In the past, there was a prodigy; he believed he was brilliant and very knowledgeable. One day, he heard that there was a wise Zen Master who lived on Nanshan Mountain, so he decided to go to the Zen Master, to see what wisdom he had, and to know whether the master was more intelligent than him.
On the way, the prodigy was thinking of what question he should ask. At that moment, he saw a cow with a rope around its neck, with the other end of the rope tied to a nearby tree. The cow was anxious to get relief, so it circled the tree, wrapping the rope tighter and tighter around the tree, until its nose almost touched the tree, unable to go any further. So, the cow started to walk back, and as the rope gradually unwound, it loosened again. But it kept turning, so the rope was then wrapped around the tree in the other direction. It continued to turn around the tree, loosening and tightening the rope, again and again, unable to ever feel free of it. The prodigy saw this and thought that this would be a good riddle to give to the master.
The prodigy met with the Zen Master, and asked, “A cow circles a tree over and over again, clockwise then counterclockwise, and then repeats it. Why does it do this?”
The Master replied, “It is because the rope is not broken.”
The prodigy was shocked and asked the master how he knew that the cow had been tied to the tree when he had never mentioned it.
The Zen Master smiled and said, “I do not know, but anything that circles an object must be tied down by a “rope,” like fame or fortune. The consequence of being tied down like this is inevitable; it applies to both man and cattle. The obsession causes the binding; the deeper the obsession, the stronger one pulls, and longer one continues to circle. If this trend continues, a cow will become a mad cow, and a man will become a mad man.”
The prodigy quickly asked the master for a solution. He replied, “Quiet down your heart, do good things, and make yourself pure and spotless. Moreover, when you enter a state of absolute nothingness, you will be able to let go. Nothing can bind you; you will gain total freedom as a result.” The prodigy then finally realized that the Zen Master was truly a wise man.
He asked about the riddle and how the Zen Master had answered, and he said, “All answers are correct if you think about it the right way. Enlightenment does not depend on what you see, but on the essence of the lesson it teaches you.”
A sage man can elevate his energy and spirit through understanding the nature, or the essence, of the phenomenon.
Look, it cannot be seen – it is beyond form.
Listen, it cannot be heard – it is beyond sound.
Grasp, it cannot be held – it is intangible.
These three are indefinable;
Therefore they are joined in one.
From above it is not bright;
From below it is not dark:
An unbroken thread beyond description.
It returns to nothingness.
The form of the formless,
The image of the imageless,
It is called indefinable and beyond imagination.
Stand before it and there is no beginning.
Follow it and there is no end.
Stay with the ancient Tao,
Move with the present.
Knowing the ancient beginning is the essence of Tao.
(Translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English.)
This is my true story, on how I experienced the Dao through the Voice I heard.
“On days when everything seems like it’s over, remember my voice…remember my voice…remember my voice.” And just like that, I remembered. My mind took me back to an extraordinary occurrence that took place in my life many years ago. It was from an unforgettable instance that forever changed the course of my life. It was the first and most precious conversation I ever had with “the Voice.”
After the passing of my beloved husband, I left the field of science and went into the insurance industry. I thought it would be a change for the better, but right from the get-go, this new career did not seem to fit me. I decided to take a break for a year to give myself some time to figure out what I should do next with my life. So, in the summer of 1999, I traveled to Houston for a week. I figured a change in my surroundings would help quiet my mind and provide me with some much-needed direction. When I returned home, my neighbors delivered the horrible news to me that they had lost their daughter in a car accident. I was so taken aback by it all that all I could do was cry with them.
That night at about half past two in the morning, I suddenly woke up. I sensed I was not alone in my bedroom, yet I wasn’t scared. Instead, this otherworldly presence felt very peaceful. For some reason, and without hesitation, I immediately picked up my pen and journal and began writing all that was transpiring.
“Who are you? Are you the Lord?” I heard myself asking.
“Yes,” He answered. And this was the beginning of my very first conversation with The Voice. I had heard The Voice before, but never had the awareness nor the courage to try to engage it in conversation before. Our discussion did not unfold in the traditional vocal and auditory sense, but almost telepathically. I did not hear an actual voice with my ears, but with my head and my heart. I did not respond with my voice, but with my head and my heart.
“Where are you?” I asked. It was dark in the room, and I could not see anything, so I asked again.
“In your heart,” The Voice responded.
“Where?” I asked again, a bit confused by the previous answer.
“In your heart.”
“In my heart,” I tried to confirm his answer.
“Whenever you seek me, I am always here.”
What came next surprised even me: “Why did you take my husband?” I asked.
Shocked by my question, I realized I had not let go of my deceased husband, even after all these years.
“You would not understand now, but I will replace him with myself.”
He was right. I didn’t understand. The conversation went on like this for a while until I abruptly asked again: “Why did you take my husband away from me?”
“As I said, you will not understand, but my love is boundless. “
There was something in The Voice that provided me with the most reassuring feeling and knowing that He is not just by my side, but in my heart as well. Wherever I am, He is always with me.
The voiceless, imageless, and formless surpass the world of the voice, the image, and the form. Our eyes will not be able to see, nor can our ears be able to hear, because it goes beyond the physical presence. It seemed to be nonexistent and yet it is there. We can only use our hearts to listen to it and use our hearts to see the invisible.
Now, I know it is the “Dao.”
My daughter was out with her family on a ski trip, so I was trying to help her out. Whenever she needed something or needed me to do anything, I would just put down everything and do it for her. Then she texted me and said, “You are the best, mom, you give me unconditional love.” As I was sitting there looking at the words, I suddenly burst into tears. I started to question, where is my unconditional love?
Where is it? Because my parents are no longer with me – they passed away many years ago. And I guessed that I did not get unconditional love anymore. For me, unconditional love was from parents to children. It was a one-way street. I understood that, but that was what made me even sadder.
I sat there and started to talk to myself, “Who can help me find this unconditional love? Help me find it and receive it. Please, please, please. I always wanted to give unconditional love, but I hardly receive it. I beg you; please let me have it. Please let me receive it.”
I started to immerse myself into this understanding of “unconditional love.” The person who gives this unconditional love must be in a higher position, in the spiritual sense. They must be selfless and able to sacrifice. They must be able to give without any thought of getting back anything.
It is so hard to find people who can give someone unconditional love, to find someone who has the character of divinity to be able to do all of this.
I shook my head, thinking, “Oh well, this is not possible. I don’t think I will ever receive unconditional love anymore.” Exhausted and tired, I started to fall asleep.
While I was sleeping, I heard a voice:
“You do have unconditional love.
The sun shines forth light, and so does the moon. They give light to the world freely, unconditionally.
Look at the Earth; trees grow on it, producing flowers. The fruit trees bear fruit and never ask for anything in return.
Look at the river, the ocean, and the beach. They supply you with water and enjoyment. Do they ever ask for anything in return? They do not.
Look at God: how He sacrificed His son. He did not ask for anything in return.
You don’t need to look at human beings for unconditional love; you need to look at your surroundings, as unconditional love is everywhere.”
Unconditional love is not just limited to interaction between humans. It is unlimited and unrestricted. It is applied to the whole universe.
Now I understand why I am moved to bow my head to the heaven and earth, the to the sun and moon before I pray every time. Indeed we need to be grateful for their supplying what we need unconditionally.
“Favour and disgrace cause one dismay,
What we value and what we fear is as if within the self.”
What is meant by speaking thus of favor and disgrace?
Disgrace is being in a low position (after the enjoyment of favor).
The getting (of a favor) leads to the apprehension of losing it, and the loss of it leads to the fear of still greater calamity.
This is what is meant by saying that favor and disgrace cause one dismay.
What does it mean to say that
What we value and what we fear are within the self?
We have fear because we have a self.
When we do not regard that self as the self,
What have we to fear?
Therefore, he who values the self as he does his self –
May then be entrusted with the government of the world;
And he who loves the world as his self –
To his care may the world then be entrusted.
I have a hard time with this chapter. Somehow the words here strangely would not enter my brain. I read it and put it down to think about it repeatedly. I did not know why I had to struggle with it. I told myself that I had to finish this every day for three weeks, but the question is how and when.
Unexpectedly, I woke up at 3 am this morning. I forced myself to go back to sleep but failed. After half an hour, I decided to get up, and again I picked up this chapter and tried to read it, and gradually I grasped its meaning.
Yes, favor and disgrace cause one dismay, and moreover, it can cause our fear and anxiety. Is the fear within ourselves? Definitely. Let me explain it with my own experience.
For the last two weeks, I have auditioned for three commercials. Surprisingly, all three put me on avail. ‘Avail’ is shorthand for ‘keep yourself available.’ Practically speaking, they mean that the production is making sure you’re still available for the dates of the shoot. They are also asking to be notified if your availability changes – because you’re at least one of the people considered for the role.
I was overjoyed that I had three in a row within a week, and felt like that I was on top of the world. This had never happened since I became an actor. “Good job,” I kept telling my self, and I had my head up with a big smile face for several days. I felt great not just mentally, but I also felt light physically. It was a happy week as I went through it thinking I got not just one, not just two, but three big avails. But as days passed, I started to get nervous and kept checking the calendar.
I wondered why nobody called me for a wardrobe fitting, as there is always wardrobe fitting right before the shooting. When the days began to pass by, I knew then I did not book the commercials – not just one, not just two, but three. Ouch! It hurts, like the feeling of falling off a cliff.
Well, I put my head down and faced the harsh reality that I had been so close, but I did not get them. Sad, unhappy feelings encircled my mind and my body. The directors probably never imagined what a terrible ride that they give to the hopeful and wishful actors that had the same experiences as me. It is not a fun ride, and I would not like to be in their director’s position, that is for sure.
But as I was sitting here writing early in the morning, I got my smile back before the sun rose. It is not a total loss after all; you see, I realized somehow that this experience helped me to understand this chapter and write about it. What a blessing in disguise, don’t you agree? Moreover, it stopped my three-week struggle to understand this section; it turned my disappointment of not booking into a miracle.
The reason that I was overjoyed and then distressed was because of “self.” The more I focus on it, the more “fear” comes to me, and it starts to affect me. Only when I understand that there are two sides of the coin and that they coexist in our life is when I can be rid of the “self ” to become selfless. Thus, I gain freedom because it no longer controls me.
From other perspectives, if we treasure the world as part of us, then we can be entrusted with the government of the world; similarly, if we love the world as our self, the world may then be entrusted to our care.
One early Sunday morning
I got up and tried to move my car
Because I came home late the night before
After visiting my grandson
Who had just been released from the hospital
After being hit by a car.
Usually, I would have moved the car
So my older son could go exercise
But on this particular day, I asked him
To pray with me before he went
Despite not knowing what’s on my mind
He usually agrees.
So we lit candles and bowed our heads
And we sat down
At the time, my heart was so heavy
The weight was more than my shoulders could carry.
A small thing like the water leaking on my property
And disagreements between the workers and the tenant
Was irrelevant when my mind was on my grandson.
He was just seven years old
And he loved go-kart racing
He seemed to find himself in it
To have control over something at his young age
And to be able to compete.
My mind went back to yesterday
When my daughter texted me
She asked me to pray for him
Because he was in the ER.
I didn’t know what was going on,
He was a healthy, smart boy
Why would he be in the ER?
The reception was so bad that I couldn’t get an answer
No text messages after that
But I needed to attend class that afternoon
And all I could do was pray
So I would be at peace during my class.
I trusted that everything was under God’s protection
A little bit of anxiety, but no tears.
All of a sudden, a sentence came to me:
“Where are you?”
He was asking me.
What do you mean, where are you?
I thought that was my question to Him.
Many times we ask only for things for ourselves
But if we do not find our prayers answered the way we want
We fail to see the blessings that come down
And we do not get the blessings we think we are asking for
Then we will always ask God, “Where are you?”
But this time he asked me.
Why would He ask me “Where are you?”
I realized why he asked me this question
If it wasn’t for the worry I had for my grandson,
I would be without peace
I felt the urgency to talk and pray for him
If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here, and my son wouldn’t be here.
I may spend ten minutes in prayer
And my son will go as usual to work out
And after, we will take our time to eat
And go to work
After work, I will go dancing or watch TV
Or have dinner with friends
Where am I?
And He asked me again, “Where are you?”
I could only say I was nowhere to be found
So busy being busy
For so long, I did not spend the time to connect with God
Or to quiet myself down to search for truth
Yesterday, with all these things going on while I was in class
The teacher’s assistant noticed and told me before I left
“Imagine you have a cup of muddy water,
Take your time to let it clear by itself.”
I understood exactly what she meant.
If we try to clear a cup of muddy water ourselves,
It will never become clear
The dirt will never settle.
Only then we understand all it needs to clear is to wait
It is time for us to be quiet
And for us to connect with God
Only then will we find peace within ourselves.
After the prayer, I waited
To call my daughter to check on my grandson
He was doing alright
And I knew it was all because He is there.
When he needed protection the most.
He is there to guide him.
And He never fails to be where we need Him to be.
As Thanksgiving Day is approaching, I hope I can be in the right place.
So I can find the time
And the means
To feed the hungry
To give water to the thirsty
To visit the sick
And continuously be where He wants me to be.
The poem was written on November 12, 2017.