Lawrence Shainberg

ONE OF THE CONSTRAINTS OF ZEN and other spiritual practices is that few people can take seven days off from work without at least giving up vacation time, and fewer still would choose to spend their vacations staring at a wall. Since family life is another constraint, the preponderance of students are single, widowed or divorced, and most of the couples are childless or old enough that their children have left home. Given the fact that loneliness and psychological desperation are two of the best catalysts for practice, one of the largest contingents around Zen or other spiritual centers will often be drawn from the recently divorced.

"We've got this idea of something trapped that we've got to set free. Like there's a bird in your hand, and what Zen is about is spreading your fingers and letting it fly away. Whoosh! I'm enlightened! But you and the bird are the same! You and your hand are the same! Nothing needs to be opened! Nothing needs to fly away! Realize this and you've automatically let go! "

These words are delivered in the course of a teisho on my old favorite, the koan about the flag and the wind from The Mumonkan. Glassman offers us a perfect example of letting go by taking it forward in time and turning it on its head. "Two hundred years after this event occurred, seventeen monks, taking refuge at an inn while on a pilgrimage, were caught in an earnest discussion of it. 'Which is moving-the flag or the wind? It is not the wind that moves; it is not the flag that moves. It is the mind that moves!' As it happened, the old lady serving them dinner was an enlightened being. After eavesdropping on their debate for some time, she could not contain her impatience with them. 'You fools!' she shouted. 'Don't you understand? It is not the wind that moves; it is not the flag that moves; and it is not the mind that moves!' At this point --- a world record, for sure --- all seventeen monks were enlightened."

--- ©1995 Pantheon Books

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