Yesterday I gave a personal example of how the ego gets in the way of life. Today I present to you a story from the life of a great Zen Master, that demonstrates what it looks like when the ego/self is absent.
At the foot of Mount Jiuhua, there lived a wealthy family. The family had a daughter named Xiao Hui. She was promised for marriage at a tender age to another rich family’s son.
Three years before the proposed wedding date, Xiao Hui gave birth to a baby boy. Her parents were in great shock and disappointment. They demanded to know the truth. Xiao Hui finally told her parents, “I once went to worship Buddha at the Buddhist monastery on Mount Jiuhua and was raped by Monk Hakuin. Afterwards, I became pregnant and gave birth to this baby.” Her father was furious. He brought his servants, hurried to Mount Jiuhua and stormed into the monastery. He condemned Monk Hakuin for his alleged crime. Together with his servants, he cursed and beat up the monk. Finally he presented the newborn baby to him and demanded Hakuin to take it. The monk was silent throughout the process and although he had no experience with children, he accepted the baby boy and said peacefully in prayer, “Buddha Amitabha!”
Hakuin’s reputation was immediately ruined. He was once a highly respected monk, but now he became a scandalous rapist in the disguise of a monk. Everywhere he went, people laughed at him, condemned him and cursed him. However, the monk seemed indifferent to all the insults. He went down Mount Jiuhua every day to solicit alms to buy milk for the baby. Under his attentive care, the small baby grew increasingly strong, plump and smart.
Three years passed quickly.
Despite the alleged rape, the wedding took place as scheduled. On the wedding night, her husband demanded to know what became of her baby, so she told him everything in tears. The next day, the groom told his parents the truth: the two of them had had a secret rendezvous and that was the true reason why Xiao Hui had become pregnant and given birth to a baby three years before. That was why he had insisted on marrying Xiao Hui despite the scandal. In order to protect her future husband’s reputation, Xiao Hui made up a lie and framed Hakuin.
On the third day after the wedding when Xiao Hui visited her parents according to the Chinese tradition, she took the opportunity to tell her parents the truth. Her parents were even more astonished than when she had suddenly given birth to a boy. They regretted doing wrong to an innocent monk and abandoning their own grandson.
The two families hurried to the monastery. They knelt down in front of Hakuin, begging for his forgiveness and asking to take the baby back. He produced the baby boy with a big smile on his face and brought him to Xiao Hui’s arms in a respectful manner. He looked as if nothing had happened and told them with a grin, “Take the baby back! Buddha Amitabha!” He put his hands up in front of his chest to bid farewell to them and returned to the meditation chamber with a big smile on his face.
From then on, all the monks in the monastery and the local residents admired Hakuin even more.
What a story. Remember, when we read these stories we can identify with each character to learn several lessons. As Hakuin, we learn the lesson of accepting what comes. As Xiao Hui we see how we are inclined to lie in order to protect ourselves and those around us — often creating more problems than we would with the truth — only to end up having to own up to our actions AND our deceptions. As her husband, we see how we are inclined to forget our responsibilities and leave the decisions to others — only to realize that unfinished business may be out of sight but never out of heart and mind; you WILL deal with your transgressions one way or another. As the girl’s parents we see how we take information as true, act as if it is true, then come to realize that we were deceived all along. This is a very important lesson because deception, especially self-deception, is happening all the time. And finally, as the baby, we remember that the causes and conditions of our birth and environment in this world are beyond our control, we exist as a whim of Life — bouncing back and forth from parent to parent, lover to lover, temple to village.
There is so much more than can be said, but I’ll leave it alone for your own contemplation. What do you think; Who do you identify with most in this story?
(Not to leave you hanging with a question that I didn’t answer myself): I identify equally with the baby and with Xiao Hui while aspiring to live like Hakuin today and everyday.