10 July 2010
Once upon a time in ancient China, there was a sage who taught the Tao to three disciples at a distant temple. Once every few months, they would make the long trip into town to purchase supplies.
On one of these trips, they paused by a field overgrown with weeds. The sage said to the disciples: "This field is like the human mind, and the weeds are like negative thoughts. Tell me, what do you think is the best way to get rid of the weeds?"
The first disciple was quick to answer: "Just pull up the weeds with your hands, Master. What can be easier than that?"
The second disciple disagreed: "That is not very effective. Look at how many weeds there are. You can only do so much before you get tired. The best way is to use tools like the shovel to uproot the weeds. In the same amount of time, you can do a lot more with less effort."
The third disciple shook his head: "Even that is not effective enough. Look at how big this field is. Even with tools, it will still take quite a while, and it will still be exhausting. The best way is fire. Set up a perimeter around the field, and then burn the whole thing. It takes some effort to preapre, but once that's done, you just stand back and watch the fire do all the work for you."
The sage smiled approvingly: "You've given three answers that are quite different, but all interesting. Tell me, how does your answer correspond with the Tao?"
The first disciple was again the quickest to respond: "Pulling up the weeds by hand is like confronting each negative thought directly, getting a firm hold of it, and then having the satisfaction of uprooting it from the mind. I believe this is the Tao at the purest and most personal level."
The second disciple thought for a moment: "Just as this field has too many weeds to clear by hand, the mind has too many negative thoughts to eliminate one by one. I need the tools of cultivation, such as meditation, mantras and sutras. These spiritual tools are standard not only for us, but also for other followers of the Tao, so it is quite obvious that my idea is much closer to the Tao."
The third disciple was also thoughtful: "My method is like establishing communion with the gods and the buddhas. Burning the field with fire is like using the sacred powers of the divine to sweep the mind completely clear of negative thoughts. This is the most powerful method, and therefore must also be the closest to the Tao."
Again the sage smiled in approval: "These are all valid comparisons. We can continue on our way now, but I want all of you to keep this discussion in mind, and think about your solution some more."
Months passed, and soon it was time to go into town for supplies again. The sage and the disciples passed by the same field as before, but this time it was different. They saw that farmers had turned it into rice paddies.
The sage turned to them and said: "This is the reason why I did not name any of your answers as the correct one. None of you touched the level of the Tao."
The first disciple was curious: "What was wrong with our solutions, Master?"
"They were all temporary measures." The sage pointed out: "The weeds will grow back after you have cleared the field, regardless of your method. The only way to ensure that won't happen is to replace the weeds with something else - like the rice crop you see in front of you. Similarly, it is not enough to eliminate negative thoughts from your mind. You must also plant the seeds of positive thoughts. That is the only way to ensure that the negativity will never return."