The Frog In The Well

FrogA frog lived in a shallow well. It said to a turtle that was passing by, “I am so happy! When I go out, I jump about on the railing beside the mouth of the well. When I come home, I rest in the holes on the broken wall of the well. If I jump into the water, it comes up to my armpits and holds up my cheeks. If I walk in the mud, it covers up my feet. I look around at the wriggly worms, crabs and tadpoles, and none of them can compare with me. Moreover, I am lord of this trough of water and I stand up tall in this shallow well. My happiness is full. My dear sir, why don’t you come often and look around my place?”

Before the turtle from the East Sea could get its left foot in the well, its right knee got stuck. It hesitated and retreated. The turtle told the frog about the East Sea.

“Even a distance of a thousand li cannot give you an idea of the sea’s width; even a height of a thousand ren cannot give you an idea of its depth. In the time of King Yu, there were floods nine years out of ten, but the waters in the sea did not increase. ln the time of King Tang there were droughts seven years out of eight, but the waters in the sea did not decrease. The sea does not change along with the passage of time and its level does not rise or fall according to the amount of rain that falls. The greatest happiness is to live in the East Sea.”

After listening to these words, the frog of the shallow well was shocked into realization of his own insignificance and felt humbled.

Are we like the frog in the well? We spend our lives using a fraction of the consciousness available to us. Little do we realize that our conscious experience can be vastly enlarged. Through this expanded consciousness we can realize that the universe that we now think as vast and magnificent is just the tip of the iceberg. Why wallow in a shallow well when the vastness of the ocean beckons?

“The frog in the well” is an ancient Chinese fable. You can find this and other such fables here.

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The Dance Of A Thousand Hands

The problem with enlightened beings is that they lose all interest in the world. They see the world as a divine play and the cries of mortals as the cries of unwitting participants in this play. However from time to time there arise enlightened beings that are sympathetic to the pleas of mere mortals like us. The idea of Avalokitesvara refers to this. This is a form of Buddha who is not detached and indifferent but who is willing to listen to our pleas and intervene in our affairs. When the Chinese monk Faxian traveled to India around 400 CE, he provided an account of Avalokitesvara statues being venerated by devotees from all walks of life. The idea of a thousand-armed Avalokitesvara speaks to the theme of a Buddha who literally sprouts a thousand arms in his desire to help the multitude of his devotees.

The dance of the thousand hands is performed by “The China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe”. When it was established in 1987 the troupe was an amateur performance troupe with members recruited from around the country. However in 2002 the troupe staged its first commercial performance.

The dance of thousand hands brought to prominence Tai Lihua who is featured prominently in the dance. All the dancers in this dance, along with Tai, are hearing impaired. Tai lost her hearing at a very young age when she was treated with streptomycin injection for high fever and developed a reaction to it. She soon entered a primary school for deaf and mute children. One day she found herself in a class in which the teacher asked them to feel the vibration of a drum. “I was thrilled with joy when the rhythmic vibration passed over my body from under my feet,” Tai recalled. Tai became obsessed with dance from them on.

Tai and her dance members, 11 girls and 9 boys, cannot hear the music, but their four instructors, who can hear and speak, signal the rhythm of the music from four corners of the room. With diligent practice their performance is nearly flawless.

Tai said when she is too old to dance she hopes to teach other disabled people to enjoy this art form.

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The Parable Of The Ant And The Sugar Hill

AntOnce an ant discovered a hill made of sugar. It soon scurried to the top of the hill and ate some sugar. One grain filled its stomach. Taking another grain on its back it started homeward. On its way down it thought, “Next time I shall carry home the whole hill.”

Are we like the ant? Do we think we can grasp the entire nature of reality using thought and language? It is true that we can make a small representation of reality in our mind using thoughts and language, but are we so foolish to think that we can carry the entire hill of reality using thought and language?

Isaac Newton was one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. His work and discoveries were so powerful that at one time scientists despaired that nothing else would be left to discover! Yet Newton himself was not so impressed. Here is what he said, “I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

The greatest amongst scientists and philosophers have always insisted that our brain is capable of only processing a small slice of reality. Consequently we are able to have thoughts and language pertaining to only this small slice. To think that we can logically think and understand reality is much like the ant thinking “I will carry the whole hill on my back next time!”

Many thousands of years ago a man in ancient India had two sons. He sent them to a preceptor to learn the knowledge of Brahman. After a few years they returned from their preceptor’s house and bowed low before their father. Wanting to measure the depth of their knowledge of Brahman, he first questioned the older of the two boys. “My child,’” he said, “You have studied all the scriptures. Now tell me, what is the nature of Brahman?” The boy began to explain Brahman by reciting various texts from different scriptures. The father did not say anything. Then he asked the younger son the same question. But the boy remained silent and stood with eyes cast down. No word escaped his lips. The father was pleased and said to him, “My child, you have understood a little of Brahman. That it cannot be expressed in words.”

Our brains have evolved not for the purpose of understanding reality or comprehending the true nature of things. Our brains have evolved to allow us to survive in a highly competitive environment where only the fittest survive. This means that our brains are very specialized instruments geared towards a very specific task. While it is true that our brain has a wider grasp of reality than most other living creatures on earth, yet this still does not allow us to escape from the very severe limitation of the nature of our brain.

Too many of us seem to blissfully pass through life with a simple assumption that the reality being projected inside our heads is the complete description of what is out there. This assumption causes many of us to lead our lives in a way we would not have chosen to if we knew better. Sometimes this can lead to undesirable results. After all we must be cognizant of Marke Twain’s words, “It aint’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just aint’s so.”

The parable of ant and the story of the man and his two sons have been taken from the “Gospel Of Sri Ramkrishna“.

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How To Catch A Monkey

MonkeyA popular parable talks about how in ancient times people used to catch monkeys. The trick was not to catch the monkeys by chasing them but by allowing the monkeys to catch themselves. What they did was to cut a small hole in a coconut, just large enough for a monkey to put its hand in. Next they would tie the coconut to a tree and fill it with nuts and sweet treats.

The monkey would smell the treat, squeeze its hands into the coconut and grab the treat. Unfortunately the hole was not large enough for the monkey to pull out with his fist clenched. Of course the monkey could easily release itself from the trap by letting go of the treat and pulling its hand out but it simply cannot bring itself to do so.

We may smile at the foolishness of the monkey and clearly see how its inability to let go leads to its downfall. But does this not apply to us too?

We hold on to things and ideas for too long and many times we are trapped, simply unable to let go. The universe is deep, loving, and joyful. Every day the universe invites us to its joyful dance but we find ourselves stuck in our very quaint notions of reality. While the joyful dance of deeper reality continues we miss the opportunity to participate by remaining in the traps of our own making.

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Was Steve Jobs A Yogi?

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

After just one semester in college Steve Jobs dropped out. He believed that the education he was getting was not worth spending his parents entire savings on. He continued to live on campus for another 18 months, sleeping on the floor in his friend’s room, and dropping in classes that took his fancy. He collected and sold coke bottles to get money and ate free meals served at the local Hare Krishna temple on Sundays. One class that he dropped into was to prove crucial for the future. This was a class on Calligraphy and gave him insight into typefaces and fonts.

He was profoundly impacted by the counter culture movement of the 60s and he saved up money to go to India. His objective was to gain spiritual insights and enlightenment. He sought to meet the Guru of Ramdass (Richard Alpert), Neem Karoli Baba. However the guru just passed away before they could meet. After some misadventures in the Himalayas and Tibet he returned back to the US.

Steve was disillusioned with the poverty he encountered in India and found it hard to reconcile this with the high spiritual ideals of the country. He had a burning desire to help the masses but he gained insight during his trip that the way out of poverty was not through socialism or spirituality but through technology and capitalism. He later said, “Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx or Neem Karoli Baba.” He agreed with Gandhi’s maxim that “Poverty was the worst kind of violence.” There is a saying in India that goes, “You cannot sing the praises of the Lord on an empty stomach.” And without the love of the Lord in one’s heart, humans cause immense damage to one another and the environment. There is no nobleness in poverty: only heartbreak, humiliation, and misery.

Steve Jobs now understood that the best way for him to transform society and help the masses was by creating value. He would turn into an entrepreneur and a businessman. But his deep and inner motivation was always a deeper love for humanity and a desire to help. This is the essence of Karma Yoga. To understand Apple and Steve Jobs you have to understand that this was not about technology, or simplicity, or design, or beauty. It is about access. In its very essence its driven by a desire to make technology accessible to the masses and this came from a deeper sense of love and a desire to transform society for the better. Like all of us Steve was a complex human being and like most yogic journeys Steve’s journey was neither linear nor simple. But his interest in an yogic life can be inferred from the fact that one of his most prized possession was the “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Yogananda that he read multiple times.

Through his efforts spanning 3 decades, Steve Jobs created millions of jobs and created immense wealth and prosperity that spread far and wide. The innovations that he and his company created, and other imitated, made technology accessible to Billions of people. This did more to empower and democratize society than what he or anybody else could have ever achieved through philanthropic activities. If this is not the result of a deeper yogic movement within then what is?

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Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah.

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