The Hound and the Hare
Aesop, that wise old story teller of ancient Greece, lived a hundred years before the Buddha. He never heard of Zen, or Right Effort under the Buddhaís Eightfold Path. But the simple wisdom found in Aesopís fables transcend time and religious preference. If we Buddhists of the modern world were to pause and reflect on the following Aesopís fable, we might find some clues to guide us in our efforts to develop a spiritual life.
One day a hound, out hunting by himself, flushed a hare from a thicket and gave chase. The frightened hare gave the dog a long run and escaped. As the disappointed hound turned back toward home, a passing shepherd said jeeringly, "Youíre supposed to be such a fine hunter! Arenít you ashamed to let a little hare one-tenth your size get the better of you?"
"You forget," replied the hound, "that I was only running for my supper, but the hare was running for his life."
The hound was wise enough to know that he lacked the motivation of the hare. The hound knew that if the hare were to escape there were many other tasty treats in the bushes to replace it. But the rabbit, running to escape the finality of death in the jaws of the hound, had a lot more riding on the outcome of the chase. As the hound so wisely noted, the rabbit wanted to live more than the hound wanted to eat.
The importance a person attaches to a goal will directly affect the effort he puts toward reaching that goal. As a beginner, a person can approach Zen as either the hound or as the hare. If the beginner sees Zen as merely a method for coping with life, he is like the hound. Zen is simply a tasty meal, the convenient flavor of the month, that is easily replaced with other methods. If the beginner approaches Zen as a method of salvation, he is like the hare. The approach is one of complete effort, because the beginner realizes his life depends upon the outcome.
When I first approached Zen I was like the hound. I thought Zen would merely provide me a method for relaxation and poise so that I could cope with the stress and emptiness I was feeling. My approach to meditation as a hound was simple, if I didnít get immediate results I gave up. I moved on to a different method until I became dissatisfied, and so on. I approached each meditation method with the same attitude that the hound had when it chased the rabbit. "Oh well, if this doesnít work, thereís always something else." It hadnít occurred to me that Zen wasnít merely a convenient quick fix, to be easily replaced or altered to make it work for me. I wanted to be able to practice Zen and still keep my egotistical life intact. I wanted Zen to be a method to help me relax and pretend I was happy while I fought for promotions at work, made lots of money, and become as popular as possible. In the back of my mind, I was just like the hound chasing and trying to catch the rabbit. I felt that if I didnít " catch the Zen", I could easily move on to something else.
After taking the precepts, I continued to approach Zen as the hound. I dabbled in the different meditation techniques over the next couple of years, without really settling down to one method. Of course, during this period, I always felt that there was something wrong with the technique. The problem couldnít possibly be with me or my lack of effort.
Then came the turning point in my life. I was in the Air Force and I received an assignment to South Korea. I had to leave my family behind and live in Korea for a year. I was required to live by myself in a small, plain barracks room. For the first month or so, everything was fine. My job kept me busy and I wrote and phoned home regularly. But then the loneliness hit. I would sit in my room during the weekends with absolutely nothing to do but feel miserable and lonely. I felt desperate and scared. I was at the bottom of lifeís pit.
One day, with tears in my eyes, I sat on my pillow and prayed. I knew at that point that I couldnít cope with the world without Godís help. I also realized that I had to help myself by approaching Zen with an honest effort. At that point, I picked a mediation method, worked hard to get the method right, and I stuck with it. I finally began to approach Zen as the hare being chased by the hound; I approached Zen knowing that my life depended upon it.
With my new attitude toward the chase, my meditation practice quickly improved and deepened. I donít know how the rabbit felt when he safely "got to earth" but he couldnít have been more euphoric than I felt after each of my meditation sessions. I pushed on and, using "right effort," I achieved Samadhi within a few more months.
The Buddha spoke of right effort. He wisely pointed out that we are all subject to decay and that we must "seek our salvation with diligence." If youíre like the hound, and see Zen as "just another meal among many," youíll give up too easily. When the newly learned meditation exercise doesnít work after one or two sittings, youíll move onto a new method, or even to a new religion.
To seek salvation with diligence is to approach Zen with the effort of the hare who is running for his very life. Thatís what the Buddha meant by "right effort." If you come to see Zen is as the hare sees it, as a race for salvation, youíll stick with it until youíre safe in the hands of God.
Last modified: July 11, 2004
©2004 Zen and The Martial Arts