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Monday, April 24, 2017

Dripping Water

The title for this inspiration may seem odd.  But it comes from a story the famous Buddhist writer in spirituality shared in his wonderful book, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers.  Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk who grew up in Vietnam.  He was forced to leave that country in the 1960s in the throes of the American involvement in that civil war.  Hanh eventually settled in France, but he has traveled all over the world.  He is one of the best known writers on spirituality.  When I use one of his books in class, students always fall in love with Hanh.
   
Near the end of that book, Hanh shares some autobiographical information about his younger days in Vietnam.  He tells the reader he became a novice Buddhist monk at age 16.  Most of us in this country could not imagine making that kind of decision at that young age.  All I wanted at age 16 was my driver’s license!  I hope I was mature enough for the responsibilities of driving, but certainly I was not ready to make a life-long spiritual decision as Hanh did. 
   
In a way that was not immediately clear, Hanh uses this fact of becoming a Buddhist monastic novice to tell a story about bells.  He notes that he grew up hearing bells.  As he notes, “In my country, I heard the Buddhist temple bells…”  He reflects on the fact he also heard the bells of the Roman Catholic Church, but those were not special bells for him.  All this leads him to share an early story of his life that I found intriguing and profound. 
   
He begins the story in this innocent way.  “I was about eleven years old and on a small mountain in northern Vietnam called Na Son.”  He tells us that he had gone to the mountain with a very big group of school boys and girls.  Since they were inexperienced climbers, they went out too fast.  Half way up the mountain, they were exhausted and out of water.  With this setting, Hanh sneaks in what will be the main focus for this story.  “I had heard that on the top of the mountain there was a hermit who practiced to become a Buddha.  I had never seen a hermit, so that day I was very excited.  I wanted to see a hermit, to see how he practiced to become a Buddha.”

Hanh shares with the reader that he had seen a picture of a Buddha.  The picture portrayed this religious figure as one who “looked so peaceful, so relaxed, and so happy…Looking at the Buddha’s picture, I suddenly wanted to become someone like him, peaceful, relaxed, and happy.”  Hanh was eight years old!  Somehow half way up that mountain that day, Hanh connected his image of the Buddha with what he thought he would see when he found the hermit.  “That is why I was excited to meet the hermit,” he claims.  I would have expected the same.

Sadly, when Hanh and his group reached the summit, the hermit was not to be found.  Of course, Hanh was deeply disappointed.  Then he reflects, “I guess a hermit is a man who wants to live alone and he does not want to meet three hundred children all at the same time.”  So Hanh concludes the hermit must have hidden.  Makes sense to me!

I appreciate the spirit of this young guy.  Undaunted, he tells us “I left my friends and went alone into the forest hoping that I would be able to discover the hidden hermit.  After a few minutes, I began to hear the sound of water dripping.  The sound was very beautiful; it was like a piano.”  It is easy for me to let my imagination take me to the mountaintop with the young Buddhist-to-be, Hanh.  I can imagine his disappointment at not finding the gnarled old hermit somewhere.  And then, he hears the water dripping.  Somehow this gives him hope.
   
He continues his saga.  “I followed it (the sound), and very quickly I discovered a beautiful natural well.  The water was so clear, you could see everything at the bottom.”  The young guy is ecstatic.  He describes carefully the well.  He proceeded to taste the water and comments, “I had never tasted water that was so delicious.”  And then comes the great conclusion.  Hanh tells us, “I had read a lot of fairy tales and was very influenced by them.  I believed that the hermit had transformed himself into the well in order for me to meet him privately.”  The dripping water had led Hanh to the transformed hermit, masquerading as a natural well.
   
We could dismiss this as youthful fantasy.  But maybe there is a lesson here.  It makes me wonder if I have gone into the world looking for God as surely as Hanh went looking for a hermit, who revealed the Buddha?  Disappointed, I never seem to find God, who either went into hiding or, worse, simply does not exist.  This is exactly what so many in our world conclude.
   
But maybe, just maybe, God also goes into hiding.  We won’t see God face to face, one-on-one.  Instead, God transforms into things more ordinary.  Maybe God becomes a natural well.  But more likely, God comes into the poor and downtrodden who cross my path.  God might be in the depressed gal or the little kid who is a pain.  Maybe God is calling me into those places which are calling for my compassion.  Maybe God is in the delirious play of the kids who know pure joy and exuberance.
   
Maybe God is all over the place, but I only hear something like dripping water and dismiss it as nothing.  The youthful Hanh has taught me a good lesson.

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