Wednesday, March 4, 2015

True Ground


In a monastery at the foot of Wudan mountain there lived a Taoist Monk, who was known among her peers for her rooted stance. No one could knock her down, though many tried. The monk was happy with her life, she was respected among her peers for skills and knowledge, her students were attentive and respectful, she had a husband whom she loved, and her home was peaceful and predictable. 

One beautiful fall day she was teaching her class, and as she was demonstrating the legendary rooted stance the earth began to shake violently. It shook so violently that the whole mountain rattled and groaned. The monk fell to the ground, much to her surprise, but once the ground stopped shaking she rose to her feet and checked on her dazed students. After ensuring that they were alright, she went to check on the rest of the monastery. While she was checking on the other monks her friend Linju, came running to her and said.

"My friend your house has been knocked down, your husband was last seen still in the building!"

The monk grew frightened and rushed back home, followed by Linju and several others. As they arrived she saw that the damage was tremendous, the whole house was rubble. She and her companions immediately  began digging through the rubble, and after many hours Linju raised a cry. They found her husband badly hurt. They rushed him to the healers, who promised to do everything he could before rushing off to help the many other injured.

Sadly, the monk could not stay with her husband because the Abbot of the monastery ordered all the monks to go help with rescue efforts. For days and weeks the monks of the monastery, and other surrounding monasteries, set out trying to help nearby villages and towns. Clearing roads, searching for the missing, tending to the wounded, and digging graves. It was difficult work as there were many dead, and even more wounded. Finally after several weeks the search for the missing was called off, after several months the recovery effort had to be put on hold as winter set in. The monk returned to her husbands side and nursed him back to health through the winter. She spent many sleepless nights tending to him. Finally as spring arrived her husband was recovered enough that she could leave his side, she returned to teach her classes just in time for the first day of spring.

Ever spring new monks would gather for their orientation. The monk was tasked, as always, with demonstrating a proper stance. She positioned herself and asked an older pupil to attack, he did and to the surprise of everyone managed to knock down the monk. There was pin drop silence in the training yard, but the monk brushed herself off and humbly said. "Truly you have improved," then ordered one of the new students to try to knock her down. He too succeeded, much to everyone's surprise. Now the monk grew concerned and one of her students spoke her worry. 

"Teacher perhaps you are unwell, you should go talk to the healer." The others all agreed. The monk assigned the older students to teach the remainder of the class and excused herself. 

The monk went to the healers office and had herself checked from head to toe. The healer found nothing wrong with her and bid her to talk to the Abbot. The monk rushed up to the Abbot's, her former teacher, office. His office was located at the upper floor of the monastery with a beautiful view of the mountain. When she arrived she explained in breathless tone what had happened. The Abbot listened patiently and asked her to demonstrate, so the monk took up a rooted stance. Just then a gust of wind blew in from the window and the monk fell to her knees. The Abbot was surprised and asked her to demonstrate again. Once again she took up the stance, but this time fell with no prompting at all. The Abbot grew concerned and summoned another healer to look at the monk. The healer inspected the monk and found nothing at all wrong.

The Abbot said. "Student, go practice for some weeks and we will see if the problem resolves itself." She did as the Abbot requested. The monk practised everyday for weeks, whole days she would spend trying to root herself and at night returned to the chambers she shared with her husband. As the Abbot watched the problem grew worse, no matter how hard she tried she could not root herself.

Finally early one morning, after meditation, the Abbot took the monk aside and handed her a bag and kit. He said to her, "My student you must go back to where you learned your rooted stance to learn the cause of this problem." 

The monk was sad, but thanked the Abbot for his wisdom. The monk went to her chambers and told her husband of the news. Her husband was saddened but agreed with the Abbot's words. They embraced and exchanged pleasant words before the monk set off on her journey.  

The monk traveled for many days, enjoying the high summer, until she reached the valley where she was born. She first learned her rooted stance from a great tree near her families home, in this very valley. She made her way to the tree, sat by it and began to meditate. 

After sometime the tree noticed her presence and asked her. "My child, why have you returned? I have taught you everything I know."

The monk lamented and told the tree of all the had happened, from beginning to end. She told of the earthquake, of her husband's accident, of the rescue efforts, of the recovery, of being knocked down in front of her students, of her inability to stand firm.

The tree listed, as trees do, until the monk had finished her story. The tree was quiet for sometime and asked the monk to go stand in a nearby stream. The stream was cool and slow moving, but try as she might she could not stand. The tree told the monk to keep trying, and when she grew tired to meditate by the stream. The monk agreed and began her practice. Sometimes the water would move swiftly, particularly after rains, but at others slowly. When she grew tired she would meditate to the sound of the stream. Weeks soon turned to months, and months to seasons. Slowly the monk found she was able to better stand the force of the water. Her mind began to track the currents, her feet no longer grew numb at the cold, her body no longer crumpled when the currents moved swiftly. Finally, during one period of meditation she had an insight.

She went to the tree and sat by it, and told the tree. "It was not the shaking of the earth that knocked me down, but the injury of my husband. He was my true base and I felt him fall."

The tree said, "Yes, and when he fell so too did you. You humans are not like trees, we dig our roots deep into soil and stone, standing firm until we one day fall. You root yourself in things that pass much faster than the earth, you root yourself in the streams of other lives. On these you cannot stand."

The monk said, "But my husband did not die."

"Ah, but his wounds were great and while he recovered you too dealt with much suffering after the earth-shook. Tell me monk, how many bodies did you bury in that season? Did you not feel their pain? Did you not then feel pain and concern for your husband?" Asked the tree.

Now the monk understood. Her suffering came after she had fallen, when her stance first uprooted, she had rooted her self in the suffering of others while she helped them.

The tree spoke, "As you humans go you root yourself in many things, trying to act like trees when your lives are streams. Sometimes you will move swiftly, at others slowly. You will carry with you what falls into you." 

The monk responded, "If the mind is like a stone in water, it is carried by the water, and thus a heavy enough current will move the stone."

The tree agreed, "and who can say when the swift current comes? How much rain will it take to move a great boulder? What happens when the stream dries during high summer, do you cease to move?" The tree continued, "The Buddha said to accept impermanence, practice detachment. That too there is another lesson, as the water flows it wears a road, if a thing should fall in it's way it will flow around, or given enough time - through. The water roots itself in motion, ever changing it's form, and moves toward the sea. As the mind, whatever the form, always moves toward enlightenment."

Now the monk understood. She stood up and took her rooted stance. A gust of wind swept by and she was unmoved, the earth shook and she was unmoved. Her mind was rooted like the moving water, thus her body too was rooted. 

The monk thanked the tree, and began her long journey home.

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