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"Crow Eats Frog - Reflections from Russell"

March 23, 2023


Two birds contending over a frog. A monk who also saw this asked, "Why does it come to that?" The Master, Dongshan, replied: "It's only for your benefit and you caused it."


I have spent much time with every element of this story - each is truly a part of me. I am frog being eaten, crows fighting, bowls being washed, monk caring, teacher teaching. Many times a day I ask myself: how is this for my benefit and how did I cause it? I will summarize my reflections here.

On Dongshan's Response:

Dongshan, how cruel you are to say these words and how brave and loving also. To say such things for the benefit of another requires great intimacy with them, along with tremendous clarity and courage. At the wrong moment, these are hurtful, uncaring words, at the right moment they might fully liberate.

On Crows and Frog:

Birds fighting for food IS our life, sometimes. We all need to eat, and we all kill life to sustain ourselves. Can we face that fact? Where do we draw the boundary of us/them? Who do we exclude/include in our field of care?

Life and Death - Individuality and Inter-Being

Are we separate individuals and/or cells of a greater body?

When I see myself as a separate Being, fighting for survival seems natural. Sometimes I am a crow. Self-protection as a guiding principle is not wrong, rather, it is too narrow, often yielding unwanted results.

"Everything is for my benefit" helps me to take care of our shared life. It asks me to embrace my death and the deaths of everyone I love. Even death, maybe especially death, is for my benefit. Suffering, mine and others, grows compassion - a sense of inter-being. When I see myself as part of a great interconnected web, my personal choices include the effects on others. We are in this together.

Everything - birth, joy, love, beauty, laughter, as well as, death, pain, sorrow, our dying planet, are all for our benefit. Opening to our shared joy and sorrow IS our path. Even as we open to reality there is a generously forgiving space for our hating it!

"I caused it" is profoundly empowering, not to be confused with self-blaming or fault finding. It is a clarion cry to live as a creator of our experience and not as a victim. These are not intellectual reflections; these are a call to loving action and a transformation of our attitude.

"Life as Path" asks us to live on this edge. Everything is for our benefit, and we cause it. When this is realized, love for this life is natural. And there is no fear of death.

A dream last night:

It is completely dark, I know I am walking on a tightrope though I can't see it. Each step requires great care, I am both terrified and 100% committed. My balance is shaky, I wobble then recover. As soon as I feel really confident, I fall. After a moment of absolute terror, I realize that there is no ground, and I am wonderfully free!

Washing bowls is one form of taking care of the moment. Eating to sustain oneself is another. Sometimes fighting is necessary, to take care of life. Sometimes fighting is unnecessary, arising from ancient, fear-based patterns and ideas of scarcity. Very often there really is enough for all.

The frog has eaten many bugs to survive and maybe fought other frogs for supremacy. The crows will be food, eventually. Do they need to fight? Can they do otherwise? Can we?

Fighting is not just physical. It includes struggling with moments when we don't get what we want. It includes needing to be right and making another wrong. When do I hurt others and myself out of unconscious habit? Collectively, we are learning to move beyond our basest, most selfish impulses. Is that true? Evolving toward what?

On the Monk's Response:

Wishing life could be other than killing and self - preservation IS our heart speaking.

We want all children to be fed, all cancers to be healed, justice to prevail and all unnecessary suffering alleviated. Our longing toward these goals lives genuinely within us. Yet at this moment, bombs fall in Ukraine and Somalian mothers weep for their starving children. Why does it have to be this way?

One overriding cultural story is that human beings are essentially selfish, caring only for those close to them and holding everyone else as "other". This "dog-eat-dog" picture of life is part of the justification for unbridled capitalism and is used to excuse much cruelty.

Is this story true? Life functions so much better with cooperation, with mutual care. Our collective survival depends on it.

Thank you....Russell

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