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Zen Stories - 7 - Most precious thing in the world

A disciple asked a Zen master “What is the most precious thing in the world?”

The master replied, "The head of a dead cat".

The disciple further asked, "Why is the head of a dead cat most precious?"

The master replied, "Because no one can value it".

The conversations with Zen masters seem to be strange and cannot be understood easily. But they are invaluable and contain hidden messages. The approach of Zen is such.

We need to understand the following three things to grasp the message in this story.

1. The most precious thing is that which cannot be valued by anyone. This is similar to what we find on few books which are listed as priceless. The head of a cat is precious as it does not have any value. The things which are considered as useless in the world are the most precious things in spiritual life. It all depends on how we look at them. For example, the Arabian deserts which are considered as useless are now rich oil wells and are lead suppliers of oil to the world. The barren lands of Prakasam district in Andhra Pradesh, India are now lead suppliers of granite.

2. In the Egyptian civilization, cat is worshipped and is considered to be the most intelligent and conscious animal. Similarly, human beings possess super intelligence which is called as worldly wisdom.

A person is considered more intelligent if he has more worldly wisdom. But this is an obstacle in the spiritual path. The spiritual doors are not opened to people with worldly wisdom but only to the simple and innocent minded.

Every living being has its brain in the head. The head and brain are the symbols of intellect. The head of a dead cat cannot think and is devoid of intellect. So the most precious thing in the world is a mind devoid of worldly wisdom.

3. We suffer lifelong because of our desires and passions. Finally, life ends abruptly even without our knowledge of how quickly it passed. Everyone’s life is such and death embraces us in a state when our desires remain unfulfilled.

But a person who is dead while yet living meaning whose desires and passions have come to an end while yet living is a realized person and is known as Jivanmukta. A person who is dead even before death embraces him can only reach this goal. A person who dies with death cannot really die and has to be reborn.

So a person becomes Buddha (an enlightened one) when his intellect, desires, passions etc;. end and he becomes equal to a dead cat.

Enlightenment (Buddhahood) is the most precious thing in the world as no one can value it properly. Only an enlightened soul can understand another enlightened soul. Only a person who has attained the state of non-existence can understand this state in another person, which is simply not possible for ordinary people. One can understand or visualize the world only based upon his own state of being. This is the reason why a Jnani (realized soul) appears to be insane. We know the state of madness but do not know the state of a Jnani. So we call a Jnani, a mad person as we compare his state of mind with what we know.

The state of non-existence which is devoid of worldly wisdom is the most precious thing in the world.

This is how the Zen master answered the disciple’s question in a simple manner.

All rights reserved. This article has been translated by Srinivas N, which was originally posted in on March 3, 2009. The content or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express permission of the publisher.

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