A woman who had her crops and family washed away in a flood (which had been caused from a break in the levee, which the government had previously said could withstand any amount of rainfall) came to Abbott Tova for comfort and advice.
“I’ve lost everything,” the woman wept. “I have nothing left.” The Abbott remained silent. “There is no where to go and no one left to comfort me.” The woman continued to cry. The Abbott did not reply. “What am I to do?” After sobbing for another ten minutes, the woman looked pleadingly at the Abbott. “Why did this happen? Why did it happen to me?” Abbott Tova closed her eyes for a few moments, opened them again, and smiled, but did not utter a sound. “Why won’t you say anything? Please give me some words of wisdom, some advice, some hope.”
“I do not have what you seek,” the Abbott finally said. “I cannot dish out false hope or advice and we have no means of helping you. The fact is that we all lose everything sooner or later. In this instance, you have lost the people and things most important to you, sooner rather than later.”
“Yes. Yes,” the woman replied. “I’ve heard The Buddha’s teachings about impermanence and change, but have you no compassion or care? I feel lost and hopeless.”
“Listen to what you are saying. You ‘feel’ lost and hopeless and are ‘labeling’ your experience as suffering and grief. Who you are, who we all are, is but a compilation of elements in temporary co‑operation, with whom we identify as our self, as our ego, our me.”
The woman shook her head in disbelief.
“Okay. Okay,” the Abbott said. “Come here.” She opened her arms and nodded for the lady to come forward. She hesitated. “Come.” The woman arose and fell into the Abbott’s arms, who encircled her with her robe. The woman began sobbing once again. “Now. Now,” the Abbott soothed. “Everything will be alright.”
As Abbott Tova held the woman she spoke to the other sisters in the hall. “This shows how easy it is to get attached to people, personalities, situations, events, and things. I’ve done so myself, many times. If you are mindful however and pay close attention to what arises and passes away, you will see that it is all an illusion, a temporary state that comes and goes. It’s all a dream, make-believe.”
The woman who had lost everything and was being held, had had enough. She slapped the Abbott. Some nuns started to run forward, but the Abbott held up her hand for them to stay put.
“Was that an illusion!” the woman yelled. The Abbott smiled. “Does it sting?” The Abbott’s check had turned red. “If life is a dream and nothing matters than what are we here for?”
The Abbott smiled with a jester’s grin. “Thank you,” the Abbott said. “I was wondering how much longer I’d have to keep mouthing that nonsense before you’d snap out of it.”
The woman suddenly realized that she wasn’t crying any longer, nor feeling sad. Her emotion had turned to that of anger and rage. She backed away from Abbott Tova, bowed deeply, and returned to her flooded land to start her new temporary and illusionary life once again.
More unbearable words of insight: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.