Friday, 12 February 2010

Honking the Snow Horn of Dukkha

(Cross Posted at The Reformed Buddhist)

(This story is about a week old from when i wrote it.)

So we are digging out, 21' inches and it's still piling up.

Due to the blizzard, I stayed at a hotel in downtown DC last night so I could report to work this morning on time. Lucky me, I was put on the backside of the hotel which was right across the street from 'Frat Row' of George Washington University. I think with all honesty I can say mixing a Friday night, college kids, booze and a blizzard together is one of the least conducive conditions for getting any amount of sleep.

But they weren't the reason I wasn't able to get to sleep, apparently at around 11:30 some guy got blocked into his parking space by a couple other cars and out of frustration starting beeping his horn...over...and over....and over. At first I thought it was a car alarm, but quickly I noticed the pattern shifting, so I called the front desk to see if they knew anything about this car horn. They told me due to the blizzard the cops weren't going to come out just because of an angry guy beeping his horn.

At about 1am, just unable to take the incessant car beeping anymore, I went down stairs, hoped out in the pelting blizzard in just a T-shirt and jeans to see if I could find this 'horn master.' Sure enough, there he was, in his BMW, obviously quite drunk, laying on his horn, spinning his tires and flicking off the passing college kids who were all laughing at him. But I thought, where could he go even if there weren't two cars blocking him in? It was near whiteout conditions, 30-40mph wind gusts, horizontal snow and completely impassable roads, there was no way that car was going anywhere, blocked or unblocked. Standing there in that blinding snow, watching this man's anger rage non-stop, stuck there unable to go anywhere, it reminded me of this old Zen story.

A monk who had once been an enthusiastic practitioner had lost his way. He was escaping over the wall of the monastery every night, going to the bar and drinking. Next morning he'd wake up at 4:00 a.m. and bob sleepily through zazen and then drag himself resentfully through the day.

Finally, the teacher invited the monk into his six-feet-by-six-feet meeting room and said to him, “Every night you get drunk. Your sitting, chanting, and working have no energy. This is not Zen. If you are not going to train, GET OUT!”

The monk was furious. “Fine! I’ll leave.”

Just as the monk approached the sliding paper-screen door behind him, the teacher shouted, “That door is not for you!”

The monk went to the door to the right. Again the teacher screamed, “That door is not for you!”

The monk went to the door to his left and again the teacher screamed, “That door is not for you.”

Then the monk exploded, “You told me to get out but then you say ‘That door is not for you.’ What should I do?”

Calmly, the master replied, “If you cannot get out, please sit down.”

The monk went on to become the teacher’s successor.


  1. Great story.

    Here's a little story of my own:

    This year money has been tight. For medical reasons my wife had to have an extension of 6 months on her PhD. This means effectively that we're on one income for 6 months. At the same time, we've had a lot of expenses with MBCT training, car maintenance, the costs of setting up a small zendo. A few days ago we realised we had dry rot in the house and I knew that my car was unlikely to survive the year. I've realised that I can't afford to finish my MBCT training this year as I hoped.

    I was on my way to work yesterday to take part in a sales pitch at 10am, something I had spent a couple of days preparing for. The engine on my car overheated and I came to a halt knowing there was a good chance it was the end of the road for my car. I made all the calls I needed to and then as I waited for recovery I enjoyed a few moments of stillness, appreciating the moment.

    I was reminded of the old Zen story about a man who is chased by a tiger and falls off a cliff is hanging from a branch with the tiger waiting below, while mice gnaw at the branch he is holding onto. He sees a delicious looking strawberry growing from the side of the cliff, plucks it and enjoys it's exquisite flavour.

  2. Thats awesome about you setting up a zendo, I didn't know that. I was curious how your MBCT training was coming along too. Sorry about the money problems, I know about those very well.