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Dharma Talks : The Kwan Um School of Zen and Providence Zen Center

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Stems and Roots  

During the later T'ang Dynasty there was a large Zen temple in Southern China named Ho Pak Sah. As with most Zen temples of this period, the monks of Ho Pak Sah earned their keep by working the soil. Because of the many monks and the large land holdings of the temple, a heavy burden fell on the monk who administered the farm lands. Early each morning he would inspect the gardens and paddies to make sure everything was running smoothly.

One morning as he was walking along the path to check the upper irrigation system, he heard a loud ruckus. His initial shock soon turned to puzzlement. Usually dawn was a time for quiet reflection, but on this morning he was confronted by angry voices. Where was all this shouting coming from? His eyes were drawn toward the pumpkin patch at the edge of the garden. In disbelief his eyes grew large--the pumpkins were fighting! This would never do, the harmony and success of the whole temple was at risk.

Suddenly he gave out a loud belly shout, "Ho!" In startled surprise the pumpkins grew silent. "This is a Zen temple! You must all now learn how to practice correctly." With great patience he taught each of them how to meditate. How to sit. How to breathe in carbon dioxide slowly through their leaves and breathe out oxygen...slowly asking, "What is a pumpkin?" Since they already knew these things, they learned quickly. Soon their minds became calm. He then asked them to put their leaves on top of their heads. Immediately there were several "ahhs" of recognition. Then the whole patch broke into a collective "YES!" The realization was clear: everyone had a stem coming out of the top of their head connecting each to the other. Why were they fighting? They all shared a common vine, rooting them to the source of life. By practicing, they had discovered their original connectedness and attained harmony. It's very important that you find your stem.

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