Coming full circle

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 03/18/2007

It’s Sunday and you may have already heard a homily by the time you read this but allow me to share with you a little Zen story. I posted this on my class e-group and one of them suggested I ruminate on it for my Sunday column.

‘There was once a stone cutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life. One day he passed a wealthy merchant’s house. Through the open gateway, he saw many fine possessions and important visitors. ‘How powerful that merchant must be!’ thought the stone cutter. He became very envious and wished that he could be like the merchant.

“To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever imagined, but envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. Soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. ‘How powerful that official is!’ he thought. ‘I wish that I could be a high official!’

“Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around. It was a hot summer day, so the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. ‘How powerful the sun is!’ he thought. ‘I wish that I could be the sun!’

“Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. ‘How powerful that storm cloud is!’ he thought. ‘I wish that I could be a cloud!’

“Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. ‘How powerful it is!’ he thought. ‘I wish that I could be the wind!’

“Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, feared and hated by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it — a huge, towering rock. ‘How powerful that rock is!’ he thought. ‘I wish that I could be a rock!’

“Then he became the rock, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the hard surface, and felt himself being changed. ‘What could be more powerful than I, the rock?’ he thought.

“He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stone cutter.”

This has got to be the modern parable for everyone. Every day, the world sends us messages about how terrible our lot is, how much we are in need of improvement and that only the newest, latest, biggest, fastest, best product, gadget, process or service available will save us. And so we should rush out and buy it.

I fall for this quite often. The pitch of modern living is steeped in materialism and says, basically, that we are not enough as we are. We are incomplete and do not make the grade. We need to be saved, made over, improved, rescued, polished, altered, refurbished, added on to, delivered, born again so that we can begin to feel better about ourselves.

I have met many people who by the standards of the world seem to “have it all” but are so desperately lonely. Their low happiness index is not anywhere commensurate with the abundant material blessings showered on them. It makes me realize that what we strive for is usually overrated. And I suspect it is not so much because the world over-promises but because we over-expect. We imbue upon material, transient objects and longings the unquantifiable quality of eternal bliss, which these things just can’t give us.

It may also have something to do with lack of gratitude. People who have no sense of gratitude are never happy with what they get. They are stuck, hung up on some ideal they just won’t let go of. The result is, almost always after they get something, they immediately devalue it because there is something better out there, or it was less than what they had imagined it to be. They view life as a continuous cycle of disappointments and letdowns and lash out at the world for their own loneliness and inability to find contentment.

Grateful people, on the other hand, can be happy with anything that comes their way. Whatever shows up is accepted, processed, integrated and converted into something of value. They are able to cull wisdom and joy even from seemingly tragic events that come into their lives. The ungrateful ones, on the other hand, feel that they are forever singled out and victimized by life.

Happiness and sadness are simply states of being that, oddly enough, we choose to be in. But those who choose happiness choose it consciously, while lucid and awake. Those who choose sadness do so while asleep.

And there’s the paradox. Man will always search for happiness as he has done since the beginning of time, even if the search, as immortalized in books and movies, like the search for God, is ultimately a lost cause. Why? Because you cannot find something that was never lost to start with. So stop searching. Instead, wake up to life as it is and see the grace in that, because therein lies deliverance.

Everything we need is inside us. The spirit, the force, the kingdom is within us. If happiness depends on the external world, how come there are poor, crippled people who are happy and rich, healthy ones who lead wretched lives?

T.S. Eliot put it so well: “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Like the stone cutter, we will all travel full circle.

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

16 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
JULIA
JULIA
14 years ago

Well said Jim 🙂 Thanks for this and for your previous entry on Forgiveness and the Three Quotes. It helped me in my closure/rebuttal letter regarding the school issue. Happy to know that all well with you and your family. Thanks for always sharing your thoughts and views about life. Take care… 🙂 Julia

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

Hi Julia,

Sorry I never got to answer your letter. I was just swamped with work. It’s been a bit crazy. Glad to know you have had your closure regarding that.

We are US bound again. Kitakits!

Anonymous
Anonymous
14 years ago

Hi Jim,

This is absolutely great. I really enjoy your articles. I look forward to start reading your three books this weekend. It is always a refreshing experience to see your perspective. – Ian

N
N
14 years ago

wow. it reminded me of a sweet advise my uncle gave to my cousin’s (his daughter), “choose to be happy.” really. it sounds THAT simple but many people struggle to choose happiness.

luv your posts sir jim!

nette

yeng
yeng
14 years ago

sir,
reading this article reminded me of the many clamors that i have in my life. it helped me once again to reevaluate the person in me. i am indeed looking forward to read more about your views in life. Thank you and God bless.

marky
marky
14 years ago

Nice post sir, been feeling bad about my state now, considering that I’m abroad and earning well. Indeed, our dreams are most of the time too lofty, when what we really need to make us happy is just so simple..I really enjoy reading your posts..takes for this one..

Louie
Louie
14 years ago

I thought I would be happy earning 10X more than what I earn back in the Philippines. But now I terribly miss my family, my friends, and the things I used to do back home. This is really very true, and it is what I finally realized right now. Thank you Sir Jim!

Anonymous
Anonymous
14 years ago

when i was in grade school i read something similar, about a fisherman’s wife who wanted to be more…
just discovered your blog recently, and i love your writing. of course your music has been part of our family all thse years. and we are 10 siblings, too. 🙂
bless you, Jim P.

Eva

Anonymous
Anonymous
14 years ago

It is a beautiful anecdote that is full of wisdom. Your post, however, conveys to a minority of ‘chronic discontents’, and I agree with you.

But, I find it skewed because majority of the 83 million Filipinos are not ‘driven’. But, yes, porma and getting the next best gadget is Filipino’s best forte. Also, majority of us are more concerned about what will happen to our favorite telenovela, or where best to hang out until 7 am, or where poor parents could make utang for our kids’ overdue tuition fees or mere grocery money or pay the bills.

Australians, Americans, Europeans and British are easily disgruntled and discontented. Ironically, that’s precisely the reason why they have more! They will express their discontent, say No without hesitation, and go to courts to fight for their rights, change legislations, do volunteer work or study or work harder to reach their dreams or goals. Because they not only know they deserve more, but they will also ensure they get it. Filipinos,in general, do not. We are bogged down by ‘bahala na’ temperament.

That’s precisely why the trapos, sexual and all sorts of predators take advantage of wretched Filipinos back home. Heck, predators from foreign lands travel to the Philippines to take advantage of our ‘poor’ women. This year’s election tells the same stories. Trapos could buy a vote for mere ‘utang na loob’. The word, pathetic, is actually an understatement.

What Filipinos need is not more stories of “surrender” or “acceptance.” Filipinos need inspirational stories of struggle to rise from abject poverty, to fight for our rights, and to seek our own true our identity. We need to study more –not for more wealth but for self worth! Don’t mistake peoples’ ability to break out of their shells and hurt in the process. It’s not called loneliness. It’s called positive transformation which many of us Pinoys refuse to do. Afterall, ayan na yan!

Sorry for the tirade. Oh yeah, I find blogs a waste of time! I am spending my time getting my Phd.

MelaCane
MelaCane
14 years ago

Jim,

I’m sorry but i have alwys wanted to ask this (been looking for anyone to answer to be exact) “How can we say that “happiness” is something that was never lost? Do we innately have it since birth? How? Why? What is happiness really? I might even be asking for an unanswerable question but I’ll ask anyway.

Thank You.

You do good,
Cane

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

melacane–zen obliquely answers your question with a question which goes, ‘What was your Original Face before your parents gave birth to you?” It’s a deep question but the implication is, there is a purity and an untainted quality about us that never leaves us even if we live in a corrupted world. This ‘original face’ is accessible to us even now when we are present to the moment, unaffected by traumas of the past and worries of the future.

If you have been meditating, you will know what I mean. Yey even if you do not, each one can catch glimpses of their true nature pa rin. I could write a whole essay about it and it would not suffice. That’s the beauty of zen.

n–Yes, it’s THAT simple. What makes it difficult is when we don’t really believe it.

yeng, marky, eve, ian–salamat

louie–enjoy wherever you are. It only gets shitty when we contaminate it with the past or future. Comparing puts things in hierarchy and cheapens it. We lose the gift of seeing it for its suchness–unique and can never be repeated again.

anonymous–for someone who hates blogs, you spent some time writing your thoughts down on this one.

MelaCane
MelaCane
14 years ago

Jim,

Thank you. Maybe i am just clouded with too many questions I don’t see what I am supposed to get a glimpse of.
I am interested in meditating and i am now in the process of researching about it.

Thanks,
Cane

f i l l i b u s t e r o
f i l l i b u s t e r o
14 years ago

read this article on Star, lurve it.

i always read your articles. baka may madampot at makain.

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

melacane—if you are interested in zen, don’t read about it. Instead, join a zen group. Visit http://iriz.hanazono.ac.jp/zen_centers/centers_data/philippi.htm for inquiries.

filibuster–salamat

louie
louie
14 years ago

Thank you Sir Jim, such a wise advice! I even shared your advice with some of the Filipinos here (Turks & Caicos) who at some degree share that same feeling of regret. They all wowed and said that really make sense. Thanks again Sir!

liz
liz
14 years ago

hope its okay with you..
i’d love to forward and share this article/s with some of my friends.. we’re in our early 20’s and many of us are going through “don’t know what to do next” phase…opportunities abound,but..which path to take?!
your articles of about life & living gives inspiration to us lost lambs.. thanks! 😀 -liz