Jeanne's Ah, so Life-Changing Experience
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The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life.
A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.
This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.
In great anger the parents went to the master and charged him.
“Ah, so?” was all he would say.
After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else the little one needed.
Two years later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth—that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fish market.
The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back again.
Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was, “Ah, so.”
Note: This parable is also known as: Is That So?
Reps, Paul. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection Of Zen And Pre-Zen Writings (p. 27). Pickle Partners Publishing. Kindle Edition.
I used to experience anger and frustration over perceived injustices (and I still do at times – change is not always easy). Things that I saw as unfair riled my “rebel” and stirred my emotions into action with undaunted determination to “fix” the inequity.
I do not believe that it is morally wrong to be outraged by injustice; however, I believe I was spiritually unaware or naïve about my options; the parable Ah, so showed me a much more loving, peaceful, spiritually-sound option to injustice: non-attachment.
“Non-attachment” is not the same as “detachment.” Let me repeat that: Non-attachment is not the same as detachment. In fact, spiritually, I would consider them complete opposites.
Detachment means deliberate separation, a desire to be apart from rather than a part of.
Non-attachment means love without demands; dedication without desire; caring without constraints; involvement without expectations; in other words, it means a positive interaction without strings that tie the relationship into knots.
Non-attachment teaches how to care and not care at the same time. It means caring about the process but not the results; it means caring deeply about the now and not the not-now; it means living without fear, living joyfully with what life brings without concern about the consequences.
In the parable Ah, so, the Zen Buddhist Master beautifully demonstrates non-attachment. He shows non-attachment to his reputation, to the need for truth, to the need for justice, and most importantly he shows non-attachment to the child, which is the essence of the lesson I learned.
My first reaction to this parable was outrage. The injustice of it all! His reputation is lost; people choose to believe a pregnant young girl over the evidence of the Zen Master’s “pure life”; he is given the responsibility of raising a child whom he did not father, and then….and then….and then, he is expected to just give the baby back regardless of any “attachment” he might have to the child. No! No! No!
A short while before I read this parable for the first time, I was studying the Workbook in A Course in Miracles. I came upon Lesson 23, “I can escape from the world I see be giving up attack thoughts.” To study this lesson and make it relevant to me personally, I made a list of the things I tended to attack at the time, and “injustice” topped the list.
[The rest of the list included at the time: stupidity, abuse, competition, resistance, self, and selfishness, in that order. I have since learned to relinquish my attacks on all but stupidity. I have no trouble with ignorance – lack of knowledge - but I still struggle with frustrations over stupidity, but I’m working on it!]
Lesson 23 taught me that I should relinquish attack, but it did not teach me how; that’s what reading Ah, so did; it showed me what non-attack looks like through the eyes of non-attachment.
Hakuin did not attack or fight the grandparents of the child when they came to him; he knew his words would mean nothing to the enraged grandparents who would believe their daughter under any circumstances.
He accepted without regret, or resistance, or retaliation, the circumstances the turbulent stream of life washed upon his shore. His non-attachment to the “meaning-less” slings and arrows of life, as he saw them to be, allowed him to move on in peace and joy to the “meaning-full” mission now facing him – caring for the child.
The part of the story in which I became most enraged was when the grandparents figured that their apology would be enough to heal the wounds of a damaged reputation. And then…and then…and then…expect that it was perfectly okay to just take the child away without regard to Hakuin’s probable “attachment” to the child, and the child’s attachment to Hakuin; I fumed over this story for days, until…
I realized that my outrage was not constructive. Had I been in Hakuin’s place, my rage would have caused me to attack, which would have only exacerbated the problems; it would have created resentment, separation, fear, frustration, and probably un-loving acts of retaliation by spreading the truth to preserve my reputation without regard to the pain it might cause the family. I also realized that Hakuin could accept the request for forgiveness without difficulty since he had not judged or condemned them; without condemnation, forgiveness is not necessary.
But through non-attachment, there was no need to attack. The injustices were irrelevant; Hakuin was impervious to the worldly consequences, and lived in the moment of spiritual truth; a baby was in need of care and unconditional love, and so he joyfully provided those comforts to the child unexpectedly laid at his feet, and then he chose to be joyful over the reunion of the child with its rightful family. His non-attachment made it such that the circumstance was never about him; it did not have to be about him since nothing outside of himself could disturb his inner peace.
I admired and respected the Master’s ability to accept the circumstance without a ripple of dread. He demonstrated the beauty of non-attachment and its natural extension, non-attack.
Non-attachment is the pathway to peace. That is the truth and the life and the way of the Divine consciousness within each of us; we need only seek to bring it to the surface of our own awareness.
I have cherished this parable to this day for the life-changing blessing it gave to me.
"It is not our destiny we should place in God’s hands; it is our peace". - Sanner
Parables are wonderful ways to communicate. Well-written parables can touch nearly everyone in some way, and sometimes they can touch many people on several levels at once.
Well-written parables reach deep into our souls and touch the truth. If we let them, they can tear down walls built over many years from many fears and attachments.
The parable Ah, so demolished such a wall for me.
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Jeanne's Ah, so Life Changing Experience
by Jeanne Sanner