Friday, July 22, 2011

Buying a new Pair of Rubber Shoes

In this month's Kyeongyang Magazine, a philosophy professor in the Suwon Seminary reflects on the meaning of possessions in our life. He asks if our happiness depends on the number of things we possess. Although he admits we can't say they have nothing to do with happiness, they can't  in themselves make us happy.  Happiness is not extrinsic to the self but comes from the self. As we know, two persons can have the same external circumstances and yet one is happy and the other is not.

He recalls a Buddhist monk who picked the name 'No Beginning', composed of two Chinese ideographs. He has known the monk from the time they met as students in the U.S., and have remained in touch since returning to Korea. The monk explained that the name means denying  oneself and ridding oneself of greed. Avarice, he said, occurs when one leaves the right path and lives  in a manner exceeding what is necessary; it will then interfere with our happiness. He illustrated the point with the following anecdote:

          Years ago there was a monk and a disciple who lived in Gangwon-do. The disciple was in training, and his rubber shoes had  holes in them, so he asked a friend to buy him a  new pair.
          He was happy with his new pair of rubber shoes and  showed them to the monk.

        "Teacher aren't these rubber shoes beautiful?"

         "Idiot, you must be out of your mind to have bought a new pair of shoes."

         The young man whose rubber shoes had holes after their long use couldn't understand why the monk was so angry.
         "Teacher, why in the world are you so upset at me for buying a pair of rubber shoes after the other pair has worn out?"

        The monk then appeared not to understand the question and shouted at the young man.

 "You don't know how dangerous what you did is.  Soon you will be buying some new socks and you will be searching for new clothes. But that is not all. Your mind will become restless, and you will be dreaming of opportunities to go outside.

             "The young man was not satisfied with the explanation, and it showed in his face.  

        The monk further explained, "With the new clothes, instead of looking at books you will look at a mirror and lose the taste for study and  improvement. How can you say that a new pair of rubber shoes is of no consequence?"

 In this digital age, we give much importance to living well and eating well. It is difficult to deny that the  attitude of humility and emptying oneself is disappearing. Our ancestors were close to the earth, and any small thing was an opportunity to be thankful.

The above anecdote gives us some food for thought. The monk's thoughts on emptying oneself are important in this fast-paced  world of little reflection. Eradicating greed and emptying ourselves are necessary for the life of happiness and peace, we all desire.

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