Polishing a stone into a mirror
It is interesting and instructive to read or hear a story about a Buddhist monk engaged in meditation practice as a young Zen trainee. Such a story often provides for us some important insight into what the heart of the matter is, how education should proceed, and how painstaking the search for truth can be. In this respect the wisdom we get from it seems to be applicable directly to the people like us in the academic environment.
The following story about eminent Chan (Chinese Zen) Master Mazu (709-788) is well known to us. When he was a student of Chan, Master Mazu was zealous in practicing sitting meditation. He constantly did so day and night. He would not even lie down for a sleep. Watching his diligent practice, his teacher asked his disciple, "What are you up to?" to which he replied, "As you can see, I sit in mediation." His teacher asked him back, "What for?" Mazu replied back, "I am eager to be a Buddha." His teacher added, "Well, that is great."
After a while his teacher took a brick and started to grind it against a roof tile in front of their meditation cabin. It made a lot of noise, which his disciple in sitting meditation couldn't bear. Thereupon Mazu approached and asked his teacher, "What are you engaged in?" to which he responded, "I am polishing a brick into a mirror." Bewildered, Mazu commented, "It is totally impossible to make a mirror out of a brick!" His teacher retorted, "If this job cannot be achieved, how can sitting meditation turn you into a Buddha?"
The point this story makes is easy to grasp. The purpose of meditation is to enlighten the mind, in other words, to give intellectual/spiritual light to it, but not to torment the body. Simply following the conventionalized routine of sitting for meditation only brings pains to the body, but it does not yield an intellectual/spiritual reward to the mind. More important in meditation undoubtedly is putting a laser focus on the mind itself. Although the story does not tell us how we can concentrate on the mind in meditation, it admonishes us to depart from the traditional formality of meditation and pursue a proper and creative practice of it.
Despite this positive aspect of the story, evident from it is the fact that it is near to impossible to attain what we aim at. Especially, it is disheartening to see the apt analogy in the story between brick and man: just as a brick cannot be polished into a mirror, a man cannot be exercised into an enlightened one. As imperfect beings we may choose a wrong track towards what we search for. We may deviate from a right course in the middle of it. We are prone to mistakes.
It is important to note, however, that, though it looks futile to pursue what we strive after, nobody will give up the attempt to do so. We actually do our best with adamant determination to achieve our goal Whatever it is and however demanding it is, we endeavor to polish a dull stone into a shining mirror.
Park Myung-kwan email@example.com
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