David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Work, Zen


• When author Lucy Grealy, author of Autobiography of a Face, was a skinny little girl, she used to work at a stable owned by a Mr. Evans in exchange for being able to ride the horses for free. She earned that right both for her work and for helping Mr. Evans whenever one of the amateur riders who paid to ride a horse complained when the horse wouldn’t go. Mr. Evans would point to Lucy and say, “I bet this skinny little girl could get this horse to go.” Lucy would climb into the saddle and because she knew how to ride, unlike the amateur paying customers, she would get the horse to fly.

• Many Jewish sages have had “real” jobs. Rabbi Hillel was a woodcutter, Rabbi Shammai was a builder, Rabbi Joshua was a blacksmith, and Rabbi Hanina was a shoemaker. They understood the importance of work. One day some Rabbis were discussing the creation of the world, and they decided to ask Rabbi Joseph about it, because he was a builder and so would understand such things. When they arrived where Rabbi Joseph was working, he was on a scaffold and declined to come down, saying, “I was hired by the day, and my time belongs to my employer.”

• Ballet stage managers sometimes have strange duties. While dancing in Jerome Robbins’ Tyl Eulenspiegal, Tanaquil Le Clercq released a helium-filled balloon into the air. Unfortunately, during the rest of the concert, the balloon lost helium and eventually made an appearance in a Pas de Trois, thus forming the fourth member of a quatre. After that mishap, the stage manager was given the job of shooting the balloon with a BB gun after the curtain closed on Tyl Eulenspiegal.

• A Hasidic Rabbi was walking alone when he met a man. The Rabbi asked the man, “Who do you work for?” The man replied, “I’m the night watchman, and I work for the village. Who do you work for?” The Rabbi replied, “Sometimes I’m not sure, but I will offer you a job at twice your present salary. Your job will be to walk with me and from time to time to ask me, ‘Who do you work for?’”

• Caspar Wistar, a Quaker, first earned his living hauling ashes in a wheelbarrow, but later he became a mayor. Some of his opponents tried to embarrass him by wheeling a wheelbarrow outside his house, but Mr. Wistar came out of his house and offered to show them how to wheel the wheelbarrow correctly.


• Zen master Kangan once pointed to some boats on the sea and said to his disciple Daichi, “You speak of mind over matter — let’s see you stop those boats from sailing.” Daichi quietly put a screen between them and the boats, shutting off the sight of the boats. Kangan smiled, but pointed out, “You had to use your hands.” Daichi closed his eyes.

• Sakyamuni asked his disciples, “How long is a person’s life?” His disciples guessed various lengths, such as 70 years, 60 years, etc., but Sakyamuni rejected all these answers. After his disciples gave up guessing, Sakyamuni answered his own question, “Life is but a breath.”

• A famous Zen master from Korea came to the United States. When he was asked where he wanted to go, he replied, “Las Vegas.” This sounds shocking, but be assured that the Zen master didn’t gamble. He had heard from other Koreans about the bright lights at Las Vegas, and he wanted to see the bright lights for himself.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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