Friday, February 20, 2009

Tigers above, tigers below

[photo Alfred Eistenstadt, from the Life archives]
Ah yes. If you want to be horrified, check out the website Sardonicus' sent in his comment on yesterday's post (Slipping on Bad Karma) - a story about contaminated ice in soft drinks. It turns out your Diet Coke could be dirtier than that cellphone that got dropped in a toilet.

Well, what couldn't kill you? I am that idiot who once accidentally ran a red light and slammed my pretty little Acura into a huge GMC Jimmy, brand new, operated by a woman on her way to the chiropractor. The accident hurt my back, but the tantrum she threw when I apologized, that was worse. The call from the insurance adjuster the next morning, that was even worse.

Danger lurks everywhere. It's not that we shouldn't be aware of that. We should, actually, and walk carefully on black ice. But what do you do with that reality? I'm recalling a popular Buddhist story about a man, perhaps in ancient China, who finds himself pursued by not one but several tigers, though tigers are not usually team players. He runs like the wind only to find himself at the edge of a cliff.

Looking down, he sees more tigers on the ground below, waiting for him. Tigers above, tigers below. But he spies a vine, just like a movie hero, grabs hold of it, and flings himself over the edge. There he dangles, out of the reach of the snarling tigers above. Alive for the moment.

He breathes a sign of relief. But then he feels a faint vibration in the vine. He looks up. There, out of his reach, are two little mice. Some versions say one is black, one is white, an idea you can play with. The important thing is, they are nibbling at the vine. And the way they are doing it, it won't be long before the vine breaks and he will be flung to the tigers lying patiently below. (At this point you might be reminded of the koan about a man hanging in a tree.)

What to do? He looks around, and there right in front of him in a magical little pocket of earth, is a wild strawberry plant. He plucks the strawberry and eats it. Delicious! Perfect.

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