches. The sound of bamboo flutes and pipes floated from the house and voices were raised in song. Elegant guests came in and out.
Lu, shaking with fear, was unable to cross the threshold. Bowing to the ground with terror and trembling, he offered his name card. Two boys handsome in appearance and elegant in bearing came to greet him. Chang Lu followed them in, walking with extreme diffidence. The magnificence of the walls and the beauty of the buildings were such that K’ang I and Shih Nu would have felt at home in them. Chang Lu’s spirits faltered and his legs trembled and he did not know where to sit down. After a short while Chang Wu, attended by his concubines and female servants, appeared from beneath an embroidered canopy. The resplendent costuming of the women who attended on his brother astounded Chang Lu; the embroidered damasks overwhelmed his eyes. A golden incense burner poured forth the fragrance of a thousand flowers; jade ornaments gave off hundreds of delicate sounds. A crimson embroidered cap adorned Chang Wu’s head; from his shoulders a purple gown hung. He seated himself on a luxurious green cushion and leaned his arm on a sandalwood table. He glared with the haughty eyes of a tiger; he held his shoulders arrogantly in the pose of a kite.
Chang Lu took one look and could not help but lower his eyes to the ground. His body seemed to shrink and his tears flowed without cease. He was quite unable to raise his head and look his brother straight in the face.
Deliberately Chang Wu began to speak: “My brother, why were you so long in coming? How is it that you appear in such distressed circumstances?”
Chang Lu, wiping away his tears, asked then timidly: “My brother, to what lord are you indebted? From whom have you received patronage that you are so great and wealthy now?”
Chang Wu answered: “I am not the minister to any man, nor have I received the largess of a patron. I am just someone who a long time ago found some money.”
Chang Lu said: “How many boxes of gold did you find? Was it as much as can be piled into a large wagon or loaded onto a giant ship? Was it money that fell from heaven or a treasure buried beneath the earth? Who was the person who forgot about all this wealth?”
“Not at all. It was the money that thirty years ago you and I found together upon the highway,” replied his brother.
Chang Lu responded: “How strange! With only one bar of gold you were able to attain all these riches?” Then suddenly Chang Lu became greatly troubled. “Are you perhaps a member of an evil gang, a partner in crime with the thieves Tao Chih and Chuang Ch’iao? If so, I’d better leave in a hurry so that I’ll be able to escape the fate that is sure to fall on the nine families of relatives. If I stay here, I’ll just be inviting my own death.”
Chang Wu laughed heartily: “What happened to the money you acquired thirty years ago? Did you gamble it away? Squander it on wine and women?”
Chang Lu replied: “I see, I see. My disreputable appearance must seem very strange to you. Please ask the others to leave the room. I have something I want to say to you in private.” Chang Wu glanced up and then asked all his women to leave. Chang Lu cautiously drew nearer: “Do I look like someone who loses his money gambling or concerns himself with the women of the gay quarters? I am not poor because I lost the money, but rather trying to protect it has worn me out. Didn’t you tell me long ago: ‘Guard the money well. Don’t squander it recklessly’? I am not the one who would go against the instructions of his brother.”
As soon as Chang Lu had found the money, he wrapped it in a tenfold cloth and guarded it with the utmost care, as though he were protecting the jewel of Pien Ho or the precious Night-illuminating Jewel. He carried it with him wherever he went. For thirty years he had not relaxed, and had remained sleepless, fearing that he was constantly under the threat of death from thieves and assassins. He dreaded it if people inquired of his health, turned away from all his friends, and avoided association with anyone. He became a man of abject poverty, wearing on his shoulders a disreputable gown, patched in a hundred places, and on his head a tattered cap. People paid him absolutely no attention, never giving him a second thought, and this, in turn, he found a blessing. Fearing that he might lose his money, he took no wife, remaining always single. He hid himself in places where he need have nothing to do with other men, seeking out abandoned houses and dilapidated mausoleums to sleep in. He never stayed at an inn and was content with the most miserable of food. He begged beside the gates of people’s houses, and if he was forced to stand for long time, he might on occasion sing for his food.
Then saying: “The gold is right here,” he looked about several times to make sure that no one else was there to see him, and then he loosened his filthy, torn gown and fishing about in the folds finally drew out a packet wrapped around ten times in cloth. He undid it, and looking all around again, he took out the gold and showed it to his brother. “Where is the money that you picked up?” he asked. “Bring it out and let’s see it for old time’s sake.”
Chang Wu replied: “Not long after you and I parted some thirty years ago I got rid of the gold.”
Chang Lu paled and stared intently at his brother’s face. Reflecting pensively he remarked: “You got rid of the money while I guarded it. Yet, though you got rid of it, you have become wealthy, and I who guarded mine am miserably poor.” He opened his eyes wide and struck his forehead and gnashed his teeth and gnawed on his lips and could not help feeling deeply depressed. After a while he said: “If it is bad to hold on to something and starve from poverty and good to get rid of something and revel in riches, then, even though I am late about it, shouldn’t I also rid myself of the gold? Please tell me how to get rid of it.”
Chang Wu said: “The gold that you picked up was worth less than a yellow leaf. Not only did it fail to benefit you, but on the contrary, it impoverished you and did harm to your heart and entrails. Had you wrapped up a yellow leaf, it would have weighed nothing as you went on your rounds, nor would you have been afflicted by poverty; instead you might have spent your time in a simple cottage, caring for a wife and children, and might have slept comfortably, with your head high on a pillow. Your holding on to it was the road that led away from these things; my getting rid of it was the road that led to them.
“After I left you those thirty years ago, I went to Yang-chou. To me my gold was lighter than yellow leaf, and I bought with it a great amount of salt. As soon as I sold the salt, with the profit I bought silk floss. As soon as I sold the silk floss, with the profit I bought hemp. As soon as I sold the hemp, with the profit I bought grain, fruit, fish, and meat. I sent people throughout the country to gather the treasures of mountain and sea, the beauties of land and water. Bringing all these things together, I opened several large stores with some three hundred employees. People stormed my doors with money in their hands and there was no variety of food that I did not sell. My possessions and wealth became enormous; T’ao Chu-kung’s riches were small by comparison, I Tun’s possessions would amount to nothing beside mine. My storehouses and granaries stand eave-to-eave in rows. I possess fifteen thousand acres of fertile land. I have purchased several score of mountains clothed with cypress and pine and groves of catalpa and cedar, and have set myself up in the establishment. This is the road I traveled by getting rid of the gold, which I regarded as lightly as one does a yellow leaf.”
Chang Lu stood up, bowed, and said: “Blessings on you, my brother. I hope that you continue in the best of health. Your losing, while only seeming like losing, actually turned out to be devoting your efforts to keeping. My keeping, which only seemed to be keeping, was actually devoting my efforts to losing. Holding on and letting go bring different results indeed. One knows for a certainty that a yellow leaf, when it falls into the hands of a wise man, is true gold; when true gold falls into the hands of a stupid person, it is only a yellow leaf. Oh, how I regret the thirty years of pain I have caused myself, the energies I have exhausted without a bit of gain!” His voice was choked with painful sobs.
Jesus: The Parable of the Talents
For the Kingdom of Heaven is as a man traveling into a far country who called his own servants and delivered to them his goods. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each man according to his ability, and straightaway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with them and made another five talents. And likewise, he that had received two also gained another two. But he that had received one went and dug a hole in the ground and hid his lord’s money.
After a long time the lord of those servants came back and asked them for a reckoning. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, you delivered to me five talents; behold, I have gained five talents more. His lord said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things; I will make you ruler over many things. Enter you into the joy of your lord.
Likewise, he that had received two talents came and said, Lord, you delivered to me two talents; behold, I have gained two talents more. His lord said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things; I will make you ruler over many things. Enter you into the joy of your lord.
Then he that had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew that you are a severe man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not cast a net. And I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the earth. See, there you have what is yours.
His lord answered and said to him, You evil and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I sowed not and gather where I have not cast a net; you ought therefore to have left my money with the money lenders, and then at my coming I should have received my own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him and give it to him that has ten talents.
For to every one that has shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that has not shall be taken away even that which he has. And cast the unprofitable servant out into the darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:14-30 American King James)
When your mind has learned to cease its momentary seeking, this is called the state of the bodhi tree; but while your mind is incapable of ceasing, this is called the tree of ignorance. Ignorance has no fixed abode; ignorance has no beginning or end. As long as your mind is unable to cease its moment-by-moment activity, then you are in the tree of ignorance. You roam among the six realms of existence and the four types of birth wearing fur and with horns on your head. But if you can learn to cease, then you’ll be in the world of the clean pure body. If not one thought arises, you’ll be up in the bodhi tree, using your transcendental powers to take different forms in the threefold world, assuming any bodily shape you please, feasting on Dharma bliss and meditation delight, illuminating things for yourself with the light from your own body. Think of clothes and you’ll be swathed in a thousand layers of fine silk; think of food and you’ll be provided with a hundred delicacies. And you will suffer no sudden illnesses. Bodhi is everywhere: that’s why there is nothing to obtain. (Watson, 1999)
Hakuin (1971). The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings. Translated by Philip B. Yampolsky. New York: Columbia University Press (pp. 86-123). (Orategama)
Watson, Burton (1999). The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi. New York: Columbia University Press. https://cup.columbia.edu/book/the-zen-teachings-of-master-lin-chi/9780231114851
The Nag Hammadi Library (http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/apopet.html)