The Tale of the Moon Rabbit

From the treasure trove of Japanese Fairy Tales:

Rabbit Netsuke MMA

Artwork via Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Every night the Old Man in the Moon looks down on Earth to see how his animals and people are doing. He smiles to see them resting after a hard day’s work. He winks at sleeping children. He hovers over rivers and lakes, lighting the waves and the shore. Then he sails on to other lands.

One night long ago, the Old Man lingered in the sky over a forest in Japan. The animals below seemed to him to live in peace and harmony. Suddenly he spotted a monkey, a fox and a rabbit who were living side by side. The Old Man began to wonder about these animals that he knew only by sight. After a while he began to long to know them better.

“Which of these friends is the kindest creature?” he asked himself as he watched the rabbit dash across the fields. “I wonder which is most generous?” he said softly as he watched the monkey swing from a tree. “I wonder what they are truly like,” he said as he watched the fox paw at the forest floor to make his bed. “I need to know more about my creatures.”

The Old Man floated a while longer, but finally his curiosity got the best of him. “I must go and see for myself,” he said, and because the Old Man in the Moon is a magical creature, he was able to transform himself into a poor beggar. In this disguise he floated down to Earth. He walked through the forest until he came to the clearing where the monkey, fox and rabbit lived. When the creatures saw him, they looked up at him with bright shining eyes.

“Good day, sir,” the rabbit said. “How do you do?” “Welcome to our forest,” said the monkey, and the fox bowed low. “Oh, friends,” the Old Man said, leaning heavily on his walking stick, “I am not doing well. I am old and poor, and I am very hungry. Do you think you could help me?” “Of course we’ll help,” the monkey chattered. “We always help our friends,” the fox agreed. “We’ll fetch some food for you,” the rabbit added, and without a moment’s hesitation, the three ran off, each one in search of food to offer the poor beggar.

The Old Man sat down and leaned against a tree. Looking up into his sky, he smiled. “These are good animals,” he said to himself, “and I am curious to see who is most generous.”

Before long the monkey returned, carrying an armload of fruit. “Here you are,” the monkey said. “The bananas and berries are delicious. And take these oranges too, and these pears. I hope you will enjoy my gift,” and he lay his fruit before the beggar.

“Thank you, my friend. You are kind,” the beggar said, and before he had finished speaking, the fox raced into the clearing. He carried a fat, fresh fish between his teeth, and this he laid before the beggar. Again he bowed. “My friend,” the fox said, “I offer you a fresh fish to ease your hunger. I hope this will satisfy you.” “You also are kind,” said the Old Man. “I never knew how kind the forest animals were.” “Of course we are kind,” the monkey said proudly. “And we are skilled at finding food,” the fox added. Now all three sat waiting for the rabbit to return.

Meanwhile, the rabbit dashed this way and that through the forest, but no matter how he tried, he could not find food for the beggar. At long last he returned to the clearing. “Friend,” the monkey cried, “you have returned!” “I have,” the rabbit said sadly, “but I must ask you to do me a favor, dear friends. Please, Brother Monkey, will you gather firewood for me? And Brother Fox, with this firewood will you build a big fire?”

The monkey and the fox ran off at once to do as their friend asked, and the beggar sat quietly by, watching in wonder. When the fire was blazing, the rabbit turned to the beggar. “I have nothing to offer you but myself,” he said. “I am going to jump into the fire, and when I am roasted, please feast upon me. I cannot bear to see you go hungry.” Rabbit bent his knees, preparing to jump into the fire. The beggar at once threw away his stick and cast off his cloak. He stood straight and tall and proud, and the animals, seeing this strange transformation, began to shake with fear.

“Don’t be afraid,” the Old Man said. “You see, Rabbit, I am more than a beggar, and I have seen that you are more than generous. Your kindness is beyond price, but you must understand, I wish you no harm. I do not want you to sacrifice yourself for my comfort. I will take you home with me, where I can watch over you and make sure you are never harmed.” The Old Man in the Moon lifted the rabbit into his arms and carried him up to the moon. The monkey and the fox watched in amazement, but they were grateful, for they wished their friend no harm.

If you look carefully at the moon when it is full and bright, you will see the rabbit living there in peace, resting in the Old Man’s arms, helping him to watch over us all.

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The Forest

Walking through the forest,
A beautiful sunny day,
Leaves crunching underfoot,
The sound of my breath,
This is peace, quiet, happiness!

Sitting on the stone,
Dappled sunlight rains down
From a clear blue sky.
The gentle pitter-patter
Of the fall’s final leaves
Dropping earthward.
The gentle rustle
Of a toad burrowing in for winter.
A chipmunk scurries,
Gathering a winter’s harvest.

OH! What a fool I’ve been…

Walking noisily,
The peace and beauty of the forest eludes us.
Only when sitting quietly does it reveal its secrets,
Only then do we see the forest with all our senses!

The mind is like this.
Strolling its forest of many tales,
Tranquility eludes us.
Dropping the fables, the wondrous appears.

-November 2, 2008
Hopkins Memorial Forest
The Crossroads, 1:45 pm

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Filling the Void

Many people I have spoken with refer to their lives being driven by a need to “fill the void” they feel within themselves. A person’s entire life can be consumed by trying to fill this void. Some seek pleasures to fill it, others pain. Some seek the love and companionship of others, some solitude and introspection. Some look to fill it with work, others with distraction. Some try to eradicate the void with reasoning, others by ignoring it. I would suggest that even spiritual pursuits seem to be driven by the desire to fill this “void.”

What is more interesting to me is why we feel the need to fill this void. What’s wrong with the void? In my experience whats wrong is that we fear the void. We see the void as a great abyss, a vacuity, a giant sucking black hole that is filled with uncertainty. We fear that if we do not fill it, it will consume us. Somehow we will cease to be who and what we think we are. This fear impels us to try to fill the void… to make it less vacuous and threatening. If we can fill the void, if we know what’s there (because we filled it), then there is nothing fearful or dreadful about it. We can then, and only then, embrace it and feel whole. This view represents the extremes of nihilism and materialism. There is the truly existent us and the great void waiting in the shadows to annihilate us.

This is where the fundamental ignorance that causes our suffering has us trapped. It tells us that the void is the opposite of us. We are genuine, real, and creative. The void is vacuous, dark, and destructive. We divide ourselves from the void, defining it as separate from our nature. But recall that most people describe the void as something they feel within themselves. Somehow we have an intuitive sense that the void isn’t really separate from us at all. It’s part of us. The enemy lies within! In my experience this impels us to fill the void with even greater fervor.

So, what to do about the void, about the enemy within? To begin with, we can stop seeing the void as vacuous and destructive. Empty space can be viewed as having two aspects: it can be seen as vacuous and consuming, or it can be seen as having infinite potential for creation. The void need not represent annihilation. Within that void lies the potential for infinite possibility. It can become anything, do anything, manifest as anything; less like a black hole, more like a quasar.

So what is it that determines how the void manifests for us? It is, of course, how we choose to perceive it. If we see the void within us as an all consuming pit of darkness and annihilation, then we live our lives in fear and loathing; aways fighting against it and thus against ourselves. However, if we choose to see the void as a sea of infinite potential, then fear turns into hope, and loathing into joy.

Embrace the void. Choose to live a life of joy and wonder. After all, the void is nothing more (or less) than your essence. We all spring from that void, and will return to it. All that remains is to decide how we spend the time in between.

~Many thanks to the Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and my friends Lauren and Becca for inspiring these ramblings. May they be of benefit to someone out there.

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Virginia Tech, Public Stonings, Compassion, and Equanimity

On April 16th 33 people were killed in the shootings at Virginia Tech. Just last week the story of a 17 year old girl stoned to death in Iraq for chosing to date a boy of the wrong religious sect appeared on CNN. These Recent episodes of violence and death provoked intense feelings in many people, often feelings of compassion for the victims.

I can not help but observe the lack of equanimity that these events seem to present in most people. While I agree that these violent deaths were horrible, why do these events draw such great compassion out of us while other events do not? Why is it that walking past a suffering homeless person on the streets of Washington DC, or knowing that hundreds of people in Iraq, Africa, India, and China die horrible deaths each day, doesn’t bring out the same deep sense of compassion in most people. How is it that some suffering is objectionable to us while other suffering leaves us nonplussed?

It seems to me that true, absolute compassion should be non-referential, an amalgam of compassion and equanimity. The depth of our compassion should be equal for all those who suffer, no matter how great or miniscule their suffering may appear to us. No matter what our relationship or prejudices about the one who is suffering.

I feel compassion just as deeply for the Virginia Tech shooter and the men who stoned the 17 year old Iraqi girl as I do for their victims. Some might find this insensitive, but I feel it to be just the opposite. How much pain does someone have to be in for them to kill 32 people and then shoot themselves in the head? How misguided and tortured does a mind have to be to think that it is appropriate to brutally murder someone because their boyfriend is the wrong religion?

The world is filled with suffering of all kinds and intensities. It is only through compassion for all those who suffer, totally equitable non-referential compassion, that we can put an end to violence. Thoughts of revenge, who is right and who is wrong, all these thoughts just sustain the unending cycle of suffering that is samsara.

May all beings benefit!

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Welcome to my blog.
Here I will post thoughts on current events from the perspective of a practicing Buddhist, and my reflections on Buddhist practice from the perspective of a western practioner.

I hope you find my musings to be thought provoking. I would like to share a quote that expresses the nature of this blog:

“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.”
-Alan Alda

May all beings benefit!

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