Here, There and Everywhere

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The Nature of Being

51cq5sixWzL._SY346_The Mystery: Zen Stories by Dan Glover.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Unlike my book of satirical stories (Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire), which was a take-off on the insightful wisdom stories in the classic collection Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Mr. Glover has put together a serious, and in-depth look, at the nature of our being, by presenting eighty-one stories in eleven sections. Here is a glimpse from the introduction, of what The Mystery: Zen Stories lays bare.

This book seeks to illuminate the subtle relationship between the unknowable world and what we know by experiencing the world. It is based in part upon ancient texts written down some two thousand five hundred years ago brought up to date so as to be more applicable to the present day Western culture. In many respects, these tales sound autobiographical, though no one person has “likely” experienced everything within.

The different sections, which are titled as a season (Breath of Spring, Autumn Giving Way, etc.) each begin with a beautiful haiku, then dive into topics such as acceptance, loss, water, stillness, perception, and non-attachment, but in the context of stories and experiences. Mr. Glover has a delicious way with words and is able to see things from many perspectives, and not what may always be expected.

“I once heard of a man who was said to be in possession of a great understanding far surpassing any other. Making many inquiries I discovered where this man lived. The journey was long; the way very difficult and arduous. After months of travails, I reached this man’s abode. He seemed to have been expecting me; looking delighted to see me standing at his door he waved a hand for me to enter.

Without saying a word he brought refreshments. Sitting silently together we ate and we drank. When the meal was finished I got up and I left. When I arrived back home my wife inquired if I had found the man who I had been seeking for so long. I nodded my head. She asked if he had shared his great understanding with me. I smiled at her and looking into her eyes I could see she knew without being told.”

There is so much to be said about this book, yet I am hesitant to say anymore, as my words seem insufficient to describe the breadth and depth of its spirit. I think it best, at this moment, to let The Mystery: Zen Stories speak for itself.

“I hold that we come forth without roots. We enter the world by no aperture. We have real existence but this has nothing to do with place, such as our relation to space; we have continuance but it has nothing to do with beginnings or ends, such as our relation to time. The door of the mystery is non-existence. All things come from non-existence; non-existence is the same as not existing. This is the secret of the ages.”

Aunt Tova’s Closet

imagesChantall’s story about her aunt’s material things. Excerpt from Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Master Tova’s niece, Chantall, had recently arrived from the land of the Maori to care for her aunt in her final days. The first thing The Master requested was that Chantall clean out her bedroom closet.

“It would be my pleasure Auntie. Where would you like me to put everything?”

“Just clean it out first, then we’ll figure out what to do with it.”

Chantall went to work and was surprised to find such an array of items packed into such a small space. She pulled out three bags of clothes, ten pairs of shoes (including some sequined platform clogs), a shredded bed roll, five pairs of candlesticks (which were melted almost to the wick), fifteen unmatched socks, a pair of rusty engraved silver scissors, scroll after scroll of some ancient texts (which she could not read and did not understand), two balls of yarn, a broken knitting needle, seven lightweight blouses (with stains and various colored material), a large pair of men’s pants, a moth-eaten velvet hat, an earring, nose ring, ankle and wrist bracelets, an array of playing cards, a begging bowl, an ochre-colored robe that had turned almost gray, a wooden chess set, two brass bells, some old letters (which she planned to read as soon as her Aunt drifted off to sleep, as they appeared to be love letters), a drawing of an elephant sitting in meditation, and a necklace with a green emerald pennant in the shape of a Bodhi tree. Clearing out the closet took much longer than she’d expected.

“Now what Auntie? What would you like me to do with all your things?”

“We must first clear out the closets of our mind, before we can be free,” Master Tova replied. “A mind cluttered with ideas, thoughts, the past, the future, or desire, will never find freedom.”

“Okay,” Chantall said, “but what do you want me to do with all this?” She nodded towards the high pile of Master Tarantino’s possessions.

“That? That is nothing more than a collection of matter, which had been stored inside a container of matter. Holding on or letting go of material objects makes no difference. It is our attachment to people, places, or things which causes suffering and keeps us on the endless wheel of karma.”

“Yes. I understand Aunt Tova, but where should I take it? What do you want me to do with it?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Just leave it. Better yet, why don’t you take what you wish, give some to your mother, and distribute the rest to charity?”

“I’m not sure how to say this Auntie, but most of this is useless. It wouldn’t even be worth donating.”

“Then burn it all. Light a pyre and reduce it to dust, just as I will soon become.”

“As you wish.”

Chantall took load after load out into the light of day, built a fire, and started throwing Master Tarantino’s material goods onto the fire. She kept the ancient scroll, the necklace, and a bell. She tried to retrieve the love letters, which she’d inadvertently thrown in with everything else, but it was too late. Then she returned to her aunt’s room.

“It is done Auntie.”

“Excellent. Now you are free. There is nothing holding you back. You can move on.”

“Those were your things, not mine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter, does it? Desirelessness is a trap and desire is liberation.”

“Don’t you mean . . . oh, never mind.”

As Aunt Tova drifted off to sleep, Chantall quietly tiptoed out of her room, wondering what she would have found in her aunt’s love letters, and berating herself for having inadvertently thrown them into the fire.

Chantall told this story to her mother after she returned home from caring for Aunt Tova. Her mother wrote it down and later passed it on to an undisclosed student of her sisters community.

More stories of desire at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

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