Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Truth Is That There Is No Spoon

The movie that has impressed me the most in recent years is "The Matrix." While the movie has many profound meanings, I specifically remember the scene where Neo met Oracle for the first time. He is ready to meet Oracle and is waiting for him. He sees several children practicing supernatural abilities. One of them is holding a spoon in his hand. The boy looks at his spoon and bends his head. The head of the spoon bends without being touched. Neo asks him how he did it. The boy answers, "Do not try to bend the spoon. Instead, try to look at the truth." Neo asks, "What truth?" The boy answers, "The truth that there is no spoon." Interpretation may vary. I recognize that the important message is "try to take a look at the truth." In other words, "look at the real nature of things so that you will not misunderstand them."

In the 17th century, there was a Zen priest, Ikkyu, who was famous for his knowledge in Japan. In his temple's backyard, there was a pine tree with branches that were all twisted and curved. One day, Ikkyu gathered his pupils and asked them if they could see the pine tree straight. All of Ikkyu's pupils told him that the tree was twisted and curved. They said they could not see it straight. Ikkyu repeated, "See it straight; can you not understand?" His pupils were all puzzled. Ikkyu told them to go to his friend Rennyo who was a priest, and ask him how to see the pine tree straight.

The pupils went to Rennyo. They asked him how he could see the tree straight. Rennyo replied that it bends. The pupils were confused. They repeated the same question to Rennyo and told him that their master had said that there was a way to see it straight.

Rennyo answered Ikkyu's pupils and said that he was telling them that it bent. They began to somewhat panic. Finally, they went back to Ikkyu without understanding. They said to Ikkyu that Rennyo had told them that the tree was not straight. Ikkyu pointed out that Rennyo did not say that it was not straight. He said it was bent. Ikkyu explained that Rennyo was seeing the true nature of the tree straight and thus had said that it bends. Rennyo was explaining to Ikkyu's pupils the true nature of the tree.

It sounds like a play on words. Some may call it sophistry. This story is effective, however, in teaching people to take a look at the nature of things. The tree may be simple. In the real world where we live, there are things full of outside decoration. These confuse our eyes and we forget to take a look at the world's true nature.

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