Living Tao – Salt And Lake
Once upon a time in ancient China, there was a sage who taught a group of disciples at a remote monastery. They studied teachings from many sources of wisdom, even some that originated from distant lands.
One important topic they delved into was human suffering. The disciples were taken by the concept and could not stop talking about it. “Suffering is unavoidable,” one of them declared while others nodded in agreement. “Birth, aging, sickness and death… we suffer through all of them, not to mention the setbacks, heartaches, annoyances and so many other causes of misery.”
This talk had an effect on all of them. They no longer went about their daily activities with good cheer. There was a sense of growing dissatisfaction, and some began to complain about everything.
The sage observed this and decided it was time for a Tao lesson. He gathered the disciples together and said: “I see quite a few moody expressions among you recently. Perhaps we can brighten the mood by taking a break. The nearby lake is particularly beautiful this time of the year. Let us go there.”
The lake was indeed beautiful, filled with pure and pristine water from streams of melted snow. The disciples paid little attention to this natural beauty, for their minds were still preoccupied. The sage knew this would be the case, so he was not surprised when one them finally broke the silence: “Master, what is the Tao perspective on suffering?”
The sage brought out a cup he had prepared, and showed it to all the disciples. They could see that it was half filled with salt. He handed it to the disciple who asked the question and said: “Fill this cup with water from the lake, and stir it well to dissolve all the salt.”
The disciple did as the sage ordered. It took a while, but eventually he was able to get all the salt dissolved. “Good,” the sage approved. “Now take a sip and tell us how it tastes.”
The disciple took a sip and immediately spit it out. “Master, it is much too salty. It tastes horrible!”
“Of course,” the sage smiled. “The salt is just like the suffering we experience in life. It can be extremely difficult to swallow. Even a little sip is horrible.”
“So that is the Tao perspective, Master? That suffering is horrible?” The disciple was puzzled.
Instead of answering, the sage brought out another cup. The disciple looked at it and was startled. The second cup was filled to the brim with salt. As bad as the first cup was, this could only be worse. Would he have to drink it too? He did not know what to think.
“Pour the salt in this cup into the lake,” the sage instructed. “Then use the empty cup to scoop up water from the lake and drink. Drink it all.”
The disciple did as he was told while the other disciples watched him. When he was done, everyone wanted to know: “Well? How was it?”
“Refreshing!” The disciple smiled. “I was a bit thirsty from sipping the first cup. Now my thirst is completely quenched and I feel great!”
“Do you see the difference?” The sage could tell the disciples were beginning to get it. “The ordinary mind is like the first cup. To such a mind, suffering can be almost unbearable. Even a sip of it is horrible, just like you saw for yourselves. This is why the natural response to suffering, for most people, is moodiness and complaints.”
“The Tao mind is like this beautiful lake,” the sage waved his arms at everything around them. “If you can expand your mind into the great dimensions of the Tao, then suffering for you will be like salt poured into the lake. The salt is still the same, but your experience of it will be quite different. Even if you end up with more suffering in your life than other people, it will have no power over you, just as more salt has no effect on the lake. The water remains as pure, pristine and refreshing as ever. Now that is the Tao perspective on suffering!”