The Holy Man

Published 2:09 pm Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ive known George for more than 50 years. Hes having some health problems now and doesnt get out very much. Isolation and depression, of course, make even minor problems worse. Each time I visit my hometown in Alabama, I try to find the time to get by his apartment and take him out for coffee and just to drive around for a while, breaking the monotony of his isolated existence. Hes a talker so the drives are entertaining and time seems to fly by.

On a recent trip south, I picked George up and we got our coffee and took off into the countryside. George was soon spinning yarns about the previous owners of the farms we passed. Then miles from nowhere and getting further from it, we happened upon a pristine country church, replete with white paint, a tall steeple, an adjoining cemetery, and beautiful stained glass windows. We admired its simple beauty and I wished once again that I had brought my camera along.

Our conversation shifted then from secular matters to spiritual speculation. Televangelists became a topic of both serios and comic commentary. George isnt exactly a religious man, but his view of life takes a spiritual tack. He asked if I believed that praying could help heal his ills. I confessed that my best response is that it certainly cant hurt anything. George has always expressed an interest in the esteem in which I hold the precepts of Zen Buddhism so he eventually asked me about the Buddhist view of praying as a way to solve problems. I decided to repeat a Japanese story to illustrate that view as I interpret it. I want to share that story with you:

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Once in times past, word spread across the countryside about the wise Holy Man who lived in a small house atop the mountain. A troubled man from the village decided to make the long and difficult journey to visit him. When he arrived at the house, he saw an old servant inside who greeted him at the door. I would like to see the wise Holy Man, he said to the servant. The servant smiled and led him inside. As they walked through the house, the man from the village looked eagerly around, anticipating his encounter with the Holy Man. Before he knew it, he had been led to the back door and escorted outside. He stopped and turned to the servant, But I want to see the Holy Man! You already have, said the old man. Everyone you may meet in life, even if they appear plain and insignificant…see each of them as a wise Holy Man. If you do this, then whatever problem you brought here today will be solved.

George pondered the story for a few silent minutes and then said, Oh, I get it! Instead of asking for help from a spiritual source, I should be looking to my fellow men for the answers to my problems.

I must admit that Georges slant on the meaning of the koan is not one that had occurred to me before, but I like that he found something that directed him to connect with others in his world.

Don Weathington is a retired psychotherapist and business owner who lives in Gillette Woods at a place called Birdland.~ Birdland written by Don Weathington