Friday, December 29, 2006
With a Moo Moo here and a MU無 MU 無 there
One of my favorite stories that Thây (Thich Nhat Hanh) tells is the one about "cow releasing".
It goes something like this:
It was the rainy season. The Buddha and his followers were in the forest at Vaisali, seated at the base of a great tree. The Buddha was about to give a teaching (a dharma talk) to his monks. They had just finished their midday meal. Long slants of sunlight shone through the grove of tall mossy trees.
Suddenly, a farmer came running through the forest, shouting. As the man approached the sangha, he cried: "Have you seen my herd of cows? Have you seen my cows?" Frantically, he explained his troubles: "First, my entire sesame crop was eaten by caterpillars and now my cows have run off! I must be the most pathetic man on earth; I should just kill myself." The Buddha replied: "No, we have not seen your cows." Pointing in a different direction, the Buddha suggested that he try looking there. The farmer ran off, hurriedly searching here and there and yelling: "Have you seen my cows? Have you seen my cows?" After the farmer left, the Buddha turned to his bhiksus (monks), smiling. He said: "Bhiksus, do you realize that you are the happiest, freest people on the earth? You have no cows to lose."
I like Thây's commentary on this story. He says that it's time to practice the art of "cow releasing" when we have too many projects, when we are pulled this way and that, and when we become frantic over a lost object. "Cow releasing" "...helps us to let go of our cows, the cows of our mind and cows we have gathered around us" (p. 27; The Blooming of a Lotus: Guided Meditation Exercises for Healing and Transformation).
* * * * * * *
A few days ago, I had an opportunity to release a couple of cows. I had placed my now unused bionic arm brace on a closet shelf along with my starter sling (a flimsy piece of nylon made in Mexico that cost $60 in the hospital!) and the fuzzy padded sling strap that came with the brace. I'd worn the brace for about 2 months recently after falling off my bicycle. Now, I no longer needed the brace. So, I put it on a shelf where it took up space. I wasn't sure what to do with it. The fact that the brace cost about $120 and that it had that special flying dial made me think twice about discarding it. But, seeing the brace there whenever I opened the closet, I began to think that having it around might create a future situation in which I would have to wear it again. On the other hand, if I saved the brace, I'd have one handy in case I needed it. Thus, my thoughts went 'round, ad nauseum. My acquisitive mind wanted to grasp, hold on to, and not let go of this thing that no longer served me. Before falling off my bike, I never thought of falling. I didn't observe thoughts of falling off my bicycle, of brace wearing, or of broken limbs. Since my fall, these thoughts occasionally appear for brief moments, usually while riding. I gently acknowledge these fears and they quietly disappear. In the end, I decided that keeping the brace for a later date--just in case--is like waiting for something to happen, and contributes to its creation. So, I released that cow. I donated the brace to Casa de Los Niños along with a few articles of clothing I no longer wear. Someone else who needs the brace will make use of it (and might even discover the magic dial). I'm through with it; my arm is healed. I let it go with a "moo-oo" and a MU 無 .... either is right.
MU 無 from the Japanese (derived from the Chinese) is a term used in Zen which roughly means no-mind, nothinglessness, or nothing.