I bring you a Zen story today which is simple yet very powerful. More after the story –
“Suzuki Roshi, 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. Suzuki laughed.
“Everything changes,” he said. Then he asked for another question.
In this story, the disciple wants to know the summary of all the teachings of the master. He has been listening to the master for years but he hasn’t understood a thing. It can happen. There are two reasons.
One is, you may be listening on the outside but in actuality you are not. You are so full yourself. Nothing can go in. You are so busy talking inside that you do not listen to what is being talked outside.
Birds are talking, nature is creating thousands of new sounds every moment but you are not aware. Your inner chatter has to stop. Be aware and listen. Pay attention with full silence inside and outside. Then you may listen.
The second reason for this to happen is – Words from the master are contradictory. If you have not understood the essence of his teachings and if you have not understood the pointer he shows, then you will not understand because the experience cannot be said. The experience can only be pointed at. All the masters have been pointing to it, in different words and stories. It is like somebody using his finger to point to something. You may not see what he is pointing at but you might see his finger and just nod your head. And then you may form your own judgment and a relation between his body language, position of finger, time and space and words that he said and interpret a false meaning out of it. But that is not the point. You did not see what was being pointed at.
To the answer in the story now –
The master is asked to summarize Buddhism in one phrase. He answers but before he does, he laughs and so does everybody else apart from the questioner. There is a difference in the laugh from the master and that of everybody else. The master laughs at the stupidity of the mind. Master knows the ways of the mind and hence he laughs. The mind who has not been able to understand with millions of words with thousands of examples and stories that were said during years of lecturing, how will it then be able to understand with merely a phrase. Disciple is still not ready. Hence the master laughs.
Everybody else laughs because they are as stupid as the questioner. They think they the fool has not understood but they have not either.
The mind wants to know the shortcuts. The disciple is hungry and eager to know but he is full of his mind. He wants to listen and yet he is unable to. So, the mind plays the last trick. Give me a phrase. Give me an acronym to hold on. Give me a buzzword. Put it in a nutshell.
The master says two words –“Everything Changes.”
This says everything. Master knows. Hence he can point to it in any number of ways.
But what does this mean?
See around yourself. The time is changing. Weather is changing. Earth moves, Sun regenerates, stars move and your body is constantly regenerating itself. Cells are dying and being formed again. Sounds are changing. Your breath is constantly going in and out. Scenes are changing. Thoughts are changing. Your moods change. Everything changes. Everything is changing, constantly and unfailingly.
But amidst of all this caravan of changes, there is something that doesn’t change. There ought to be. Think of this. There has to be an observer who is always constant; an observer who doesn’t change. Only then will you know that everything changes. Otherwise who will say? Who will know the changes?
Take the example of a CCTV camera. CCTV records everything; everything that changes and moves in its perimeter. How is it able to record?
Because, the camera is constantly watching and it is not changing.
If it changed just like everything else, who would record? Then you wouldn’t be able to see a film of what happened.
If everything changes, then who is there is declare that everything changes?
Only one doesn’t change. That unchanging, constantly alive, constantly active force is the experience. That is where the story is pointing.
Master wants the disciple to know that everything changes and contemplate deeply on it. In deep contemplation, he will know that whatever is said, is truth. But, to experience this truth on your own, there has to be something constant, which doesn’t change. To reach that experience, that unchanging experience of life is the purpose of the story.
Questions for contemplation-
What doesn’t change?