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Zen Stories - 8 - Watermelon and Stone

One day, Nansen took his disciple Takeshi for a walk, along with him. Both walked silently in the forest and reached a water stream. Nansen plucked a watermelon from a tree and threw it into the stream. He then picked up a stone from the bank and threw it also into the water. He turned around and began walking to the Ashram. Takeshi followed him silently. Both were silent until they reached the Ashram. The following day, Takeshi left the place.

Zen stories carry very deep meaning, which cannot be understood by a cursory reading. One has to meditate and reflect deeply upon them. Only then, he will understand their true meaning.

A disciple named Takeshi practiced meditation under the guidance of a Zen master called Nansen for a long time. However, he was unable to understand Zen and he hadn’t experienced Satori (a temporary state of Samadhi). He was very heartbroken over the same. Satori is an experience, a mini-Samadhi that can be considered as the first step to Samadhi. He was disturbed that even after many years of practice under his master, he was unable to reach Satori. But he never expressed his grief to Nansen.

Zen principles are very simple but very tricky. Zen attaches great importance to silent preaching. In reality, everything in Nature is an open book, yet, we are unable to understand it’s mysteries. This is because our hearts are closed and we lack the penetrative vision. The fault lies within us, not Nature.

If one cannot understand by observing, then there is no possibility that he will understand even if explained. In fact there is a danger in preaching. The disciple may understand the preaching through intellect and take that to be everything. This is how all our philosophy (Vedanta) was misinterpreted. There are plenty of people who fancy themselves to be learned scholars by simply memorizing and quoting from the highest truths of Vedanta, thinking that they have understood it.

We don’t need the menu or the bookish knowledge. We need the food and the experiential knowledge. The knowledge of the books is not ours. It is the experience of a random sage. By merely reciting them, it does not transform into our experience. Then what is our experience? If we close our eyes, we see pitch darkness. That is our experience. Being in such a state and presuming to have understood the aphorisms such as Aham Brahmasmi is utter foolishness. Be it Vedanta or any other highest truth, understanding them with our mind is not enough. We need to experience them. Only then, it becomes our own wealth. In the same way, memorizing Buddha Sutras will not yield anything. For that, practice is necessary.

That is why, Zen masters never preach anything. They only teach in a few words or show a small example and keep quiet. The disciple has to understand and do sadhana for years in silence. They have to gain maturity by diving deep into themselves. Bookish knowledge is not enough. Mere mugging up and preaching will not help. It is an encounter with death. Experience is the only vital thing. When a disciple achieves that maturity, the Guru himself will sense that. Disciples need not do or say anything to prove this. From the disciple’s behavior, sight and talk, a Guru can easily gauge his maturity level and tell if the disciple has gained knowledge or not.

Nansen sensed the pain Takeshi was going through. As I said, Zen masters never preach through words. They preach through action. If the disciple is not able to understand the actions, preaching them through words is of no use. Zen masters knew this very well. That is why Nansen took Takeshi along with him for a walk.

Water stream represents our mind. Just like the flow of thoughts in our mind, water flows continuously in a stream. A watermelon does not sink in water. It will stay afloat on water and go to any distance. It is an indication of a seeker with a restless mind. We will not be able to gain any knowledge if we keep getting lost in the stream of thoughts. A watermelon is big in size. Similarly, we may be rich and influential and possess money, gold, vehicles etc. Just like the sweet water in the melon, we may have many valuable skills and knowledge. But if we live our lives immersed in thoughts without any self realization, we just drift away like the melon and reach death eventually. We will never reach the water bed.

A pebble may be small, but it reaches the water bed as soon as it is thrown into the water, unlike the melon. A seeker needs to have such concentration. Then only he will be able to control his thought process. He will develop the skill of cutting off thoughts as they arise and get to the source of the thoughts. One who gains this ability will attain spiritual knowledge easily. He will experience Satori.

Kavyakanta Ganapati Muni was into countless spiritual practices for years, but in vain. At last he went to Brahmana Swami. At that time, he was not yet known by the name, Ramana Maharshi. Everyone used to call him Brahmana Swami. He used to be silent, secluded and never talked with anyone. Ganapathi Muni expressed his grief before him. Moved by his sincerity, Brahmana Swami tried to speak, but due to years of silence, his throat did not support him to talk. With much effort, he said these wonderful lines, “When you do Mantra japa, observe where the nada (sound) is coming from and remain firmly rooted in that place. Watch where the feeling of ‘I’ is arising and remain there firmly”. These lines helped Ganapathi Muni in his sadhana and paved the way for many seekers in the future.

Compared to the melon, a pebble is very small and does not have any value. Worldly fame and recognition are like watermelon. They may be desirable, but they cannot lead us to the ultimate truth. In comparison to them, the stone, which can reach straight into the water bed, is more valuable. People carry the watermelon home to eat, but kick the pebbles away. Likewise, this world gives so much value to money and status but cannot understand true spirituality. People keep a safe distance from it. This is the truth.

A seeker who always drifts away into thoughts like the floating watermelon will never reach his destiny, no matter how many years he spends in sadhana. He who can reach the inner depths of his mind straight like a stone, can gain knowledge in a trice. Takeshi had been wavering and unsettled in his thoughts. The very moment he reaches the source of his thoughts, he will attain Buddhahood.

Nansen, with this subtle act of his, imparted such a profound message. Takeshi too was not an ordinary person, he was a seeker with great yearning. That is why he was able to immediately grasp the inner meaning in Nansen’s actions.

That night, Takeshi tried to dive deep into himself with all his might, sparing no effort. He mercilessly continued to kill all his thoughts. He tried to reach the depths of his being, just as a stone sinks to the bottom of the river. The night passed and at day break, he was suddenly enlightened. All thoughts came to an end and he reached the depths of his being. He was absorbed in deep samadhi and remained in that state as sunrise occured. He then understood everything clearly. Takeshi’s journey ended and he entered Buddhahood.

There was no need for him to stay in the ashram anymore. Hence, he left the place quietly. Nansen had been observing all this and was extremely happy. In reality, Takeshi did not leave his Guru. All along, he had been wandering aimlessly and he had just then reached his real home. All those who attain Buddahood invariably reach the same abode.

Nansen quietly witnessed his disciple’s departure with a serene look.

All rights reserved. This article has been translated by Sowjanya D, which was originally posted in on April 6, 2010. 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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