Buddhist Audio Books

Tales of Freedom
Wisdom from the Buddhist Tradition
By Vessantara
ISBN: 1899579273
Read by Subhadra

A Zen monk strides empty handed into a tiger's cage. An Indian master spontaneously empties a bag of gold dust into the air. A young woman lays down the burden of her dead child and asks the Buddha to accept her as his disciple.

Here is another book by the popular author, Vessantara, who takes incidents from the lives of the Buddha, Tibetan mystics and Zen masters and uses them to show how we too can live a more fulfilled life. Full of colourful tales, Vessantara's vivid, imaginative style makes these ancient, well-loved stories inspiring tools for self-development.

An Extract from: Tales of Freedom
From chapter 8: Climbing the Spiral Path - Wisdom

'Look,' said my friend, 'Oysters are living beings; oyster sauce isn't vegetarian.'

'Oh yes it is,' the waiter said.

I am not quite sure what my friends were about to do at this point. Maybe they thought of leaving, and finding a restaurant with a less stubborn and ill-informed waiter. Maybe they were about to launch into a zoological discourse on the nature and habits of bivalve molluscs. Maybe they were just going to pass over the soup question, and try their luck with the noodles. Whatever they planned, they were stopped in their tracks when the waiter added, triumphantly:

'There are no oysters in oyster sauce.'

It transpired that the Chinese had managed to produce something which looked like oyster sauce, tasted like oyster sauce, was called oyster sauce, but which was nonetheless quite innocent of oysters. This revelation, of course, changed the whole picture. Arguments about whether oysters can be consumed by vegetarians are irrelevant when there isn't an oyster in sight.

Similarly (though I must admit on a rather more profound level) the picture totally changes with insight into reality. I may look like Vessantara, may sound like Vessantara, may be called Vessantara, but from the point of view of Reality, there is no Vessantara to be found.

Thus insight produces a qualitative difference in how one sees the world. With ethics and meditation one was, as it were, trying to fish around in the soup to find and remove the bits of oyster. Seeing oneself as an 'I' – limited and not free, one performs the practices which one thinks will free oneself. With insight one sees that there are no oysters to be removed – there is no separate self to be freed. This is the teaching of anatman or 'no self' which is one of Buddhism's central insights and greatest treasures.

Whilst the understanding of anatman can be freeing, we need to understand it correctly, otherwise we may just come to the conclusion that we absolutely don't exist, and stray off the Middle Way (and the Spiral Path) into nihilism. The Buddhist vision, what we see directly when we pass through the gateless gate into the world of direct insight into the nature of things, is of things arising, changing and disappearing in dependence upon conditions. Nothing is fixed; all is process. So Buddhism does not deny that there is a body, bodily feelings, emotions, thoughts, etc., all of which have effects (and something which absolutely does not exist could not produce any effects). But it denies that there is a fixed self, standing behind or above this flow of physical and mental processes.

It is this deeply-held sense and conviction of there being a fixed 'me' which passes through all the events of life unchanged, which causes all our pains and troubles, and which is the cause of our deep sense of dissatisfaction, of not being free. If I am in a crowd, and a passer-by knocks me with his elbow, the physical discomfort is not really a problem. The upset is caused when I start thinking to myself 'That clumsy fool bumped into me.' If we examine the sense of 'I' which arises at such moments, we shall find that it feels independent of our body, thoughts and feelings, although related to them. When this sense of 'I' appears strongly, it seems undeniable, the one thing of whose existence we can be sure. However, Buddhism says, when we start to examine it, and try to pin it down, it will begin to dissolve away. We take it so much for granted that there must be oysters in the oyster sauce that we never bother to question it, but when we start looking closely, there are no oysters to be found.

The American scholar Stephan Beyer describes spending time with some Tibetan yogins – people who had spent many years meditating in solitude. He said that he found them delightful company. However, he had a rueful sense that the yogins all shared some wonderful joke, which they would really like to share with him, but which unfortunately he was unable to see. The wonderful joke is that there are no oysters in oyster sauce. The fixed self, which we worry about, and guard so carefully, carrying it with us every waking moment on our backs in its jewelled palanquin, the self for which we have such high hopes, when examined vanishes like a mirage. The joke is that no one passes through the gateless gate; nobody gains enlightenment; nobody is freed. Freedom, enlightenment, is what happens when you throw off the sense of there being a fixed self altogether.


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