The Lake

An aging master grew tired of his apprentice’s complaints. One morning, he sent him to get some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master told him to mix a handful of salt in a glass of water and then drink it.
“How does it taste?” the master asked.

“Bitter,” said the apprentice.

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”

As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?”

“Fresh,” remarked the apprentice.

“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.

“No,” said the young man. At this the master sat beside this serious young man, and explained softly,

“The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains exactly the same. However, the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things. Stop being a glass. Become a lake.”

One thought on “The Lake

  1. A man dug a well by the side of a road. For years afterward, grateful travelers talked of the “Wonderful Well.” But one night a man fell into it, and drowned. Afterwards people talked of the “Dreadful Well” and travelers avoided the path. Later, it was discovered that the drowned man was a drunken thief who had left the road to avoid the constable and certain capture… only to fall into the “Justice Dispensing Well.”

    ~ Lieh-tsu

    At the Gorge of Lu a great waterfall plunges for thousands of feet, its spray visible for miles. In the roiling waters below, no living creature can survive.

    One day, Confucius was standing at a distance from the pool’s edge, when he spied an old man slip into the water on one side of the bank, and begin to be tossed about in the churning water. Confucius called to his followers, and they ran to rescue the old man. But by the time they reached the bank, he had climbed out on the opposite shore and was walking along singing to himself.

    Confucius hailed him, and said, “You’d have to be a ghost to survive that, but you appear to be flesh and blood. What is your secret power?”

    “Nothing special,” replied the old man. “I go down with the water and come up with the water. I let it take me where it will. I survive because I don’t struggle against the superior strength of the water. That is all.”

    ~ Chuang-tse

    I like the parable you selected. But I would add that we get to choose the “pain” and also how to “remedy” it. We experience a stimulus, and then decide – judge – “joy” “sorrow” “funny” “good” “bad” etc. Yet the situation – the impetus for our feelings – remains the same. Likewise we can choose to “be” a droplet of water or, in another instance, an ocean of droplets. Our choice of how “small” we wish to “be”, in response to stimulus, doesn’t change what we are – limitless beings who are both each drop AND the entire ocean.

    When I catch myself being too judgmental, too “certain” about anything, I like to remind myself of the Taoist parable of the farmer and the horses… the line “is that so” in the face of the certain judgment of the rest of the village. All of which I boil down to the word “maybe.” In that way I can rid myself of the attachment, in the Buddhist tradition, of needing to “judge” each moment, to taste the salt, or water it down, and to simply enjoy that moment just as it is. Perfect in and of itself.

    This is a lovely blog. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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