Irises « Vlastimil Marek

Irises

7.5.2011

While the zen (and spiritual) novices and experts of terra preta gathered under our yet naked walnut tree, the chatter goes on, the mood is wonderful, we eat, play ping-pong (table tennis) and in all this bliss some inspiring questions are being asked. More experienced novice throws in a koan every now and then, though the true meaning is somewhat shallower, or not entirely there. At the same time he would roll his eyes at some naïve questions from the novices. And so I’ve been asked to re-tell a story about a zen master who travelled 3 weeks to visit his friend (another zen master) who was known for having garden full of beautiful irises (which were a wonderful novelty at that time in Japan).

The master with iris garden invited his friend to come precisely at the specified day, which was when the irises would be in the peak of their bloom. The invited master has arranged his travels exactly so that he would arrive at the specified day. And he arrived on time, and both of them then went in the garden to admire the perfect beauty. The host opened a gate to his garden and proudly pointed out to the one and only iris left in the whole garden, as he has ripped out of the ground all the other ones the night before.

And that is all for the famous Zen story. The beginner/novice (nature and ecology loving person) didn’t understand – why has he ripped the other ones out? I mean, they agreed to meet up and he ripped them out to spite him? Or did he want to give it to him as a gift? Why? More experienced novice joined the barrage of questions (to get to the deeper level of his own understanding). So, I outlined the many different levels of the message and meaning of this story as well as the learning style adopted by zen masters (the same style Jesus used to teach his disciples) – through metaphors and understanding learned through similar stories, because just words themselves are often inaccurate and insufficient in description, as well as they are easily misunderstood and misused/abused (quite often the words are just not enough). Also Buddha at one of his teachings merely raised his hand holding a flower (and recognized that one of his monk disciples had understood his message, and he then was able to pass the deeply understood knowledge and wisdom further).

The mind of any person (whether nowadays or medieval) is always occupied with thousands of little or bigger problems, worries and memories, unresolved (and un- or mis- guided) emotions, we’re drowning in. From their time, Buddha and all zen masters (as well as enlightened yogis, tantric masters or shaman) teach one simple truth, that the world as we see it is just an illusion: we do not see and perceive the real world but only what the brain reflects back on our mind programmed by our life experiences (with 0.2 second delay) – that is why everyone of us sees/perceives things differently and subjectively, which reflects the different meanings for everyone filtered through their own emotions – not the true, real situations, merely our own translations of it. But what they also teach is that it is enough to be aware and discover this illusionary effect our brain/mind creates for us (done via practice, meditation or sensory deprivation technique) and break ourselves free from this illusionary matrix like reality. As it appears, the mind can be either short-circuited (by physical exertion like running marathon – the mind switches off as the person merely focuses on the physical side of himself, i.e. running, or through fasting, or drugs) or it will can be calmed and slowed down through (long practised) meditation so that both brain hemispheres can be interconnected in thinking process (and not just the usual left side). This by the way happens to us every time when we for instance understand a joke (a light bulb moment), or when we’re lost in the moment of sheer joy and happiness. But who only tries (to achieve enlightenment) merely by practicing it, or in other words, who wants to be looked after to be happy (and need to consume lots of things on his/her way) will never be truly happy. The happiness will come when he/she starts looking after others. Who wants everything ends up having nothing. These are some of the paradoxes of the Path to spirituality.

In other words, as much as we want and try to get more and more satisfying moments we end up never being completely satisfied (it’s like a drug, we keep increasing our consumption and need for more stimuli), and end up with never fully satisfied desires.  American (or Czech – for comparison) women are not happy with just two cardigans, ten blouses, three pairs of shoes and one coat… they want more (an average English woman owns 22 pieces of clothing she never actually wears), an average Czech woman doesn’t appreciate that she belongs to the 5% richest people in the world: that she has a roof over her head, warm place to stay in winter, aplenty of food, easily accessible drinking water (at the turn of the tap) and much more than that, she has kitchen full of appliances to help her, mobile phones, car, music and dvd players, she has a husband and children and lot of friends, gym classes or masseur) – but she wants more possessions of various kind, she never has and never will have enough. Yet, the point is not the quantity – as in example, when the communists found out the same when they were behind the theory of making and creating all products for stock instead of what people really needed.

We’re stuffed full and keep continue stuffing ourselves: with food, products, relationships, experiences and emotions. That is why the iris growing Zen master ripped out all but one of (then) very precious flowers – to help his friend appreciate the perfection of one single flower. One can not appreciate the smallest and perfect detail of a flower if one’s senses/perception is flooded with multitudes. The mind is ever hungry for more and more information and perceptions (see how easily desensitized we became after years of watching gory news and movies) and the brain is unable to process such vast amounts of details and information. In his autobiography Ladislav Zadrobilek said: Nowadays, people want to know before they apprehend. They want to know before they even attempt to guess. The school teaches the pupils to interpret things before they have a chance to understand the fundamental meanings of these things. Our education and our religion stand in our way to discover the true reality: we’re becoming the owners of the shadows, not the reality. We have too much information but no understanding (and wisdom).

The point is in the fact that today we are far more flooded with perceptions, emotions and experiences than in that long time ago when one zen master invited another to admire the beauty of irises.  We’re unable to really notice things, unable to really see them and thus the opportunity of enlightenment and wisdom from every moment and detail we see and perceive completely misses us. The wise say that the genius (read – enlightenment) is in the detail. An analogue comparison can be found in our relationships: women now want to own and consume manipulated by deception of advertising and generations after generations of inherited illusions about ever so young and perfect bodies, ever so perfect love, sex and husband. Once they’re fed up with their current husband, they change him for a “better” one, just like they would do with for instance with mobile phone. As I said above, they can never be truly happy acting like this. If they still had their true female instincts, they would be able to discover the true archetypal man in their own man (especially in the one they once fell in love with). And absolutely the same is valid for their male counterparts, however the nature gave men different attitude – every man who is in love with his woman sees her as his goddess (until that goddess doesn’t nag him to madness).

I also reminded the novices another Zen saying (in which a Zen master is explaining to the monk): Don’t try to resolve all your 84 thousand problems. Resolve just one. And by doing so, you will resolve the rest of the 83999 too. And this is the biggest problem of the beginners (novices) in all areas of human life: they are confused by the vast number of problems they need to find solution to; by the heights of imaginary mountains they have to walk across, that they often don’t even start (or will get put off soon after). All it ever takes is a one single step forward. Just one and then you know how to go about making another and another. In other words if he perseveres and does everything 100% he can reach his enlightenment goal: understanding that all (everything) is in reality just an illusion which his mind created and that he really can do something with his perception of reality: defragment his virus laden and polluted hard-disk (brain/mind) and instead of being flooded with thousands of thoughts and being drowned in them he’d be able to keep the level of his mind stable and focused on the one and only thing (he does at that moment) – like focus on the one single iris. No need for a whole garden of them, the numerous irises would merely distract from the point. And if the problem is resolved by focusing on the one detail instead of the quantity of problems, that one approach to solution can be applied in any and all situations). Our brain and body is constantly attacked by illnesses and diseases because our immune system is overwhelmed by the multitude of unresolved issues and emotions. If we and allow ourselves (and our immune system) to focus on one thing instead of many, it can work fully the way it should and protect us from the outside attacks of illnesses and diseases.

One single iris is more than the whole garden of irises. Just one thoroughly enjoyed detail creates the whole universes of perceptions and consequences for who really sees it and in its simplicity and singularity offers the recipe/a manual how to go (resolve) all of the others. The master who ripped out all irises except for one has shown the biggest act of teacher’s wisdom and human kindness: he helped his friend with a step forward to end of suffering.