Sunday, January 25, 2009

Taste of the Strawberry.

Here is another one of my favorite Zen stories. I could not appreciate it when, I first read it in a book a few years back. Today, i can make some meaning out of it...

One day while walking across a field a man encountered a vicious tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him.

Only the vine sustained him. Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he picked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted.

The characteristic of traditional Zen stories is that, there is nothing in them that cannot be literally understood. The language, the depiction and, the characters are extremely plain and simple. Unlike in other stories, there is no surge of emotion and the protagonist generally keeps calm or in some cases he/she even stays mute. In fact, this is what differentiates a Zen story from a normal one. In a Zen story there is no obvious highlight, one has to search for the highlight on one's own. The stories are open to arbitrary interpretation although, the writer writes it with a definite and purposeful interpretation/morale in mind.The substance in the stories remains very much relevant today, even after thousands of years have passed since their writing.

Here is my interpretation of the story -
IMO, this story comes near the common saying 'Live every day as if, its your last day on earth'. That is to say that - enjoy the present, the now. By 'enjoy' I don't mean to say 'get enjoyment from' or 'seek pleasure/fun'. 'Enjoy' in this context means, realize fully; experience without prejudice; become aware of. The story says don't think too much about the past (the vicious tiger) and, don't care too much about the future (the other tiger below). Even when caught in a bad situation, don't get drowned in worry, enjoy every little aspect(the strawberry) of life as you would have otherwise done.Of course, the interpretation is highly subjective and should not be taken to the extreme. If somebody stops paying his insurance premium because 'one should not care too much about the future' then, Lord save him and his dear ones.
The interpretation problem arises because of the limitation of words. Masters say that Zen can never be understood by words alone. Words are there just to help.
Interpreted in another way, the story means - be indifferent to change. No matter what comes, stay natural. Niether too calm, nor very excited. Just be.
Easier said than done...

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