Miscellany and Trivia

Anecdote John Paul II – Pope of the Roman Catholic Church (1920 – 2005)

As told by Neal Ascherson, journalist.

I was standing next to him [during one of his trips to Poland] and he was moving along the fence--people, lots of mothers, children, pushing over the fence. And there was one little girl about six. She was quite a weight, and a young mother sort of holding her up and the Pope stopped and--he looked her straight in the eye--and he said, "Where is Poland?" The little girl was completely baffled by the question. She sort of looked at him, giggled slightly, and then he put out his finger and he touched her. And he said "Poland is here."

Anecdote Charlie Chaplin – English comic actor, film director and composer (1889-1977)

Charlie Chaplin was visited on his deathbed by a priest. "May the Lord have mercy on your soul," the man declared. "Why not?" Chaplin quickly replied. "After all, it belongs to him."

The Relationship between Humor and Zen

One of the main functions of humor in Zen is in trying to allow one to understand the absurdity in attempting to classify reality into categories. Thus, the boundaries formed between logical issues are broken down, revealing the frustration that Zen has with logic and reasoning.

An example of this can be seen in a Zen anecdote about a Zen master who lay dying. His monks are all gathered around his deathbed, and the senior monk leans over and asks the master for any final words of wisdom for his monks. The old master weakly says, "Tell them Truth is like a river." The senior monk relays this message on to the other monks. The youngest monk in the group is confused, and asks, "What does he mean that Truth is like a river?" The senior monk relays this question to the master, and the master replies, "O.K., Truth is not like a river."

We see here a serious message wrapped up in a humorous package. The absurdity of classifying things into little boxes is revealed here: Truth is and is not like a river; it transcends classification.

The Atheist and the Bear

An atheist was taking a walk through the woods, admiring all that the “accident of evolution” had created. “What majestic trees!  What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!” he said to himself. As he was walking alongside the river he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He turned to look. He saw a seven-foot grizzly charge towards him. He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the bear was closing. He ran even faster, so scared that tears were coming to his eyes. He looked over his shoulder again, and the bear was even closer. His heart was pumping frantically and he tried to run even faster.

He tripped and fell to the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up but saw the bear, right on top of him: reaching for him with his left paw and raising his right paw to strike him. At that instant the atheist cried out “Oh my God! ....” Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent. Even the river stopped moving. As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky: “You deny my existence for all of these years; teach others I don’t exist; and, even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?” The atheist looked directly into the light: “It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps could you make the bear a Christian?”

“Very well,” the voice said. The light went out. The river ran again. And the sounds of the forest resumed. And then the bear dropped its right paw . . . brought both paws together . . . bowed its head and spoke: “Lord, for this food which I am about to receive, I am truly thankful.”

Thoughts on Music and Vedanta

Halldór Haraldsson – Iceland

The author as concert pianist

During my career as a pianist, both as a teacher and a performer, I have often noticed how much music has in common with Vedanta philosophy. Those who have pursued one branch of art or another for some time soon notice how many things are similar to other branches – only the outer form of expression is different. Whether or not we find such correspondences, there is no doubt that finding them can deepen our understanding of our particular art and open our eyes to various important things that would otherwise have been hidden from us.

Read more: Thoughts on Music and Vedanta

Anecdote Hazrat Inayat Kahn – Founder of the International Sufi Movement (1882-1927)

"You have nicely said to us, Murshid*, how Sufism is one with all religions. Now please tell us, what is the difference between Sufism and other religions." The Murshid says, "The difference is that it casts away all differences."

*Murshid is Arabic for guide or teacher. Particularly in Sufism it refers to a Sufi teacher.

Anecdote Arthur Rubinstein – Polish-American pianist (1887-1982)

"So sorry to be late," Arthur Rubinstein remarked upon arriving at a restaurant one day. "For two hours I have been at my lawyer's, making a testament. What a nuisance, this business of a testament. One figures, one schemes, one arranges, and in the end - what? It is practically impossible to leave anything for yourself!"

Anecdote J. K. Rowling – British author and creator of the Harry Potter series

As a child, J. K. Rowling attended a small grammar school where a failing grade in a routine quiz landed her in the "stupid row." The teacher, Rowling later recalled, "positioned everyone in the class according to how clever she thought they were; the brightest sat on her left, and everyone she thought dim sat on the right." And Rowling? "I was as far right as you could get without sitting in the playground."

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