Monday, July 21, 2014

Everything Is An Illusion

~ The Rope and the Snake Zen Parable ~

There is an old Buddhist parable that tells of a man walking home one evening. In the half-light he sees on the path a snake apparently crossing in front of him. He starts and jerks himself away, heart beating fast, wide-eyed and alert. Peering closely he suddenly realizes that he was mistaken, in fact it is an old piece of rope! Relieved and laughing to himself at his foolishness he goes to step over it and glancing down suddenly realizes the rope is a string of jewels. He gasps in awe!

A simple story and we nod and ‘get the point’. But do we realize how often each day opportunities arise for such mistaken identities?

The playwright Alan Bennett tells the story of a holiday at a hotel in Harrogate with his mother. They were taking tea, one afternoon, when a smartly dressed middle-aged woman entered the room with a younger man in tow. Alan’s mother turned to her son and said, “She’s here with her boyfriend, I see!” The next day, while taking tea again, the woman enters alone. Alan’s mother says “I see they’ve had a row then!”

It’s not just that I continually commentate and interpret what goes on around me, but that this ‘story’ - of thoughts and feelings I weave filters my perception of what is real. If I think you are a great person then I see you as one. If I feel the world is a hostile place then I see other people out to get me everywhere I go. Once I think something, it is as if it becomes real and I cannot distinguish between what the situation is and what I think and feel about it.

Walking home at twilight in India it would not be unrealistic to see a cobra slithering across the path. An expectation, a flutter of fear, the half-light, an ambiguous object across the path, imagination can supply the rest. It might be worth remembering that next time you meet with someone you have a bad feeling about and they seem to be antagonizing you.

Story as told by the Venerable Sochu

Story source here
Image source here