WISDOM TO LIVE BY

WISDOM TO LIVE BY

I am writing this looking out over the winding waters of the Atlantic Ocean as I sit on Table Mountain in Cape Town.
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As I sip my water, I allow my mind to become engaged in the array of beautiful sounds emitting from nature’s bounty: the trees subtly whistling in the sunlight, the warm breeze pushing the current downstream, the sound of a small lizard scuttling across fallen leaves, the birds chirping in the shade and the sound of tourists watching and talking about the view..

This is a truly blessed corner of the world I’ve found today, one where I feel incredibly free of distraction. It takes a trip to a place like this to really be able to let go and just to be: to let go of nagging thoughts of bills, things I need to do, people that irritate me, things I should have done, people I need to contact, the next test to set that I know is around the corner.

 

These stories only seek to point the way. Don’t take any of them for the truth without investigating them for yourself. Let them speak to you as they have spoken to me and still continue to do so. The point isn’t to believe blindly, it’s to develop confidence in your life and in the way. What is the Way, I mean by the way to live our best life and find peace within ourselves and with others.

I will give no explanation I let them speak for themselves and tell them as they have been told to me.

  1. The Woman at the River

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 One day, two monks set out for a temple in a valley beyond the woods. While cutting a pathway through the woods, they came across a choppy stream they needed to cross. There, stood by the bank of the stream, was a beautiful young girl dressed in silk. She was  at a loss as to how to cross  the river without getting muddy and wet and dirty.

So, without thinking twice, the elder monk gestured to pick her up. Shocked, she obliged. He put her over his shoulder and waded across to the other side. The younger monk, dismayed and uneasy at what he had witnessed, followed in tow.

Upon reaching the other side of the bank, the elder monk put the maiden down gently. The maiden paid her respects and walked on. The monks then continued on their way to the temple.

As they navigated through the forest, the younger monk, still troubled by what he’d seen, asked, “How could you do that? We aren’t even supposed to make eye contact with women, let alone pick them up and carry them!”

Without a thought, the elder monk turned to the younger monk and said, “Oh, are you still carrying her?  I put her down when I reached the other side of the stream”.

And with that, the elder monk turned and continued leading the way through the forest, leaving the younger monk to contemplate his words for the remainder of the journey.

 

  1. The Two Travelers

Two traveling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles and she couldn’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there, looking very cross and impatient. She was scolding her attendants. They had nowhere to place the packages they held for her, so they couldn’t help her across the puddle.

The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing, and walked by. The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the older monk, she just shoved him out of the way and departed.

As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she didn’t even thank you!

 “I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”

 

  1. Everything changes

“Master, I’ve been listening to your lectures for years,” a student said during the question and answer time following a lecture, “but I just don’t understand. Could you just please put it in a nutshell? Can you reduce Buddhism to one phrase?”

Everyone laughed. The Master laughed.

“Everything changes,” he said. Then he asked for another question.

4.Empty your cup

The Abbot was received a university professor of great fame who was to come to inquire about meditation.

The Abbot served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” the Abbot said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you meditation unless you first empty your cup?”

5.What is right and what is wrong
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When Benedict held his seclusion-weeks of meditation, pupils from many parts of Japan came to attend. During one of these gatherings a pupil was caught stealing. The matter was reported to Benedict with the request that the culprit be expelled. Benedicta ignored the case.

Later the pupil was caught in a similar act, and again Benedict disregarded the matter. This angered the other pupils, who drew up a petition asking for the dismissal of the thief, stating that otherwise they would leave in a body.

When Benedict had read the petition he called everyone before him. “You are wise brothers,” he told them. “You know what is right and what is not right. You may go somewhere else to study if you wish, but this poor brother does not even know right from wrong. Who will teach him if I do not? I am going to keep him here even if all the rest of you leave.”

 6.Be the boss

A horse suddenly came galloping quickly down the road. It seemed as though the man had somewhere important to go.

Another man, who was standing alongside the road, shouted, “Where are you going?” and the man on the horse replied,

“I don’t know! Ask the horse!”

 7.Watch yourself

There was once a pair of acrobats. The teacher was a poor man and the student was a young girl by the name of Mara. These acrobats performed each day on the streets in order to earn enough to eat.

Their act consisted of the teacher balancing a tall bamboo pole on his head while the little girl climbed slowly to the top. Once to the top, she remained there while the teacher walked along the ground.

Both performers had to maintain complete focus and balance in order to prevent any injury from occurring and to complete the performance. One day, the teacher said to the pupil:

‘Listen Liliana, I will watch you and you watch me, so that we can help each other maintain concentration and balance and prevent an accident. Then we’ll surely earn enough to eat.’

But the little girl was wise, she answered, ‘Dear teacher, I think it would be better for each of us to watch ourselves. To look after oneself means to look after both of us. That way I am sure we will avoid any accidents and earn enough to eat.’

7.The fishing net

Three old men, of whom one had a bad reputation, came one day to Abba Armenias.
The first asked him,
“Father, make me a fishing-net.”
“I will not make you one,” he replied.
Then the second said,
“Of your charity make one, so that we may have a souvenir of you in the monastery.”
But he said,
“I do not have time.”
Then the third one, who had a bad reputation, said,
“Make me a fishing-net, so that I may have something from your hands, Father.”
Abba Achilles answered him at once,
“For you, I will make one.”
Then the two other old men asked him privately,
“Why did you not want to do what we asked you, but you promised to do what he asked?”
The old man gave them this answer,
“I told you I would not make one, and you were not disappointed, since you thought that I had no time. But if I had not made one for him, he would have said, ‘The old man has heard about my sin, and that is why he does not want to make me anything,’ and so our relationship would have broken down. But now I have cheered his soul, so that he will not be overcome with grief.”

 

 8.The splinter

Some old men went to Abba Jonas and asked, “If we see brothers sleeping during the common prayer, should we wake them?”

Abba Jonas answered, “If I see my brother sleeping, I put his head on my knees and let him rest.”

Then one old man spoke up, “And how do you explain yourself before God?”

Abba Jonas replied, “I say to God: You have said, ‘First take the beam out of your own eye and then you will be able to remove the splinter from the eye of your

brother.’”

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