“Want to Really Live in the Present? Embrace Life’s Nasty Bits, Too”

 Arpana has contributed this recent article by Oliver Burkeman about spiritual teacher Joan Tollifson’s ‘Death: The End of Self-Improvement’.      

“Want to really live in the present? Embrace life’s nasty bits, too…If you really want to be here now, forget flowers and sunsets. Contemplate death instead.”

By Oliver Burkeman (in Online Guardian, Friday, August 14, 2020)   
(N.B: Apologies for flaws in presntation – we’ve tried but unable to solve tech issues)
“The problem with most books (and articles and podcasts) about “being here now” or “embracing the present moment” is that they really aren’t. As often telegraphed by their cover images (sunsets, flowers, mountain peaks) they’re about embracing the nice bits of the present. And they generally imply that if you follow their advice, you could float contentedly through life, relishing simple pleasures and finding wonder in the everyday. In other words, they’re about the ideal person you might become if you weren’t so prone to irritability, boredom and gloom. So they’re not actually about embracing the present at all. They’re focused on escaping it, in pursuit of a better future.
None of which could be said about Death: The End Of Self-Improvement, the latest book by the spiritual teacher Joan Tollifson. That title alone is a bracing bucket of iced water to the head. Mortality is the ultimate reminder that our fantasies of someday finally becoming perfect are inherently absurd, because that’s not how the journey will end. All we have, in place of that imagined ascent toward perfection, is a succession of present moments – until, one day, we won’t have any more. And “when the future disappears,” Tollifson writes, “we are brought home to the immediacy that we may have avoided all our lives.” If you really want to be here now, forget flowers and sunsets. Contemplate death instead.
Tollifson does so, without flinching. Among other things, the book is a memoir of her own encounters with mortality: her mother’s death, and those of close friends, then an unsparing account of her own experience of ageing – the “sagging, drooping, bulging, wrinkling, and drying up”, then colonoscopies, cancer and chemo, rectal bleeding and stoma bags. Sometimes, the reader wants to flinch. But in a way that’s no bad thing: all of this is part of experience, too. It’s not nice. But any approach to life that brackets it off as some kind of mistake, something that mustn’t be acknowledged, isn’t engaging with how things really are.
And Tollifson’s point, as I grasp it, is that resisting the truth of how things really are is what makes life feel so difficult. She doesn’t claim that embracing unpleasant experiences will stop them being unpleasant. (Indeed, embracing their intractable unpleasantness is arguably the whole challenge.) Rather – and in a way that’s hard to express in words – it stops them being a problem. It becomes possible to be “at peace with exactly how it is, even [including] the not-being-at-peace that sometimes arises”. She quotes the Zen teacher Mel Weitsman: “Our suffering is believing there’s a way out.” There’s freedom, even if there’s no possibility of freedom from the experiences themselves.
We tend to assume, Tollifson writes, that a life of dignity “means being in control, not being overwhelmed by emotion, not screaming or crying in pain, not losing control of our bowels, not losing our minds, and so on”. But perhaps there’s more dignity in deciding not to run from what can’t be outrun. “Old age,” she goes on, “is an adventure in uselessness, loss of control, being nobody and giving up everything.” The challenge is to see which new experiences of decay and decline you’re able to welcome – since they will, in any case, be showing up at your door.”
Ain’t this the truth? So liberating to know it.

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102 Responses to “Want to Really Live in the Present? Embrace Life’s Nasty Bits, Too”

  1. Arpana says:

    Ain’t this the truth? So liberating to know it.

    • satchit says:

      Acceptance is liberating.
      In the face of sickness or death everybody is a loser.

      • swamishanti says:

        “If you really want to be here now, forget flowers and sunsets. Contemplate death instead.”

        Try this sutra from the Vigyana Bhairav Tantra:

        Shiva said:


        Meditate on death. Old method of tantra.

        The Kaula tantrics of Shaktism and tantric Shaivism would meditate in the cremation grounds, along with the ashes, the burning bodies and the smell of death.

        They would smear ashes on their bodies, carry a trident and take a human skull as a begging bowl.

        They were unrespectable, living outside the society.

        Kaula sects are noted for their extreme exponents who recommend the flouting of taboos and social mores as a means of liberation.

        The details of these groups were generally unknown until the Christian missionaries distorted and used Tantric texts to claim that the Hindu texts were immoral.

        One method employed by the Kaula Kali tantrics is to meditate with a partner and copulate, siting on top of a human corpse.

        Another is to worship the Goddess, the Mother Parvati, by putting your tongue in her holiest of holies. This is known as ‘Yoni Tantra’:


        “The Kaula adept is unaffected by any external impurity and makes use of what is reprehensible to attain transcendence. Here arises the antinomian and asocial character of Kaula and the left-handed forms of Tantra.

        Similarly to other tantric schools, Kaula chooses a positive affirmative approach: instead of prescribing self-limitations and condemning various actions, it embraces such actions in a spiritual light. Thus, sexuality, love, social life and artistic pursuits are considered vectors of spiritual evolution. The main focus in Kaula is on practical methods for attaining enlightenment, rather than engaging in complex philosophical debate. Whatever is pleasant and positive can be integrated in its practice.

        The principal means employed in the Kaula practice are the practice of initiation rituals, the couple (sexual rituals) the body (spiritual alchemy inside one’s own body), the energy (shakti) (controlled especially through the use of mantras and mystical phonemes) and the consciousness (seen as the epitome of one’s whole being and of the universe itself).

        Group practices, which are restricted to the members of a kaula (family), include rituals, festivities, initiations and the secretive tantric sexual union.

        The purposes of this practice are the initiation of novices, the expansion of consciousness, and expression of the bliss already attained as participants become more and more advanced in group sex.

        The general disregarding of orthodox Hindu practices has caused these Kaulas to be condemned by the puritanical Brahmins.”


  2. kavita says:

    To me, being in the present is being totally consumed in this moment by this moment itself & since some time I’ve realized I have always been total as much as I can be at any given time. Also guessed the other is also as total as one can be at any given time!

    Physical age is bound to affect the physical body in some way with growing age; however, even though the body may seem beautiful and young from outside, for some the process of aging could be faster/slower, but they shall succumb eventually.

    Being in the present for me means dealing with whatever comes in my best capacity, wondering how can one escape the reality of physical aging and the rest of it.

    This phrase ‘being in the present’ has been catchy since few decades of the last century! 

    Yes to: ”The challenge is to see which new experiences of decay and decline you’re able to welcome – since they will, in any case, be showing up at your door.”

    • Arpana says:

      @ Kavita, who said:
      “Physical age is bound to affect the physical body in some way with growing age.”

      Aging introduces growing physical discomfort, sets physical limits, boundaries, and limits refine; then physical discomfort, before moving into pain, is extremely centering, heightens, in my experience, body awareness, heightens watching.

      • kavita says:

        “Aging introduces growing physical discomfort, sets physical limits, boundaries, and limits refine; then physical discomfort, before moving into pain, is extremely centering, heightens, in my experience, body awareness, heightens watching.”  

        Yes, I agree with this and thank you for adding the main points, ie body awareness & heightened watching.

        • swamishanti says:

          “Then physical discomfort, before moving into pain, is extremely centering, heightens, in my experience, body awareness, heightens watching.”

          This reminds me of the ‘woke as fuck podcast’ featuring an interview with Osho’s bodyworker Anubuddha in Ecuador, which was featured recently on YouTube and Oshonews:
          ‘Osho, enlightenment, and returning to the centre’: https://youtu.be/1lPbj0Siw_I

          “Osho told me: “Anubuddha, people have a misunderstanding that a man of awareness does not feel pain; actually, it is the opposite. When you are aware you feel the pain more. The suffering of others you feel more, but when you are aware you are not identified.’

    • swamishanti says:

      Was listening to this track from the classic ‘Sunfighter’ album last night:


      After the birth of their daughter China , Paul Kantner and Grace Slick had moved north from San Francisco into the quieter neighbourhood of Bolinas , by the Pacific coast , which had a mixture of hippie and straights , when they created the Sunfighter record in 1971.
      . Paul Kantner said that Grace had written lyrics , which delve into the subject of meat eating , death and cannabalism, when she was surrounded by her hippie neighbours who were all into strictly organic and vegetarian foods. Grace loved nothing more than to provoke and shock people .
      Quite similar to Osho really.

      Throw down all your
      Silver spoons – eat
      All of the raw meat
      With your hands
      Pick it up piece by piece
      Pick it up piece by piece
      Pick it up piece by piece

      Where are the bodies
      For dinner?
      I want my food!

      What if you were
      Starving to death and
      They only food you had
      Was me – what would
      You say to the cannibal
      Question? Would your
      Answer be perfectly

      Your mama told you never
      To eat your friends
      With your fingers and
      Hands, but I say you
      Ought to eat what
      You will – shove it
      In your mouth any way
      That your can

      You think that I will come
      To your mouth, looking for
      A home. But I get stuck
      Sideways in your throat
      Like a good old chicken

      Where are the bodies for dinner?
      I want my food!
      Stay out the kitchen children
      The cook is cleaning his gun
      He just got back from the open
      Markey – shooting his food on
      The run

      Your mama told you never
      To eat your friends
      With your fingers and
      Hands, but I say you
      Ought to eat what
      You will – shove it
      In your mouth any way
      That your can

      Sharpen your teeth for the
      Family feast – let all the
      Hungry drool roll down
      Your chin. Hide the human
      And bring out the beast
      Let all the animal games begin!

      Where are the bodies for dinner?
      I want my food!
      You could leave to dine on
      Your friends – pour their
      Bones into a cannibal soup
      Muscles like steak
      Blood like wine – save
      The brains to feed to troops

      Your mama told you never
      To eat your friends
      With your fingers and
      Hands, but I say you
      Ought to eat what
      You will – shove it
      In your mouth any way
      That your can

      Scarlet juices ozing
      Slow – boiling in a
      Human sea
      Is it human dinner
      You’re talking about?
      Then slice me tender
      Raw and lean
      Where are the bodies
      For dinner?
      I want my food!

      (Grace Slick)

  3. Accepting life´s nasty sides with grace, confronting injustice with courage was a way of life for millennia; this all round development is the result of this perseverance and not succumbing under pressure.

    Then came the orange movement of love, life, laughter…it painted everything else as grey…
    This pursuit of happiness at any cost created a multi-billion dollar unregulated industry of therapies.

  4. satchit says:

    If it rain, let it rain;
    If it rain not, let it not rain;
    But even should it not rain,
    You must travel
    With wet sleeves.

      • satchit says:

        There is another wow sentence for you, Shantam:

        “When it is hot it is hot, when it is cold it is cold.”

        • Arpana says:

          You’re on fire, Satchit.

        • “When it is hot it is hot, when it is cold it is cold.”

          When there is a crime it remains a crime, in spite of cover-ups?

          It is not like when Coke is hot, don´t add ice to make it cold.

          • satchit says:

            What “crimes”?

            Seems you did sit too long in churches where you can find crimes and sins.

            • After reading this ‘pigeon hiding his head in the sand’ sentence (“what crimes?”), I went to the news site.
              Russian opposition leader´s poisoning was the news in the making.
              Political Vendetta, lies, deceptions, grip on power.

              Who knows, top aides of Bhagwan/Osho were Russians in the previous lives… From where one learns cover-ups and poisoning….

              No one needs to believe my post. I am not this much childish to think I will convert people by writing on a site where 7 people write and maybe 17 others read.

              My posts are dedication to freedom of speech and expression and fearless. fact-based reporting:

              I may be an Indian but can never forget vast contribution of western intelligensia to shape the human brain and values.

              Shantam, your right of reply is respected but we won’t be giving any more space at this topic to your persomal, ‘anti-regime’ agenda.

              By the way, there have been 736 visits to this site in the last week, and 2279 visits in the last month. The vast majority have been from western Europe and America.

              • Lokesh says:

                “Fearless, fact-based reporting”!
                That’s a good one.

                • You took your time and effort to send a two-liner, Lokesh (at 1:43 pm) and that´s good so far.

                  I´d like to add that our Indian (Sikh) permanent contributor in the chat is truly a kind of “Symptomträger” and there was no other translation available (at least at my place).

                  The two guys pontificating about “Right hand vs. Left hand Tantra” (Arpana and Swamishanti) lost me long ago with their very unique approaches to the “Odds” and pretty nasty stuff this thread topic is made up about – so far

                  Yes – there truly is a wide, wide range of shady stuff and surely there are lots of people who are much more cunning, as Shantam I Singh aka Shantam Prem (or in vice versa line) is coming up with.
                  Not to speak of ‘readers’ (onlookers) the Mods are speaking of.

                  “Freedom od Speech” (also mentioned by Shantam) is also “a good one”. However – we crossed the borderline (not only in this chat here!) where we all are asked – I suggest – to find better ways to combine consciousness with embodhied ´speech´, if that is possible.

                  A “Symptomträger” in a chat like this is a helping reminder of that necessity, and just today I´ve been missing again Parmartha´s stoic attitude which came into full function (I guess) by working with victims of torture.

                  The Lady Arpana is referring to is a Satsang-Giver in UK and brought out some “Stillness Speaks” (kind of what is similar, I guess to that facilitated by Peter Levine in US or Eckhart Tolle in Canada…and lots of others in variations.

                  Just invitations of and in contemporary times to ease some of the Pain one simply has to go through in a Life´s Walkabout.

                  That I still prefer Osho´s take and way of dealing with that pain and finding moments of Presence may be something of my age and lifestory. Or not.
                  I still call it a Love Affair on an ever deepenig level.

                  Being open to the fact experientially that former friends use my name and existence too as a “Symptomträger”.
                  So I really kind of know what Shantam has to deal with emotionally and more so – me – as a woman of age. so to say.


                  One of the more and very latter ODDs I had to face here is not only that the media market employee with military trousers in Munich was ready to throw my Apple notebook in the waste box. And the other stuff was that I had to take care of my closed-up telephone connection in my flat.

                  In a very rudimentary way I can use (?) both of them again after a week or so being SILENCED. (Who knows how long it will last? The rudimentary functioning, I mean).

                  About ´ODDs´I know quite something these latter decades:
                  Experiential-wise I´d say (also very contemporary ODDs…).

                  Madhu, what exactly do you mean by “ODDS”?

              • satchit says:

                @ Shantam

                You see things political and this is a dead end.

                Mostly people who talk of freedom of speech have an authority problem.

                • Lokesh says:

                  Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction.

  5. Arpana says:

    @swamishanti.18 August, 2020 at 11:02 am

    I think it’s important to make a distinction between feeling and sensation. Most people, as far as I can tell, use feeling for both; and pain is a sensation, not a feeling. Affection is a feeling. not a sensation, although on reflection, a feeling might accompany a sensation and vice versa.

    • Arpana says:

      Experiencing discomfort or pain, and then feeling hard done by, or developing an idea one is hard done by, is identifying.

    • simond says:

      A great distinction, nicely said.

    • swamishanti says:

      “God is a concept, by which we measure, our, pain.”
      (John Lennon)


      • Arpana says:

        Despite being a member of one of the greatest bands the world has ever known, John was not the brightest shilling in the box regarding the metaphysical realm. Typical art student ballocks really.

        • swamishanti says:

          John Lennon and the metaphysical. Well, he was very into his acid and experimented a little with TM.

          And Plastic Ono Band – what an album – made during his primal scream phase.

          A friend of mine , Sid Rawle was given the island of Dorinish


          from John, off the coast of Ireland, back in the late sixties, to use for a commune. There have also been claims that John Lennon was also said to fund some Trotskyist groups and the IRA and was being constantly monitored by MI5 the FBI : https://rense.com/politics6/lennon.htm

          Apparently, John and Yoko got into reading Osho sometime around the late seventies and Osho gave him a hit in a discourse when he was told that John had said that he loved him.

          • Arpana says:

            Strange phenomenon the relationship with famous people, the individuals in a band like the Beatles. Probably more factual information about them than we have about our closest friends.

            Don’t listen to the ”fabs” very ofton, so they still sound really fresh. Did some bangin’ tunes.

      • Arpana says:

        Absolutely detested John Lennon when younger, whilst at the same time being an ardent Beatles fan; and sometime in my mid and upward 20s, which might have been connected to the fact I was exploring yoga, without realising yoga was a form of meditation, and certainly before I’d heard of Osho, or had developed any active interest in meditation, realised I detested John so much because I saw myself in him, then actually understood I was projecting onto him.

        Although for the life of me, have no idea where, at that point in my life, I had got hold of the concept of projection enough to be able to make a connection of that nature between John and I; and certainly my first experience of that, plus being an aha moment, although I didn’t recognise that as such either.

        • swamishanti says:

          It’s quite a thing when you realise the nature of projection, isn’t it?

          For me, I only understood that properly years after reading/listening about it.

          • Arpana says:

            Opened up such a distance to people, which I took a while to get, and resisted hugely. Clinging to connections that never worked that well anyway, for the familiarity.

            Golden projection is a goody. Understanding that people we put on a pedestal, whatever the degree, including the famous, were/are showing us ourselves as well, aspects; although that was more difficult in a way, because coming from a puritanical Methodist background meant having a good thought about yourself was a sin.

          • Arpana says:

            “Meditation doesn’t always feel like bliss and peace. Sometimes it feels like a five-car pileup in the middle of World War III during an alien invasion and a peewee football game gone mad. My head is buzzing with nervous energy and my body just can’t seem to find anything even close to comfort. But I meditate anyway. Discipline is being able to do things when you don’t want to do them.”
            (Brad Warner)

    • Arpana says:

      To be for free speech is to argue for the right of those who would take that from us, to say what they will.

  6. Chanting name of God, listening what one is reciting is a well established practice to come closer to the inner state of living in present.

    If prayers are heard, i wish to say, Give me Thy name and delete every single book and talks imprints from my brain.

    Cultist literature of last century has made life too complicated.

  7. Lokesh says:

    We are born into this world as a tabula rasa, a blank slate. Then we begin to create a world which we alone inhabit. People talk as if we all inhabit the same world. We do not. These were my first thoughts upon reading the above article.

    Ever since I read ‘Be Here Now’ by Ram Dass in 1971 I have been endeavouring to do as the title suggests and it has nothing to do with pursuing a better future. At this particular juncture in my life there is little or no space for the future. In the rare moments that the idea of the future enters my mind, the only place it appears to exist, I don’t pay much attention. The other day my son said to me, “You have no future.” I’m not sure why he said that but I agreed with him, because I feel at home in the present. Besides, the only parts of the future that are real are unpredictable and unexpected, so why bother thinking about it? Why ask the mind to comprehend that which is beyond its comprehension?

    I have lived through a number of extreme situations, some of which were life-threatening. For the most part I passed through them living in the present, somehow trusting that whatever I was going through would teach me a lesson I needed to learn. I can assure you that it was difficult at times.

    I find that contemplating death arises more the longer one lives. I think that is natural. In all honesty I see it as a waste of time. Thinking deeply about death is just thoughts and memories, and those will not serve you well in the face of the great unknown that death represents. My closest brush with death came due to severe illness. What I brought back from that experience was that death is a relief. Osho once told me that death is like removing a too tight shoe. I am certain he was telling the truth. I am also certain that he was correct when he said the best way to prepare for death is to live totally.

    “Embrace life’s nasty bits, too…if you really want to be here now.” I have never had a problem with the so-called nasty bits. In fact, I would go so far as to say I never really felt I had a choice other than embracing what life brought to me, no matter how tough.

    “Forget flowers and sunsets.” Sounds like very bad advice, coming from someone over-identified with doom and gloom.

    • Arpana says:

      You don’t seem to be able to tell the difference, Lokesh, between self awareness, and awareness of how you like to think of yourself, the story you enjoy telling others about yourself.

    • Arpana says:

      If you had an ounce of self-awareness, Lokesh, you would see you have turned this article into an opportunity to brag about yourself again.

    • Thanks for your contribution to the thread, Lokesh ( at 1:26 pm).
      I can relate to it. Pretty much all of it.

      You say: ” Thinking of death is just thoughts and memories, and those will not serve you well in the great unknown that death represents” – and in another chapter you shared about taking ( facing) nasty and very nasty bits ( in Life) if ( obviously) confronted with such ´odds as lessons to learn.
      To take the very latter in a mature way without indulging in some masochistic ( quite unconcious) pattern though may take investigation time in a fortunate supportive surrounding field.
      I used to call it ´Sangha´ in times long passed.

      One may have this support or one may not have it – is – what I find out.
      To learn to accept this very moment as one, you´re dying to the past and learn about the Art of living moment to moment and being re-born to the next moment seems to be an endless processing.

      And you are right in the end, Lokesh: There is a need to differenciate, good and so called bad advice, while going on the ´Acceptance-Line´.

      So – thanks again for yours.


      And again

  8. We are born into this world as a tabula rasa, a blank slate.

    This is a borrowed copied thought.
    Thinks Lokesh, how much Bhagwan has infuriated the mind.

    Nobody is born with a blank slate, we are company manufactured mobile sets with preinstalled apps.

    Surely Ramana to Rajneesh Sir and their followers were born before the mobile technology…

    • Lokesh says:

      Truth be told, Shantam, we don’t even know if we were born. We were told we were born and believed it. All thoughts are borrowed and copied. I never claimed otherwise.

    • Only feels appropriate, Shantam I Singh (yesterday at 1:32 pm) that you brought ´mobile Technology and Algorithm play’´ onto stage here, mentioning that Ramana, Osho and other Mystics (East and West) came into existence before these times.

      To be (re-)born into this world as a ´tabula rasa, a blank state´ is truly an option, not a reality (yet), a reality we´re all craving for, believe it – or not.
      That´s what made these rare Beings so attractive at any time.

      And it´s true that ´Algorithm Times´, clone-copying etc. made it even much more difficult nowadays to find out in one´s guts how to connect to some essentially nourishing and life-affirming stuff (ie in a device and advice).
      And to be reminded of the sheer possibilty to be born as a ´tabula rasa, a blank slate´ is one of these life-affirming essentials.

      To bite the finger ´pointing to the moon´ will not help.

      Neither your war-like attitude you´re coming up with on and on (in this chat at least) will help you to get what you are craving for.


  9. satchit says:

    To forget flowers and sunsets sounds shallow to me.

    Flowers and sunsets have their beauty because death is part of their lives and their appearance.

    • Arpana says:

      Satchit exclaimed:
      ”To forget flowers and sunsets sounds shallow to me.
      Flowers and sunsets have their beauty because death is part of their lives and their appearance.”

      Wonderfully perceptive observation. ☯

  10. Hi MODs (there was no reply button under your question),

    So – what is “ODDs”? By ODDs I mean really nasty stuff:
    Let’s take the very simple example of someone throwing some (or lots) of slimey, foul banana skins when you are unable – for whatsoever reason – to avoid such, break your leg bones etc. while there are people who love watching that – watching from a so-called safe distance the accident. (= Metapher!).

    Or – let’s say – in football speech – one speaks of deliberate Foul play.

    Otherwise and however, dear MODs, I gave a lot of “fudder” while writing here (Shantam´s word he did choose). Didn´t I?
    That´s not the only reason I ever again (up to now) love to re-read some other exchanges here in this chat.

    ‘Odd’ is a very common word, isn´t it?
    And your question is ‘squeaky clean’ polite (a word Lokesh has been teaching me).

    Yours sincerely,


  11. Arpana says:

    “Modern life has made us people of attachment rather than people of commitment. Indeed, many people have found that it is difficult to tell the difference between attachment and commitment in their own lives. Yet attachment leads farther and farther into entrapment. Commitment, though it may sometimes feel constricting, will ultimately lead to greater degrees of freedom. Both involve in the moment an experience of holding, sometimes against the flow of events or against temptation. One can distinguish between the two in most situations by noticing over time whether one has moved through this activity or this relationship closer to freedom or closer to bondage. Attachment is a reflex, an automatic response which often may not reflect our deepest good. Commitment is a conscious choice, to align ourselves with our most genuine values and our sense of purpose.”

    Rachel Naomi Remen


    • Attachment and Commitment…

      If I write something on this, it will push the buttons of a lady and a gentleman!

      People in general use wise sentences and paragraphs to create an inner illusion of being best of the bestest.

      That is the side-effect of Tourist Guides and National Geographic Channel videos, they can create the impression one has seen them, one was there. Because in reality it is not so, hence a hunger to read more tourist guides, to watch more videos.

      Let me say bluntly, neo-Sannyasins got attached with the Charismatic Personality of late Osho Jain, they had no sense till now to understand the visionary other than the childish cliche, ‘Meditate and Celebrate’.


  12. Arpana says:

    @ Satchit
    You have a touch of that farmer about you sometimes, Satchit. ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ ✌

    “THERE IS a very famous Taoist story — I love it tremendously. The story is about an old Taoist farmer whose horse ran away:

    That evening the neighbours gathered to commiserate with him since this was such bad luck. He said, “Maybe.”

    The next day the horse returned, but brought with it six wild horses, and the neighbours came exclaiming at the good fortune. He said, “Maybe.”

    And then the following day, his son tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. Again the neighbours came to offer their sympathy for the misfortune. He said, “Maybe.”

    The day after that, conscription officers came to the village to seize young men for the army, but because of the broken leg the farmer’s son was rejected. When the neighbours came in to say how fortunate everything had turned out, he said, “Maybe.”

    This is the attitude of a man who understands what is accidental and what is essential. The accidental is always ‘maybe’; it is a ‘perhaps’. You cannot be certain about it, you need not be certain about it. People who become certain about the accidental are going to be frustrated sooner or later; their certainty is going to create much frustration for them. Their certainty will create expectations, and they cannot be fulfilled — because the universe is not there to fulfil your expectations. It has its own destiny. It is moving towards its own goal. It does not care about your private goals.

    All private goals are against the goal of the universe itself. All private goals are against the goal of the Whole. All private goals are neurotic. The essential man comes to know, to feel, that ‘I am not separate from the Whole and there is no need to seek and search for any destiny on my own. Things are happening, the world is moving — call it God — He is doing things. They are happening of their own accord. There is no need for me to make any struggle, any effort; there is no need for me to fight for anything. I can relax and be.’

    The essential man is not a doer. The accidental man is a doer. The accidental man is, of course, then in anxiety, tension, stress, anguish, continuously sitting on a volcano — it can erupt any moment, because he lives in a world of uncertainty and believes as if it is certain. This creates tension in his being: he knows deep down that nothing is certain. A rich man has everything that he can have, and yet he knows deep down that he has nothing. That’s what makes a rich man even poorer than a poor man.

    A poor man is never so poor because still he has hopes: some day or other, destiny is going to shower blessings on him; some day or other he will be able to arrive, to achieve. He can hope. The rich man has arrived, his hopes are fulfilled — now, suddenly, he finds nothing is fulfilled. All hopes fulfilled, and yet nothing is fulfilled. He has arrived and he has not arrived at all — it has always been a dream journey. He has not moved a single inch.

    A man who is successful in the world feels the pain of being a failure as nobody else can feel it. There is a proverb that says that nothing succeeds like success. I would like to tell you: nothing fails like success. But you cannot know it unless you have succeeded. When all the riches are there that you have dreamt about, planned about, worked hard for, then sitting just amidst those riches is the beggar — deep inside empty, hollow; nothing inside, everything outside.

    In fact, when everything is there outside, it becomes a contrast. It simply emphasizes your inner emptiness and nothingness. It simply emphasizes your inner beggarliness, poverty. A rich man knows poverty as no poor man can ever know. A successful man knows what failure is. At the top of the world, suddenly you realize that you have been behaving foolishly. You may not say so, because what is the point of saying it? You may go on pretending that you are very happy — presidents and prime ministers go on pretending they are very happy; they are not. They are just saving their faces. Now, what to say? There is no point even in saying anything — they are not true.

    In the older ages, people were truer, more authentic. Buddha was a prince, he was going to be the emperor, but he realized that there is nothing in it. He could have pretended. Mahavir was a prince; he was going to be the emperor. He realized that there is nothing in it. They simply declared their realization to the world. They simply said that riches have failed, that kingdoms are not kingdoms; that if you are really seeking the kingdom, you will have to seek somewhere else, in some other direction.

    In this world there is no way to arrive.”

    ‘A Sudden Clash of Thunder’
    Chapter 3
    Chapter title: ‘Why Should I Grieve Over Him?’

    • satchit says:

      Yes, Arpana.

      This is one of my favourite stories too. :-)

      • Arpana says:

        I came across the story from another source years ago, Satchit, and struck such a chord with me at the time.

        • satchit says:

          @ Arps

          Yes, the story goes about unattachment.

          There is another story, about a monk who was accused of being the father of a baby, that goes in a similar direction.

          He always asked: “Is it so?”

          • Arpana says:

            @ Satchit.
            Yes. That was also another story that made an impression on me.

          • Arpana says:

            Here is the story. Note comments below.

            “A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter’s accusation, he simply replied “Is that so?”

            When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. “Is that so?” Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.

            For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened. “Is that so?” Hakuin said as he handed them the child.”

            People’s reactions to this story:
            “We are free to tell the mountain that it is too high, the road that it winds too much and the ocean that it is too wet.”

            “The master taught the village that perception is a relative phenomenon and that reality simply is what it is despite how people label it.”

            “Public criticism is a means for those who do not know themselves well. But for well self-understanding people, it means nothing.”

            My tickling is piqued by the choosing of Zen Master Names, yes. I bet “Iza tsohaw qu-een” is some kind of mystic chant that the author wanted readers to mutter over and over again as they read this koan.

            “We all have responsibilities. Sometimes others create them for us. We then have a choice to accept these responsibilities or fight them. The Zen master sees the greater good in accepting responsibilities that he did not ask for or plan on.”

            That girl is a lying slut.

            Hakuin must have been aware of his perceived status in the community. He accepted his charge by a member of the community unencumbered. With compassion he completed the mission.

            No matter. That child was as we all once were. The only difference is in being. Hakuin accepted another’s lie for truth as proof of his virtue of ethics and morality.

            “To be in harmony with the world.”

            The monk’s calmness is admirable, but the idea that one should not speak the truth when confronted with a lie is potentially very harmful. Perhaps the monk did not recognize his reputation among the people or the impact it would have on them, because if the daughter never admitted to lying about who the child’s true father was, she may have created a spirit of cynicism among the people. That even the most ‘spiritual’ types of people are not really so, but are simply putting on an act is what a lot of people would have taken from this situation if the truth never arose. People shouldn’t be dependent on the ppinions of others for their happiness, but they should also recognize the impact that their life will make on others and therefore not permit calumny to prevail.

            “Is that so?”

            So what? So what if he was or wasn’t the father. Details can not overshadow what is right or wrong. Everyone allowed themselves to be bothered by truly trivial details, and allowed these trivial details to act as ethical guiedelines for action.

            Questions lead to the truth. Have you ever heard the following in a conversation: “Well, why didn’t you tell me?!” “Because you didn’t ask”? It is the same here. Nobody asked Hakuin if he was the father, nobody asked if he would care for the child, and nobody asked for it back. We must learn to ask the right questions of the world around us, and to request, not demand all the time.

            People will act on their own convictions if there is no response.

            Just because everyone “knows” something to be true does not mean that it is.

            People saying something does not make it true…Knowing yourself is the most importent thing.

            No matter what your reputation is, no matter how much your virtue is praised, because it depends on the opinions of others it does not reflect the Real You.

            I like Richard Bach’s ‘Messiah’s Handbook’ from ‘Illusions’: Live, never to be ashamed if what you do or say is published around the world. Even if what is published is not true.

            Even a large stone cannot stop the river. Its resistance marks its demise.

            Perhaps it is too obvious that “Is that so?” is both a passive challenge to the accusers and an invitation to look more deeply into the matter — both of which were repeatedly declined. The Hakuin wisely declines to force the issue, accepting minor injustice while avoiding greater disharmony.

            The master has achieved complete acceptance of every person, situation and emotion. He has no fear of being unjustly labelled. He receives the child and gives up the child with the same peace of mind. He is both a detached observer and a complete participant.

            The Zen master taught that there is no difference between truth and lie, because all happenings in life will be experienced through the filter of our sense-organs. That is why he reacted equally to both, the accusation and the apology. Another example that children born out of wedlock are foistered onto others who must then pay for the bundle of joy. No mention is stated of the devestating effects of terminating a baby’s initial bonding with a caretaker. I’ll bet the monk never recieved a Father’s Day card.

            When I read this story for the first time I thought that the only words that Hakuin knew were “is that so?”. I then thought that couldn’t be right so I read it again. Now I just don’t know what to think.

            So what?

            In asking the question “Is that so?” perhaps the Zen master was trying to tip the people about truth. It is not subjective. It IS. He may not have believed their apology at the end as true as he did not believe their accusations as true. Their judgement of him was not relevant (to him.) The truth IS the truth and is what matters.

            “You can’t tell the whole story by reading the front page.”

            Truth is what you make it. In a Society Truth is what most of the people think it is — or is it?

            “Truth? What is it?”

      • Buddha was a prince, Mahavira was a prince; millions of times this analogy is used. For sure, Bhagwan Rajneesh was not a prince, His is the rags-to-riches story.

        Most probably, He has to pay hell of the price for that. People who invest in you would surely prefer principal sum with interest. No one gives anything for nothing.

        It is a simple hock-pock, people love their guru unconditionally.

        • swamishanti says:

          I wouldn’t call it a rags-to-riches story. Osho came from the wealthiest family in his village. His grandfather used to bring out an elephant for the young boy’s birthday and sit him on it and give him a bag of gold coins to throw around… ‘Raja’ was his name (King), (Rajneesh = ‘King of the Night’, Rajneesh Chandra Mohan = ‘Lord of the Full Moon’).

          Raja was the son of a Jain cloth merchant, his house had two storeys and was probably the largest in his village. They had enough money to send him and his brothers to university.

  13. samarpan says:

    Great title for Joan’s latest book: ‘Death: The End of Self-Improvement’.

    I came across this recently:

    “We’re obviously in a wonky period now and it might be awhile before things stabilize again. Whether or not you and I live to see equilibrium restored is, like everything in the dreamstate, immaterial. And seriously, who goes to a movie to watch happy people anyway? Who goes to an amusement park to sit on a bench? You pay your nickel and ride the ride, but whatever ups-and-downs and thrills-and-chills occur along the way, you get off right where you got on. Anyone who believes that Armageddon is more meaningful than the popping of a zit has yet to carve memento mori on their heart: Remember your death.

    Or, on the flipside: Remember that every day is the best day.

    Enjoy it while it lasts.”

    – Jed McKenna

    The whole letter is here: https://www.wisefoolpress.com/free/crucible/

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