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Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and all its beauty.

-Albert Einstein

One of my favorite Zen stories is called Is that so? published in Zen Flesh Zen Bones

Is that so?

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 harrassment named Hakuin.

In great anger the parents went to the master.  “Is that 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 the neighbors and everthing else he needed.

A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer.  She told her parents the truth- the real father of the child was a young man who worked at the fishmarket.

The mother and the father at once went to Hakuin to ask for forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back.

Hakuin was willing.  In yielding the child, all he said was “Is that so?”

I like this story so much I wrote a fiction story called In Death and Living using this story as the foundation.  Much like Hakuin this story is about someone (in this case a young man) trying to live a path of truth and the obstacles one faces along this path.

Hakuin reaction or NON reaction in losing his reputation and adopting the child can teach all of us a lesson.  Life is a choice.  We will all have peaks and valleys, happiness and pain and it is only ourselves who can choose how we deal with these circumstances.  No external circumstances make us happy, or satisfied, it is simply our attitude and way of being.

Hakuin understands this completely.  He is completely absorbed in the happiness of another, in what would make a difference in their world and has no interest in his own concerns.  He is choosing to accept any circumstance that comes his way and make the best of it.  All we have is this moment and it is always our choice.

Call to Action:

  • Look at your life, where are you allowing external circumstances influence your way of being, your satisfaction and happiness with life.  Let this go and choose to accept life as it is.  It is perfect and beautiful exactly the way it is.
  • Be unmoved by the valleys in your life.  If we didn’t have any valleys we wouldn’t understand the signficance of the mountains.

Thomas D. Craig

Author of A Cup of Buddha

Writer. Warrior. Seeker. Adventurer