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Flying Beyond Life and Death

Daoxiu, a Buddhist monk who was good at the practice of Zen, had difficulties in achieving enlightenment. Compared with other junior fellow monks who had already have some understandings of Zen, Daoxiu regarded himself not qualified to study Zen, not humorous or clever enough to enter the world of Zen. He made up his mind to give up learning and to be an ascetic monk. So he packed some simple clothes and planned on a long trip. Before leaving, he went to the Buddha hall to say goodbye to Zen Master Guangyu. 

Daoxiu told the Zen master: “Master, I am sorry for disappointing you. Ten years have passed since I honored you as my tutor, but I have made no progress on the understanding of Zen. I don’t think I have the gift for Zen, so I would like to take my leave and travel around.”

Zen Master Guangyu felt very surprised: “Do you want to leave without enlightenment? Can you achieve enlightenment in other places?”

Daoxiu answered sincerely: “Apart from eating and sleeping, I have spent all my time on the practice of Zen. I have worked really hard, but I don’t think I can deeply understand the principles of Zen. Looking around at other fellow monks, they have found the chances of enlightenment. I feel tired from the bottom of my heart, so I’d better travel around as an ascetic monk.”

Zen Master Guangyu tried to teach him: “Enlightenment is a reflection of the inner nature. It is indescribable or unutterable. You can’t learn it directly in a hurry. Everybody has a different understanding of Zen. Why must you compare yourself with others?”

Daoxiu answered, “Master, when I make a comparison with other fellow monks, I feel ashamed for it is just like a little sparrow compared with a big roc.”

Zen Master Guangyu pretended to be confused and asked, “How big? How little?”

Daoxiu answered, “A roc can fly hundreds of kilometers with one flap of wings, but a sparrow can only fly a limited length of several meters above the grass.”

The Zen master raised a meaningful question: “A roc can fly hundreds of kilometers with one flap, but can it fly beyond life and death?”

Daoxiu sank into silence, seeming to be enlightened by the Zen master’s words.

An idiom says that comparison is odious. Comparison is the source of annoyance, so how can one measure his understanding of Zen by comparison? Although a roc is big and strong to fly hundreds of kilometers with one flap of wings, it cannot fly beyond the ocean of life and death. By comparison, we can definitely see the differences of speed and strength between a roc and a sparrow, but the real understanding of Zen must come from equality. That is why when Daoxiu eliminated the idea of comparison and got back to equality, he would achieve enlightenment.

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