Imagine a spiritual truth seeker living on a mountain, waking early to meditate, eating the simplest food, practicing the most arduous disciplines and leading a life of severe deprivation. The path leading to higher awareness must be difficult indeed.
Don’t be fooled, it’s really easy!
It’s no joke, if what Shinran Shonin says is true. Allow me to explain.
Awakening to spiritual truth requires us merely to “open our eyes.” This means seeing and understanding life from a perspective different than what we saw and understood before.
I found three interesting anecdotes, which help explain this point in my “Kenkyusha Japanese Language” textbook, which I’ll borrow for the purposes of this essay. Here goes:
-An American student once said he couldn’t understand why Japanese cherry blossoms were such a big deal. He saw pictures of them and the only feeling he had was that they looked nice.
However, when he went to Japan, he saw cherry trees bloom in the spring, their beauty lasting for only a few days. Then, he saw the blossoms flutter to the ground like gentle snowflakes, touching him with a feeling of life’s impermanence. He finally saw what the Japanese saw and understood their feeling.
-A schoolteacher was invited to a friend’s wedding in a neighboring village, so she took the local train to attend. On the ride back home, she looked out the window and saw a mountain that the train had to circle around. She wondered, “What is that mountain? I have never seen it before.”
Suddenly, it dawned upon her that it was the same mountain that stood next to her hometown, but she had never viewed it from the backside. She had looked at this mountain countless times out of her classroom window and felt she knew it well. When confronted with the opposite side however, she realized she had only seen one face of it and wasn’t even aware of the other side until now.
This last story comes from a legend called “Columbus’s Egg”:
-After discovering the New World, Christopher Columbus returned to Spain to much acclaim. His fame aroused the jealously of some officials, who happened to sit near him at dinner. They accused Columbus of being a fraud, that his “discovery” was accidental and that anyone could have accomplished the same feat.
Upon hearing this affront, Columbus asked a servant to bring him an egg. Columbus took the egg and challenged his tablemates to stand the egg on its head. As each person tried, the egg invariably rolled over.
Finally, Columbus took the egg, held it firmly in his hand, and forcefully hit the egg on the table. The shell cracked just enough to flatten its surface, allowing Columbus to make the egg stand.
His accusers laughed and said, “Why anyone could have done that!” To which, Columbus replied, “If anyone could have done it, why didn’t you?”
In each of these stories, we see people who thought they knew the truth about something, but discovered, they really didn’t know. With a simple turn of the mind, they began to see and understand more than they understood before. This is the type of change in perspective that I think Shinran was talking about.
In our everyday experience, we are presented with opportunities to deepen our awareness about who we are and what this life is all about. In dealing with our family, friends, and co-workers; in dealing with our health, our jobs, our personal situations; in dealing with aging and death, the potential to awaken to Truth awaits us.
Just open your eyes and see more than you’ve seen before.