The other day I visited Knotts Berry Farm with some friends. To be honest, I really like such thrill rides, so I enjoyed myself a lot. I feel grateful to the Buddhist friends who invited me.
Among those thrill rides, the one I liked the most was “Supreme Scream.” I was pulled up to the top of a high tower and experienced a free fall. This up-and-down movement repeated three times. It was amazing.
I enjoyed not only the process of descending but also ascending. The higher you go, the wider the view of the city of Los Angeles becomes. I was moved by its magnificence. (Of course, if you close your eyes because of acrophobia, you won’t see anything…)
In Buddhism, the path of attaining enlightenment is compared to mountain climbing. During the process of climbing up the ladder of enlightenment, something you haven’t realized before comes to your attention just as the view becomes wider when climbing up the mountain.
And when you finally attain Buddhahood, you will attain the wisdom of the Buddha, which is different from just knowledge. What will be revealed to you is beyond your imagination and knowledge.
In everyday life too, we have similar experiences where we realize that there is a big gap between mere knowledge and an actual experience. Let’s learn it through a short story from the book, Unshakable Spirit.
People flocked to see a certain painter’s exhibition. There was always an especially large crowd in front of his most famous painting, a depiction of a mother feeding her child. Concerned about what people might be saying about his work, the painter mingled with them anonymously and listened.
“This is his best work, isn’t it.” Everyone paused in front of that same painting, the one he was proudest of, and praised it to the skies. The painter was secretly feeling smug, when he happened to see a woman murmur, “This painting is a fake,” and walk away. He felt a cold shock. Whether it was the incisive comment of an eminent critic or the off-the-cuff remark of a rank amateur, he didn’t know, but he couldn’t let it pass. He followed after the woman and quietly introduced himself.
“I am the painter of that work. May I ask why you called it a fake?”
The woman looked rather embarrassed, but she explained, “When a woman feeds a child, she always opens her own mouth first. The mouth of the woman in that painting is closed. That’s why I said it is a fake. Please forgive me.”
Impressed by the importance of actual experience, the painter thanked her sincerely and redid the painting.
The third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, once asked his retainers this question: “When do you feel most at ease?”
One man said, “I never feel so at ease as when, after waiting to relieve myself, I can comfortably move my bowels.”
Iemitsu was enraged. “What insolence! How dare you say such a thing!” He sentenced the man to detention.
Some days later when Iemitsu was out falcon hunting, he felt an attack of diarrhea coming on—but there was no toilet around. For the master of the realm to empty his bowels on the ground in front of everyone was unthinkable, so he waited while his men hurriedly fashioned a toilet.
“Isn’t it ready yet?” he chafed. He felt ready to explode.
“Almost, sire.” When at length Iemitsu dashed to the makeshift toilet, he remembered the retainer he had sentenced to detention. He ordered him released and given a raise in stipend.
(Unshakable Spirit, “This Painting Is a Fake”)
Nobuaki Kondo, Missionary
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #36, The Big Gap between Mere Knowledge and an Actual Experience
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