John Suler's Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors
Two people are lost in the desert. They are dying from hunger and thirst. Finally, they come to a high wall. On the other side they can hear the sound of a waterfall and birds singing. Above, they can see the branches of lush trees over the top of the wall. Their fruit look delicious.
One of them manages to climb over the wall and disappears down the other side. The other, instead, returns to the desert to help other lost travelers find their way to the oasis.
People's reactions to this story:
"Paradise is nothing without others to share it with. Who wants paradise anyway?"
"People have different views of paradise. Is it more fulfilling to find your paradise or to share it with others? Moral - Know yourself before you guide others?"
"Who will be a more convincing salesman for Paradise: a person who has seen it or a person who has lived in it? And is someone who is dying of thirst ready to retrace his steps across the desert, regardless of the nobility of the task? The road to hell and death is paved with good intentions."
"The story seems to ask a question: is it better to improve your own life, or improve the lives of others at expense to yourself? As an individualist, I favor the former option. In my view, the story provides a somewhat distorted image, neglecting the later travelers' ability to find paradise on their own. A secondary question is the motives of the original two travelers. The one who remains in paradise seems easy enough to explain: he wants to stay alive and enjoy life. The other one is more complicated. Is he motivated by a pure and inexplicable sense of altruism, of enjoying the success of others, even at his own expense? Or is he motivated by a desire to be admired (after all, the first traveler *disappears* into the garden, and that's the last we hear of him). Or does he feel he is unworthy to enjoy paradise while others wander in the desert?"
"Desert is our current life: Beautiful Oasis or other side is Nirvana. The story is dealing with the traditional disagreement between the Hinayana and the Mahayana: What behaviour is the culmination of spiritual journey: liberating self: Arahat who through personal discipline comes to the wall and then transcends it or Bodhisattva ideal- facing infinite rebirths (going back into the desert for the liberation of infinite myriad of sentient beings?) I am not sure if we get a clear opinion from this story and perhaps one is not intended however one man seems selfish while the other seems mad."
"It took so much faith to walk the desert and so much awareness to see the wall and so much doubt to look up above the wall and so much courage to both climb the wall and to walk back for others... so much and yet just enough... thank you for this wonderful story..."
"Buddha turned away from paradise to help lead others out of the desert. God so loved the world that he gave up his only begotten son that our sins might be forgiven."
"Buddha returns to the desert to lead others to the oasis. He dies, and each traveler can only follow the tracks that he left."
"The one climbing over the wall finds his own salvation/enlightenment. The one returning to the desert is the teacher who finds the way and wants to help many others achieve their salvation. If everyone who found enlightenment STAYED there, who would exist to tell others it is not a dream?"
"This story reminds me of the teachings of Jesus. The traveler who see's the oasis and immediately runs to it is a sinner because he desired the good life without thinking of others. The traveler who went back to find other travelers who are lost will find eternal life. The oasis is superficial much like our life. The oasis like our life is only a test. If we go through life thinking only of riches and the good life like the weary traveler who immediately jumped the wall we will miss out on an even better oasis, an internal oasis with God."
"This illustrates the Zen equivalent of what Christians call 'evangelism'. It is not enough to possess paradise, the creature comforts; one is called to lead others to it. Great story!"
"It appears that the first traveler 'stole heaven' by scaling the wall while the second traveler compassionately sacrificed himself for the good of other travelers. Perhaps paradise to the first traveler is rest while paradise to the second is service. This tale also bears a striking similarity to a chapter from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress."
"One dying traveler chooses life. He struggles to climb the wall to paradise and succeeds. The other dying traveler chooses death. 'Two people are lost in the desert' is not 'Two of the people lost in the desert'. The return to the desert to help imagined 'other lost travelers' is a justification for choosing death."
"The second person doesn't return to the desert out of commitment, he returns for pleasure. To him, it is the giving, or sharing that is paradise."
"The 2 who reached that wall are one , as who would not want to enjoy paradise, while at the same time saving his peers?"
"A lot of comments on your website have referred to classic literature (i.e., the Bible, the Scarlet Letter, Ben Franklin, etc.) to try and interpret the meanings of the stories. I feel as though I'm in my American Lit. class. But this story really does connect to the whole tradition of success in America, what some call the 'success myth'. The American concept of success has said for a long time that a successful person has a responsibility to help others, to use his position to serve the community. But recently, as the focus of success has changed from 'we' to 'me,' success is totally selfish. No one cares about anyone but himself. This story makes me think about who is more successful. I say the second traveler, because he is more enlightened than the first. Helping others is more a mark of true success than luxury is."
"Was it wise for the second person to go back to tell everyone, not knowing for sure what is beyond the wall. May be there was a Monster on the other side of the wall!"
"Sometimes we walk the path of self indulgence other times the path of sacrifice for others. I believe Zen is the path of conscious choices."
"Seems to be addressing the decision all we must make, whether to act for the benefit of ourselves or to act in a way that will help others. To stay behind teaching or move ahead alone?"
"The one who lept the wall has found what he was seeking. The one who returned to help other travelers undoubtedly lost his own life as he did not take care of his own needs before seeking to help others. Therefore, finish what you started before you begin another task."
"This is a very fine story. The one who has found something valuable and keeps it only to himself will never become really happy."
"Some people find happiness through material things, while some find happiness by helping others and knowing in their heart that they're doing the right thing."
"Desire leads to suffering from desires yet to be quenched; non-attachment to desire leads to pleasure in selfless acts."
"Both men have found their way."
"The man who went back into the desert dying of hunger and thirst - did."
"As John Shaft would say 'Right On!'"
"Ah, the gift (and sacrifices) of the teacher..."
"This is the worst, most contrived story of them all. What a crappy attempt to communicate wisdom through a story!"
|| Wanting God || Searching for Buddha || Gift of Insults ||