favourite parables

some friends of ascent talk about their favourite parables

a buddhist reflection on the parable of the seed growing by itself; gospel of Mark 4: 30-32

Jesus also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest is come.”

Some years ago, one of my teachers asked a group of students at a workshop to choose a title for an imagined book about his or her life up to this moment. It was a little warm-up exercise, and my title came easily: From Bewilderment to Wonder. Both words convey a sense of not knowing; the former sense comes from confusion, while the latter comes from a sense of presence, interest and mystery.

When I first began Buddhist practice, I had ideas about what I would accomplish. I wanted to become a different person: more alert, less confused; kinder, less self-centered; more confident, less insecure… In fact, I figured that after some intensive meditation practice I wouldn’t recognize myself, I’d be so improved! It is not at all unusual for people who begin practice to have this desire to create a new and better self. While it’s not off the mark to aspire to become more skillful in our ways of being; the misunderstanding is to think that there is a self in control of our lives’ unfolding. It’s the notion of being a self in control that is actually the source of confusion and suffering. This idea of needing to make ourselves into a better person can sap our enthusiasm and energy for practice; if we need to become someone else, does that mean who we are will be annihilated? Who wants that?

The seed has its own intelligence, and in the embrace of the moist earth, warmed by the sun’s fire, growth happens. In this way, as we hear, understand and practice the wisdom, ethics and meditation practices of the Dharma, suffering is released and the presence of wisdom grows. Skillful qualities develop, not in order to become a more perfected self, but as the fruit of awareness and the abandoning of reactivity.

With the deepening of practice, my body has become my teacher. The body-mind has held habits that I identified as “me” and now it gives the opportunity to know and release those patterns of suffering. The releasing of delusion and suffering happens in its own time, in its own rhythm, in ways mysterious and unpredictable. The “harvest” happens in “no time” to “no body” – the Kingdom of Heaven is already here and now.

Daryl Lynn Ross has been a chaplain at Concordia University Multi-faith Chaplaincy in Montreal since 1986. With other Dharma teachers and yogis she is founding True North Insight Meditation Centre, a rural retreat centre to be located near Kingston, ON. www.truenorthinsight.org

thinking outside the black box

A political prisoner once described his cell to me. It had no windows. No bed. No toilet. No light.

He lived for six months, naked, in a black box with the key hole as the only ventilation.

He told me that he survived by utilizing his imagination—his ability to dream and think out of the box. He said he started by thinking out beyond his anger, his outrage, and fear. He began to think about the nature of the human psyche, which he saw as a complex network of conditioned imprints. He began to think about the nature of those ‘imprints’ and as he did, he reflected on the role of propaganda, mind control, and indoctrination.

The prisoner began to think about how nothing stands on its own—how everything is interdependent, arising from conditions. He also thought about how mutually co-arising conditions are preceded by other conditions, and so on, ad infinitum. Life was, he concluded, a beginningless, immeasurable inheritance of interrelated conditions, where nothing stands alone or separate.

It was here—with a deeper, more nuanced appreciation for causality—that he felt forgiveness for his captors. They were, he reflected, tragic victims of a particular programming. They were simply puppets, indoctrinated in denigrating structures inherited from a primordial legacy.

This dharma joy, he said, allowed him to “dream more fully and with greater daring.” As a physicist he had some training in out of the box thinking. He began to think beyond this world, imaging the greater context—a universe without end. Further, he began to imagine other life forms and other dimensions in this universe. He told me that he became so joyful doing this—using his imagination to think outside of the box—that after awhile the joy turned to bliss.

“I know it sounds strange,” he said with a laugh. “I learned how to be happy, not through meditation or in day-to-day life, but from my ability to dream within the confinement of my black box.”

I ask myself, can I dream like this today?


Right now?

Alan Clements is a former Buddhist monk, human rights activist, author and theatrical monologist. He is the author of a number of books and films, including Instinct for Freedom: A Guide to Spiritual Revolution and the just released DVD of his live performance, Spiritually Incorrect: A Comedic Monologue Challenging Dogma, Indoctrination and the Politics of War. www.WorldDharma.com

Parable of the Monkey

What I find striking about parables is the juxtaposition of something seemingly direct and succinct in relation to its moral or didactic subtext. Parables are slippery, I find. Solutions are seemingly within grasp but just out of reach, or perhaps we are both grasping and reaching at the same time.

I wrote this "parable" as an irreverent homage to the kind of parables, religious tales, etc., that I enjoy and have influenced my writing. In the second half of this piece I ape a well known Zen Buddhist story about two monks who happen upon a young woman attempting to cross a river. In my version, the river is replaced with a freeway and the young woman is replaced with a car. This is more moralistic and more transparent, and as a result is also less successful as a parable.

The piece as a whole is heavily influenced by the work of R.H. Blyth. His commentaries on various texts (Buddhist sutras, Zen koans, Haiku, etc.) typically do not explicate, as much as present an opportunity to respond in kind with something just as slippery, succinct and poetic.

The Parable:

Mary and Joe were coming home from the Galaxy-Glow Bowlerama when they noticed a monkey seated atop a mailbox.

"That reminds me of a story," Joe said.

After a few steps, Mary asked, "What is it?"

"Well I've heard that the Inuit used to hunt postal monkeys by dipping a peanut into honey and then placing that peanut into a hollow coconut with a small hole in it…."


"Well this hole is small enough for a little monkey friend to stick its hand in but upon grabbing that nut, like a fist, it can no longer withdraw its little fist, and the hunter simply throws a net over the little fellow because it refuses to let go of that nut."

They walked in silence. Then Mary asked, "Is that a parable or an actual fact?"


"Is the monkey's refusal to let go of the honey-dipped nut and achieve freedom some sort of analogy about detachment and the true nature of freedom?"

"Well… can't it be both?"

A little later they found themselves at a busy, six-lane freeway, unsure about how to cross it. Then one of them got an idea and they built a car with the squirrels, cats, skunks, birds, raccoons, people, groundhogs, dogs, foxes and monkeys scattered along the gravel shoulder.

Once they had entered the traffic flow and then got off -- having, in effect, crossed the freeway -- Joe was so grateful to the car that he hoisted it up and began to carry it on his back.

"Are you planning on carrying that all the way home?" Mary asked.

Joe nodded, unable to speak.

As they were about to cross the street to their apartment, Joe paused and said, "Didn't we drive to the bowling alley?"

Mary thought about it.

"I did," Joe answered himself.

They turned around and began the walk back to their car.

Paul Hong is a Toronto based writer and graduate student. A collection of short fiction entitled Your Love is Murder or The Case of the Mangled Pie has just been published by Tightrope Books.

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