by Chuan Zhi
from HsuYun Website
It had been roaming for days, looking for water, for it was very thirsty, and very hot. Although it knew it could go for many days without water, it knew the number of days left was diminishing quickly.
Yet the field seemed to have no boundaries - it seemed to go on and on in every direction!
The young turtle had never encountered this stranger before and thought,
So the young turtle said to the old turtle,
Days passed, then weeks.
Finally, the turtle had lost its ability to move.
He lay unmoving for three days, but still alive.
During those three days his thoughts reviewed his life, his early years as a young turtle jumping off of logs into the river water with his friends then soaking up the summer sun on an outcropping log. He lamented that he would never again feel the cool water and gentle weightlessness of a swim.
He remembered how he used to lie on the
log and watch as the sun moved across the horizon. How it always
moved from the direction of the big black rock on one side of the
river toward the dip in the trees on the other side. Always the
same. Every day. As if it was pointing him somewhere... and that was
his last thought, as he lay there, motionless, in the tall field
grass, no longer able to breathe.
We're born with an incredible intelligence, the ability to feel things intensely, and to create amazing works of art. Yet the very things that make us human, ironically, make us vulnerable to losing our connection with ourselves and with the universe in which we live. Our minds create a substitute universe within which we seem to exist, and we mistake this microcosm for Reality.
Our microcosm is a universe of impressions about ourselves: what we like and dislike, what we feel, who we think is good or bad, what political party we connect with...
All these things give us a sense of
personal identity, make us think that we are something unique,
independent, and apart from all else around us. Our thoughts, ideas
and opinions shape us into who we imagine ourselves to be as human
beings. And from there, we live our lives in our bubble. Alone.
We are victims to the popular status quo, taking solace in being a member of a group of like-minded people.
Giving ourselves to the group, we become easily swayed by popular opinion within it. We fall victim to scams, give our money freely to support the group, and are easy prey for advertisers who take advantage of our strong feelings for the group. We are as marionettes, our strings pulled this way and that.
But does this make us happy? No.
What we fail to realize is that the cause of our suffering is our grasping at a personal identity - one that exists independently of all else, and is our De facto center of the universe. The loneliness of isolation this generates creates a strong desire to attach to a group, to the extent that our entire identity becomes merged with that of the group.
Our Self becomes ever more lost the more
we move in this direction, and the task of recovering it, ever more
distant and difficult.
A result of their study:
They name this tendency the "cultural cognition of risk".
The consequences? People are more likely to agree with a scientific consensus on a topic if his or her own conclusions match those of the scientific consensus.
Similarly, people are less likely to consider a scientist an expert on a subject if his or her views differ from that of the scientist, regardless of the credentials (or fame) of the scientist.
Their collected data and analysis similarly showed that,
Our turtle discounted the life-saving advice from the old turtle because the advice did not fit into his view of the world or his view of public opinion on the matter.
So strong and ingrained are our
self-created belief structures that they blind us from seeing past
them, they obfuscate the truth when it's presented to us, however
clearly and directly.
We see this play out in many different ways among Buddhists - some of us Buddhists insist that we can only become enlightened if under the tutelage of a "Great Master".
We may lament that "there are no ‘Great Masters' left," rationalizing why we have not yet become enlightened and excusing ourselves from putting effort into practice.
We prefer to think that a "Great Master"
can, effectively, push a button and awaken us, removing the
necessity for effort on our part.
While any of these methods may bring profound spiritual growth: it is not the method, by itself, that accomplishes this: it is our approach and attitude that does.
As Hsu Yun wrote in his autobiography,
Then there are also those of us who believe that only by mimicking cultural expressions of Buddhism are we practicing the Right Way.
Confusing outward methods with fundamental principles, these views, whatever they are, are only strengthened by the vast number of other people who believe the same things we do.
Eventually, we consider anyone who does not share our beliefs to be "in error" and we are quick to point out to them that there are other people who share our views, therefore they must be the correct views, and any contrary views blatantly wrong.
Hsu Yun continues,
When we live inside a fixed and rigid world-view it creates great conflict for us.
We constantly have to defend our points of view to others who don't share them. We are so convinced that ours are the "right" ones that we are willing to argue and even fight over them to defend our psychic territory. But most often it surfaces when we lecture other people on what they should do in order that they acquire the same world-view that we have.
When other people agree with us, after
all, then there is no conflict and we can rest at ease.
All we can do is point the finger at the moon and hope that some tiny fragment of illumination breaks through the thick walls of self-protection and isolation we humans so naturally tend to erect around us.
Zen's path begins with a first glimpse of what exists outside our ego-microcosm, and only once we have had that first glimpse can the walls begin to come down to reveal the full grandness of what's beyond.
But unless we allow a crack to arise in
the fortress, that glimpse can never come.