There was once a Zen priest by the name of Hakuin Ekaku, considered by many to be a man of great virtue, kindness, and wisdom. Having reached Satori or enlightenment, he understood the path of non-resistance through awareness.
“How bright and transparent the moonlight of wisdom.” — Hakuin Ekaku
As the Head priest at the Shoin-Ji Buddhist temple in Shizuoka during the 17th century, a predicament presented itself to him one day. A test of his true nature, which he embraced.
There was a beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near Hakuin. One day, without any warning, her parents discovered she was pregnant. Her parents were enraged for their daughter was unmarried. She would not confess who the man was. But her parents insisted that the father needs to be named. At last, she revealed who the father was. She said it was Hakuin.
In great anger, the parents went to the master to confront him on this terrible, terrible matter. Anguish and disappointment was directed at Hakuin.
“How could you do this to us? You have ruined us. You have ruined our daughter,” they yelled.
“Is that so?”
was all he would say.
After the child was born, it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation. He was no longer the esteemed priest of Shoin-Ji. This did not trouble him.
This also did not stop him from taking very good care of the child and treating it like his own. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else the child needed by alms (or traditional giving by others to the Temple).
A year later, the girl could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth: the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fish market! She was ashamed.
The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness. They apologized in deep shame and asked for the child to be returned.
Hakuin smiled and gave the child to the girl’s parents, saying: “Is that so? It’s good to hear this baby has their father.”
Identity creates suffering
I was in an argument once. Voices raised. Accusations flying in both directions.
I was at a wedding reception that was in full swing. The married couple was enjoying this life event. Yet I was secretly seething at my table. Ready to explode. My girlfriend was flirting with her ex-boyfriend, who sat near us.
I didn’t say anything at the time. But when we went to our hotel room, my rage transcended my self-control. I told her how I felt. How humiliated I felt. How let down I’d been that night.
Anger backward and forwards. Disappointment. Tears. At the end of it, I couldn’t remember why we had argued. I just remember a yearning to hurt her as much as she had hurt me. To inflict the same pain that I ‘felt.’
There was no resistance. No awareness. I existed, at that very moment, in the center of a fictional story — outrage.
My identity was too caught up in the role of an aggrieved and insecure boyfriend. Many years later, I came to accept the argument was just an excuse to re-affirm my identity. However, in doing so, I caused suffering to someone I was meant to love, regardless of her actions towards me.
Detachment from identity
Hakuin, through Satori, was a changed man. It had taken him decades to achieve enlightenment, but in the presence of this troubled family was his very own test of character and will.
He knew attachment to identity, which in his case was the role of a virtuous priest, was a prison cell.
When accused of being the father of a child, his natural instinctive reaction could have led him down the road of anger, resentment, outrage, and disgust. He may have even contemplated shouting at the family in retaliation.
“How dare you!”
“Have you no respect for a priest in this temple?!”
The thought of violence might have even crossed his mind.
But his awakening had taught him to value two things: Presence and Non-Resistance.
As Gandhi once said:
“I will never let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”
Hakuin stood as a gatekeeper for his inner tranquillity by accepting the present moment.
Applying mindfulness, he would not jeopardize his tranquility for an argument conceived out of someone else’s suffering. Instead of resisting, he went with the flow and accepted the present moment.
Unlike us mere mortals, Hakuin possessed intuition. He saw the situation for what it was: people lost in an identity and suffering for it.
“Is that so?” was Hakuin’s way of removing the potential that his ego would identify with this situation and make something that would cause harm to everyone, himself included.
Do You Create Your Own Suffering?
How many times have you found yourself confronted by another in a state of negative energy?
Conflicted in such pain that they cannot bear this suffering alone and project it onto you — with tirades of anger, resentment, and visible emotion?
You probably felt powerless. You may have even absorbed this energy and thought it overwhelms you like I experienced. But by doing so, you help no one and instead create more suffering in a world that so desperately needs less of it.
“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit, and more in the light of what they suffer.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The only response suffering ever deserves is loving-kindness.
The next time that you find someone arguing with you, take a deep breath and respond with: “Is that so.”Then you, like Hakuin, will discover the deep tranquillity of accepting the present.