"A man was wandering in the wilderness when a tiger appeared and began to chase him. Panicked, he fled to the edge of a cliff with the ferocious beast on his heels. Spotting a thorny vine rooted on the rock, he swung himself down over the chasm.
Above, the tiger howled and pawed at the rock; below, he saw the gaping jaws of a second tiger. Suddenly, a white mouse and a black mouse appeared and began to gnaw at the vine, but the man did not notice. He had found a plump, red strawberry growing on the face of the cliff. Holding onto the vine with one hand, he plucked the fruit with the other and popped it into his dry mouth. How sweet it was!
Is this story, which appears in the book Fishing for the moon and other Zen stories, by Lulu Hansen, which my friend Alice gave me as a birthday present, another version of "sufficient for today are the evils of today?"
Is it about "mindfulness" or about how life is so terrible that all we can do is eat a strawberry before we ourselves are consumed? What IS it about?
This story is attributed to Gautama himself, but it is nonetheless a Zen story, and like all Zen stories, it embodies a riddle that the hearer must work out for her- or himself. An explanation received from another person will never satisfy, for the precise reason that it is not the sort of explanation the story requires. The true explanation can only be one that is unlocked from within your own body of experience and rings true to every atom of your being.
That being so, I hesitate to comment. But were I a Zen teacher, instead of a Conservative Friend, I might ask: Can you describe the taste of this strawberry?
Me, oh yeah.
It seems to me that it might be about appreciating the wonders of the moment even when things seem at their worst. Although I'm sure there are many other interpretations and lessons to be learned.
The bit about the two mice has special, though peripheral, significance. They represent the illusion or the manifestation of duality.
The parable still makes sense without them, so I always wonder why the Buddha brought them into the story. I've come to name them This and That. If you're the guy hanging from the vine, your mind might take refuge from its fear of the tigers by instead wondering endlessly about the two mice. But whether you obsess about them or not, whether you think dualistically or not, they are still gnawing at the vine.
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