Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dying In The Truth Shop

DHS 98/100

I was doing some planning today for the TransAm ride and comparing the ACA maps that i plan to follow with the guidebook i plan on taking with me. As is usual anytime i think of travel, my mind wandered to Shikoku from time to time during the planning. Maybe because spring is coming and many henro will start their way around the trail in another month and a half, but today's thoughts were again about Kūkai and his wanderings around the island.

Anthony de Mello, in his book The Song Of The Bird, has a story that points to the difference between Kūkai and the monks he was studying with at the university before quitting and going back to Shikoku in search of the truth.


I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the name of the shop: THE TRUTH SHOP.

The salesgirl was very polite: What type of truth did I wish to purchase, partial or whole? The whole truth, of course. No deceptions for me, no defences, no rationalizations. I wanted my truth plain and unadulterated. She waved me on to another side of the store.

The salesman there pointed to the price tag. "The price is very high, sir," he said. "What is it?" I asked, determined to get the whole truth, no matter what it cost. "Your security, sir," he answered.

I came away with a heavy heart. I still need the safety of my unquestioned beliefs.

A great many people claim to be in search of truth. A great many people claim to be doing everything required for the search. They want the whole truth — nothing less will do. So they leave home, go to a university, a teacher, or a monastery. The give up all their personal possessions, take vows of poverty and chastity, and cut their ties with everyone they knew in the outside world. And then they wait.... and study... and wait.... and study... and wait... and study... certain that by having given up so much the truth is certain to pay them a visit.

Yet, it isn't the knowledge gained by studying or the freedom from attachments to the outside world and it's pleasures that open the door to that truth. The path up to that door isn't found by following a teacher or the doctrines found in their books, no matter how well written. The path to that door is found on the inside and no matter what you give up on the outside, it isn't until you give up the security of your beliefs on the inside that the path can be seen.

We all know what reality is, there just aren't any questions about that. Reality is what we can see. What we can hear. What we can smell, taste, and touch. Reality is our perceptions. But it's that certainty that has to be given up, and i think that's what Kūkai accomplished as he worked his way along the paths and mountain trails on Shikoku. He left the university with a clean slate, an empty mind, nothing certain and all potential. Everything and anything was possible. He didn't go to Shikoku looking for a truth he thought he already understood, he went fully prepared to let truth come to him and make itself known. Mao, the son of the Saeki clan and student at the university training to be a government bureaucrat, was willing to die in order that Kūkai, the enlightened visionary, could be born.

And die he did. Kūkai spent his time on Shikoku forgetting everything he knew, forgetting everything he was, forgetting everything he wanted to be, forgetting everything he was supposed to do, and simply made himself available, like a book with blank pages, presenting himself to reality with only one plea — write what you will on these pages. Instead of telling reality what it was supposed to look like, what it was supposed to be, he opened himself to be shown whatever was to be shown.

Do we have any idea what reality is anyhow? Anthony de Mello has one more story that speaks to that as well.


A fisherman and his wife got a son after many years of marriage. The boy was his parents pride and Joy. Then, one day, he became seriously ill and, though a fortune was spent on medicines, he died.

The mother was broken-hearted. There wasn’t a tear in the father’s eyes. When his wife reproached him for his lack of sorrow, the fisherman said, "Let me tell you why I do not weep. Last night I dreamt I was a king and the father of eight sturdy boys. Then suddenly I woke up. Now I am greatly puzzled: Should I weep for those boys or for this one?"

Are we wiling to die in the Truth Shop? Which should we mourn? Chuang Tsu's butterfly? Or the man? Or ourselves for thinking there is a difference?

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