By way of orientation, let’s briefly recall Ulysses of mythological fame. You recollect Ulysses was famous for his
single-minded devotion to Penelope, his long suffering wife. After the Trojan War, Ulysses wandered at sea twenty years. He faced legendary challenges from creatures, gods, demigods, tempests and sirens. Only after
passing thru this gauntlet did he attain the crowning achievement of his single minded purpose, a return to his home and family. How much simpler would his life have been without the obstructions and interference of the
gods? The diversions from his life’s purpose were innumerable and nearly insurmountable. Even then, not everything can be blamed exclusively on the gods or fate. It is clear that failure on the part of Ulysses and his
crew, particularly when it came to resisting temptation, contributed every bit as much to their delays and distractions. Ultimately, the crew is lost, only Ulysses reaches his natural home. (OK...take a moment here and
think about the symbolism).
The lure of sirens and the wrath of gods are powerful distractions indeed. Still, there exist other distractions. These are generally operating below our radar, functioning in ways
insidious, while stripping us of our destinies as humans.
That brings us to Laughing Jou.
In the north country, Old Jou was a recognized master. He was sought out by others on the path, and was revered and
emulated by all.
Generally, his presence was announced by streams of loud and boisterous laughter. Just as certainly, laughter billowed forth when he responded to the seemingly endless questions of others, which,
to Laughing Jou, represented the squeals of souls mired in darkness.
He did not tolerate fools. Once I questioned why people sought him as they did. He answered (laughing), “Because I am awake,” adding,
“And because I am so damn patient!" Typically villagers would corner old Jou in the town square (Actually it was a circle, connecting five arterials. If I said town circle, you might wonder what I was referring
to.), and sit eagerly around him, hoping to glean kernels of knowledge.
On one particular occasion, we stood alone. A rare opportunity, I had him to all myself!
“How can I become like you?”
“There's nothing to become?”
“How is that so?”
“All you have to do is flush the toilet. Then questions like that will stop coming to you.”
“Flush the toilet?” I questioned puzzled, “I don’t get it!”
“What I’m saying is, you're crap eater, and you’d be better off without it!”
Laughing Jou looked
toward me patiently, “When I was a child there was another who sat in the village center. We used to go to him for medicine and divinations, but most of all for the answers to our own incessant questions. He was far
more learned than I. Rather than be too sharp in speaking to your puzzlement, allow me to share an encounter I once witnessed between a villager and the unquestionable master.”
Typically, as a villagers
approached, the master would sense a question about to emerge and would issue his first shot of “What’s that your’re eating?” Some would scratch their head and walk away...others might look behind to see if
there was someone behind them eating something...a few would ignore the comment as misdirected and present their questions, sticking to their own agenda.
On this occasion, a particular villager rose to the challenge, “I don't know, what is it?"
“You’re eating excrement!”
There was nothing there of course. He wasn’t really
eating anything...at least nothing we would think of as food was passing over his lips. This was a matter of two tigers in a cave...testing each other’s mettle.
“What do you mean I’m eating excrement?”
“Don’t ask what I mean, I'm telling you, you're eating excrement!”
“Maybe it’d be better if I had some soup, the villager responded.”
The villager was mocking, but also challenging the master. Not unlike the hunter trying to coax the tiger out of his lair.
“It's excrement, don't eat it!”
“Everyone else eats it.”
“I see only you. You’re eating excrement!”
“There are worse things to eat aren’t there? Everyone else is doing it, it should be OK.”
“Ah yes, everyone else! Isn’t that really who we hope to be, when you think of it? I’m not talking
to everyone else. Like everyone else, you come to me seeking wisdom,” replied the old master, “Listen carefully, this is for your ears, not everyone else’s. You’re eating excrement.”
As he said
this, he looked in anticipation at the villager, almost expecting something profound to happen. An explosion perhaps (he began laughing), perhaps the top of a head popping off (a silly giggle followed), maybe even a
trickle down a pant leg (he wipped the drip from his nose).
“I don’t understand why you’re calling this excrement. How would you know if you haven’t tried it.”
The old man’s eyes rolled heavenward, “I can see what is, look carefully, focus, you'll see it for what it is too.”
The villager responded, “You know, it actually tastes OK. Can you tell me why I think it tastes OK?”
“You’re eating crap!”
“Why am I eating crap?”
“Beats me...I figure you don’t know better. But it’s all over you, inside and outside, and in your heart and muddling your thoughts...Look there! It’s even on the
tip of your tongue.”
“Why do you think you can figure that out and I can’t? Maybe you’re too self important for your own good.”
“I don’t know why I can and you can’t. That
doesn't concern me. Your question beats me like a stick against the skin of a living drum sitting before you...a sound emerges from the vibration, you don’t like what you hear or what the sound represents. To me,
it’s just a sound, no sweat off my back! No different than a dog barking...except you take it personally. Why? You’re questioning me about eating crap, and my only answer can be...you’re eating crap! You are
because you are! You’re putting excrement in your mouth. And then you’re swallowing it. It’s flowing around inside you, and settling in your center for thinking. What a putrid smell!”
Shocked and offended, the villager demanded, “Does it concern you?”
“You’re asking me! I’m answering the questions. You’re the drummer, I’m the sound. You’re the image, I’m the
emptiness in the mirror.”
Trying to one up the master, the villager thought for a moment then spoke. “It comes in flavors, you know.” Of course at this point, old Jou was laughing so hard, his teapot
was knocked to the walk.
“That's crap you’re eating. Crap cherry, crap vanilla, crap apple, all crap!”
“You know, since there's so much demand, and everyone seems to be eating it, I could start selling it.”
“That’s crap on top of excrement...you’ve outdone yourself. Why do you tell me! You
don’t need my approval, or disapproval. Go ahead and sell it! Be wealthy, accumulate more crap, show it off, wear it, think it, speak it...become it if you will! There’s only one choice you have, be crap, or flush
the toilet. Dirty water, clean water, look closely, you’ll figure it out soon enough.”
“I’m curious. Does everybody eat crap like I do?”
“That stuff you’re putting into your mouth, chewing, and swallowing. Even your question. That’s excrement!”
“Is there anything that's not?”
“Me!” (For a moment, Old Jou
wiped the smile from his face...staring seriously, as though emphasizing something important had just been communicated.)
“Oh, so you’re hot shit!” (But...the smile was back soon enough)
“No, I am who I am.” (Jou clarified , “Like Popeye,” to which I responded, “No, that’s I am what I am, and dat’s what I am.” )
“What might that be?” (Jou added parenthetically,
“In your case it would be Popeye the Sailor Man!” He horsechuckled through his nose and half laugh snorted.)
“Wake up! See for yourself. Better stop eating the crap first. It fogs your vision, clouds
your thought, obfuscates your senses, obscures your ability to smell, taste and experience. On top of that, it’s grimy as hell, and it stinks to high heaven.”
“Looking at you, old master, I don’t see anything special.”
“That’s a start!”
“You’re speaking riddles!”
“What kind of wise man are you, you're wasting my time?”
“Thank you...may I leave?“
“Not until you tell me what your problem is,” said the villager.
looked at the simpleton then like a bolt of lightning reached across the open space separating them and slapped the simpleton's head. “You’re eating shit you imbecile! Stop eating shit and see what happens!”
The perplexed look on the face of the simpleton drew a burst of laughter from the elder.
It almost happened for the simpleton, but not quite.
The gift of enlightenment is a gift that
comes at dear cost...the you whom you value so highly must leave the stage! A sacrifice few are prepared to make, even as truth calls your hand.
The moment having passed, the opportunity gone, the master,
laughing even more robustly, stood, turned away, and set off.
“Wait, don't go, I offended you, I apologize, come back, we need you!”
“Sorry, I won’t be part of your diet. It’s simply
too rich for my taste (“Speak of understatement” injected Jou)” the elder replied, and laughed even more robustly.
“Will you come again?”
“Never!”...he walked, continuing his laughter, now even further away from the shit eater.
After continuing some distance, the old man turned, “Perhaps someday you’ll reach your gluttonous
full, and then you’ll have no choice but to let it go. With luck, you’ll understand, and perhaps even laugh with me.”
Laughing back in ridicule (perhaps hoping to make a final
fatal thrust at the wily old tiger), the Villager called out, “I Think you’re full of shit!"
Hysterical laughter faded in the distance, with the old man’s final words, “I suppose I deserved that.”
So there you have it...Jou looked over to me, as by this time, several villagers had
gathered, waiting impatiently for his attention and counsel.
He stared expectantly, seeing what would happen.
A smile lit slowly across my face, I turned, and with a slow odoriferous
pppfffffffttt emerging from my rear in the general direction of Laughing Jou, I walked away from my questions forever!