Broken Cup & Broken Glass
- TheDailyEnlightenment.comWeekly 03/06/05
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Realisation: Zen Master Ikkyu's Broken Cup Meets Ajahn Chah's Broken Glass
Can you fix what will eventually break?-Shen Shi'anI'm sure you'd heard this famous story before... Once, the young monk Ikkyu accidentally broke his master's favourite cup. Just before his master's return, he managed to sweep the pieces aside, blocking them with his body. Upon his entrance, he asked, "Master, why must people die?" His master replied, "It's totally natural - everything in this world experiences life and death." "So it isn't something to be upset with?" "Definitely not!" Ikkyu then swifly stepped aside, revealing the shards on the floor, "Master, your cup just met its inevitable death!" Here's a probable extension to the story... The master almost flared up in anger, before realising the reality of what he uttered just a while ago. With that, Ikkyu, who grew up to be a great Zen Master, left unpunished!
Some reflections on this amusing anecdote... While the disciple was using his wit and wisdom, we shouldn't use the Dharma in a roundabout way to excuse our mistakes, but to recognise and eradicate them instead. From the master, we are reminded of how easy it is to forget to practise what we preach, especially in the most unprepared yet crucial moments. When the master saw the broken cup, he probably lost sight of the truth of impermanence momentarily. In the very instant we look at another's faults, we are not looking at ours. This is especially true in moments of anger. On the other hand, when the disciple saw his master's "mistake" of allowing him to get away with breaking the cup, he probably lost sight of his own mistake! This itself is a mistake!
Uncannily related to the above, Ajahn Chah once gave an interesting analogy on impermanence... "How can you find right understanding? I can answer you simply by using this glass of water I am holding. It appears to us as clean and useful, something to drink from and keep for a long time. Right understanding is to see this as broken glass, as if it has already been shattered. Sooner or later, it will be shattered. If you keep this understanding while you are using it - that all it is is a combination of elements which come together in this form and then break apart - then no matter what happens to the glass, you will have no problem. The body is like the glass. It is also going to break apart and die. You have to understand that. Yet when you do, it doesn't mean you should go and kill yourself, just as you shouldn't take the glass and break it or throw it away. The glass is something to use until it falls apart in its own natural way. In the same way, the body is a vehicle to use until goes its own way. Your task is to see what the natural way of things is. This understanding can make you free in all the changing circumstances of the entire world." As Stonepeace said, "Since everything only comes to go, all we can do is to treasure everything without attachment - from moment to moment."
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