The universal natural law of Yin-Yang teaches us that everything in nature is just ebbing and flowing from one state of existence into another. Just like the night becomes the day, all life situations are fleeting and impermanent. "Good" or "bad", all life situations are transient.
Throughout history, people from all around the world have come to experience and understand this law at work in all aspects of life. As a means to capture its general truth, they have expressed it in powerful maxims and fables that have helped us transcend even the most difficult of all life situations.
As we continue to sort out all the new challenges and uncertainties that life is presenting us with, here are a few of my favorite maxims that I want to share with you in hopes of reminding you that we can all transcend the frenzy and cultivate happiness.
"This, Too, Shall Pass"
There once lived a powerful Persian king in an ancient Middle Eastern land who was continuously torn between happiness and hopelessness. He was easily provoked and became greatly upset by the slightest of problems, causing his happiness to quickly transform into disappointment and dispair.
A time came when the king's dispondency finally caught up with him. Seeking a way out of his own self-created misery, the king summoned a sage from the kingdom who was known to be enlightened and spritiually advanced. When the sage arrived, the king said to him, "I want to be like you. Can you give me something that will bring balance, serentiy, and happiness into my life? I will pay any price you ask."
The sage replied, "I may be able to help you. But your entire kingdom would not be sufficient payment for it. So it will be a gift to you, so long as you promise to honor it." The king assured the sage he would honor it, and the sage left and promised to return with the gift.
A few weeks later, the sage returned and handed the king a fancy box carved in jade. The king opened the box and inside he found a simple gold ring with an inscription that read: This, too, shall pass.
When the king asked for further clarification, the sage said, "Wear this ring always. Whatever happens, before you call it good or bad, touch this ring and read the inscription. In this way you will always be happy and at peace."
"Is That So?"
Long ago, a very famous Zen master named Hakuin was well-known and highly respected in the small Japanese town where he lived. Hakuin was held in high regard for his spiritual teachings, and was reverred by everyone in the town for living a pure life.
One day a beautiful young and unmarried woman in the town became pregnant. Upon learning about it, her parents became infuriated and demanded to know who the father was. Resistant to confess, their anxious and embarrassed daughter falsely put the blame on Hakuin. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter's accusation, he simply replied "Is that so?"
As the rumor spread around town, Hakuin's reputation was destroyed. Now a social outkast, people no longer visited him and he was unable to go anywhere in town without being ridiculed as a phony who lacked the moral and ethical standards of a true Zen master. His only response was, "Is that so?"
When the baby boy was born, the parents brought the child to Hakuin. Believing he was the father, they insisted he must look after him. Without any resistance, Hakuin took the baby and said, "Is that so?"
Hakuin began caring for the child with unconditional love, compassionately attending to all of the baby's needs. But after one year, the child's mother could no longer endure the guilt and confessed that she had told a lie. Hakuin was not the boy's father, rather it was the son of the town's butcher whom she had tried to protect.
The embarrassed parents returned to Hakuin and sheepishly explained what had happened. They begged for forgiveness, and asked Hakuin to return the baby. As Hakuin handed them the child, his only response was, "Is that so?"
For his fourteenth birthday, a young boy was given a horse by his father. Everyone in the small village was very excited and they all gathered to celebrate the young boy's new gift. Filled with excitement, a villager said, “The boy got a new horse, isn’t that wonderful?” Overhearing this, the town's old wise man replied, "We'll see."
A few years had passed when one day the boy falls off the horse and severely breaks a leg. Upon learning of the news, the villagers were now disappointed, some even proclaiming the horse was a curse. Disheartened that the gift did not turn out to be as wonderful as it first seemed, a villager turned to the wise old man and said, “How awful, the boy won’t be able to walk properly ever again.” The old wise man once again replied, "We'll see."
A few years later, war broke out and all the young men had to go fight. But because of his injury, the boy could not be enlisted in the military. A villager said, "Can you believe it? It turns out, the horse was a fortunate gift after all!" To this, the old wise man once again replied, "We'll see."
While on the surface these maxims and fables can provide some level of comfort during times of suffering, their true meaning is far deeper than this. More accurately, they serve to remind us that we should not forget the fact that all situations— whether labeled "bad" or "good"— are fleeting. All situations are impermanent or transient, inevitably transforming continuously.
This means that like "bad" situations, some of life’s greatest moments are also transient. These "good" moments, too, do not last forever.
But this doesn't mean that we should not enjoy the “good” situations in life. Quite the opposite, it reminds us that we should really enjoy "good" situations wholeheartedly when they do occur.
When you can become more aware of the transience in every life situation, you can begin to lessen your attachment to them. This is important because once you can detach yourself from life situations, whether you think they are "bad" or "good" you can see them as the fleeting experiences they really are and your consciousness can escape from being trapped inside of these events.
In doing so you can create distance or space around your thoughts and all the emotional highs and lows, including the various levels of pain and suffering. When you can create this space, it is much easier to bring happiness into your life and be at peace with all life situations as they arise.
When your mind settles and can be at peace, you will not label life situations with a false sense of importance or significance. The less you can label life situations, the more you can actively participate in creating and experiencing these without attachment to any outcomes.
When you can detach yourself from any outcome and be at peace, you also won’t place unreasonable demands upon those around you. You will begin to understand that the world cannot give you fulfillment, happiness, safety, or guidance. Only you have the power to do this.
When you can understand that putting unreasonable expectations on others or on life situations is unrealistic, all self-created suffering must come to an end.