Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Humbleness and Spiritual Enlightenment


The Sage & the Dung ~ A Beautiful Modesty

Jul 19, 2018

Saying For Today: The wise one and the Sun need no esteem to be and keep being that they are and give that they give, while being seen and praised by those humble enough to see and praise.

harvest moon

The following story and comment is from teaching talks by the late Chan Buddhist teacher Sheng Yen (Taiwan, 1931-2001), in The Method of No-Method: The Chan Practice of Silent Illumination. Sheng Yen is discoursing on a teaching poem of the late Zen master Hongzhi. So, first Hongzhi's words, expounding on Silent Illumination, wherein arises silence and clarity. Then, Sheng Yen.

Therefore it is said:
"Like the earth that holds up a mountain,
unaware of its steepness and loftiness;
like the stone that contains jade,
unaware of the flawlessness of the jade."
If one can be thus, this is truly leaving home.
People who have left home [nuns, monks]
must get hold of the essence in this way.

There is a story of a high Chinese official who came to pay his respects to a famous modern Chan master, Xuyun (1839–1959), who lived on a mountain. At the bottom of the mountain, he saw an old monk who was spreading manure on a vegetable patch. Not very respectfully, he demanded of the old monk to tell him how to get to the top of the mountain so he could visit the Chan master. The old monk said, “Why do you want to see him?” “Don’t you know? He is a very famous master. I want to pay my respects to him.” “That fellow? Pfeh! Don’t bother. It is not worth the trip! He is nothing.” “How dare you say that about a famous Chan master! Look at you and your filthy manure!” “Well, if you want to see him, it is none of my business. The path to the mountain is that way.” When he reached the temple, the official demanded to know where the master was. One of the monks said, “Oh, he is down the mountain spreading manure in the garden.” The chagrined official hurried down the mountain and prostrated to the old Chan master, right on top of the manure.

So if you see an old monk hauling a bucket of manure, please pay some respect. [Laughter] You cannot tell an enlightened person just by outward appearances, just as you cannot tell that a rock contains a jade just by looking at it from the outside. Thus there’s a saying, "One with great wisdom is like a great fool."

* * *

I am reminded of two prominent scriptures, one first from Judaism and the other Christianity. In the first, a passage oft used by Christians to claim the scripture refers to Jesus. In historical context, I would agree with Jewish scholars and some Christian, the person may be a contemporary person, possibly an "Isaiah," or a collective, such as a remnant of Jews who would survive exile, return to the southern kingdom Judah and its capital Jerusalem, and be the beginning of a new age of national independence ~ in either case, the passage is Messianic.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53.3, ESV)

How could such a one, be person or people, be apt as a sign of future blessed times? Who would see hope in the humiliation and humbleness of such a one marked as despised, rejected, sorrows, grief, from whom men hide their faces, and esteemed him not? Nothing of this sounds like anyone to place hope in, no one fit to be the sign of a longed-for future. Yet, this is one way Grace works. Grace has a tendency to disappoint our prideful projections of what holiness, enlightenment, righteousness, awakening, ... looks like. Deflation and disappointment is the way through such spiritualized delusion.

And, another scripture, James 4.10 (ESV) from my childhood that has remained deeply entrenched, thankfully, in my brain.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

We do not have to read this as a "Lord" outside us giving us good for being good. I once interpreted this in that way. I am content to see this is how life works, how Grace graces. No God has to exalt us for our humbleness, rather being-down and being-up are one act of life. Simply put, if I want to be lifted up, I must be postured to be lifted up. And, sometimes, life complies, as in my case at times, and allows one to be humiliated, or put down, to be humble, to stay down. See, as I wrote, one act: one lifted up, is still down. In the up, remains the down, as the down is one with the up. Life will allow the prideful "I" to get walked on, to be crushed, to be treated as of no worth, so the "I" can surrender to the Truth, to Love. So, while humiliation may seem too mortifying to be thankful for when one feels it, being pushed down can be an opening to a lovely humbleness that is the posture graced with uplift.

And more often than we might like to admit, what has pushed us down is our own pride, like spanking ourselves on our own butt, no God or Grace or anything needing to apply a whip for us. We pronounce the guilty verdict upon ourselves, in a crude act of self-induced degradation. Even in this, we can see we have gifted ourselves with disgrace that prepares for Grace. No need to wallow in guilt, such wallowing is additional disgrace, simply see the fact and receive the opportunity in the chastening of pride.

* * *

Meditation is a process of chastening for anyone meditating, unless meditation is used as some means to simply sate the ego ~ much of what is called meditation is something else. Meditation beats up on the ego. Meditation refuses to give us what we want. After being humiliated by efforting, we learn to stop trying to get what we want from meditation, then we are given what we most deeply wanted, which is what we needed in the first place. So, if we truly meditate daily, we will be being taught in that time, like in a putting down lab, a lab in which we find in that place of being down, we rejoice that we find the blessing of being lifted up. The two, were after all, the same place. So, meditation is only a success in it being a total failure, a total disappointment. Then is the possibility of learning to relax directly into that surrendered posture of not meditating to become someone or get something. So, what do you do? If any doing, relaxing with nothing to gain or lose. Then, out of that, you may do something or just do nothing; life has a way of moving pole to pole, it all belongs. So, from non-doing arises doing, doing becomes non-doing. Yet, the push will be over, whatever is done is done at home and not to get to home anywhere else, and you know every experience will disappear even as it came, and you see this, and you appreciate the comings and goings. This is the single act of being down and being up, a fluid harmony. So, you are learning this in that meditation lab, so this becomes more the way you live outside the set time of meditation.

* * *

For a time, when young, Soto Zen teacher Dainin Katagiri (1928-1990) studied under Yokoi Roshi, or Yokoi Kakudō. The teacher was often harsh with Katagiri. Writes Katagiri's disciple Dosho Port, in Keep Me in Your Heart A While: The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri.

While he was with Yokoi Roshi, Dainin-san felt that his life, his sense of himself, was shrinking and that he might disappear. He felt like he was suffocating. One day Dainin-san asked Yokoi Roshi why he never praised, only scolded. Yokoi Roshi said, “I scold you so that you might be a normal person.”

While one could argue that never praising, only scolding, is not recommendable to help another develop as a human being, can we argue with the pureness of intent, the wish for one who would be a spiritual guide to others be as fully human as those he would exemplify wisdom before and for? Later in life, Port refers to Katagiri saying to him that he had come to appreciate the way the teacher had worked with him, but initially he was not prepared to.

* * *

Wise beings ~ call them holy, sages, liberated, righteous, enlightened ... whatever ~ are marked with a beautiful modesty. Such modesty is not self-reflective, like a trying to be humble, which is a form of pridefulness. Humbleness has no agenda to be humble. Life, by means gentle and fierce, transforms pride into humbleness and, so, lifts up. And we would be wise not to equate spiritual maturity with what appeals to most persons, rather with what most persons would totally miss seeing. And, yes, if we aspire to be a graceful being, we would do well to surrender to be a humble being. We surrender, but we do not effort our way to produce humbleness. Humbleness arises, is not efforted into being.

A wise being is of subtle meekness, so unremarkable to egoic mind. Prideful persons do not see or appreciate the quiet majesty that shines through one who works with the dung of common human existence, in the self-effacing love of love for all beings. Succinctly, the modest person is esteemed not trying to be esteemed at all, any more than the lovely Sun is trying to be noticed and admired by anyone. The wise one and the Sun need no esteem to be and keep being that they are and give that they give, while being seen and praised by those humble enough to see and praise. In that, humbleness recognizes humbleness.


*All material, unless another source is cited, is authored by the presenter of Lotus of Heart, Brian Kenneth Wilcox, Florida USA. Use of the material is permitted; Brian only requests that credit be given and to be notified at 77ahavah77@gmail.com .

*Brian's book, An Ache for Union, is available through major booksellers.

*Move cursor over pictures for photographer and title.

The Sacred in Me bows
to the Sacred in You


Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Humbleness and Spiritual Enlightenment

©Brian Wilcox 2019