[56] The hungry are served a king's repast (from The Shodoka)

by Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

English version by Robert Aitken
Original Language Chinese

The hungry are served a king's repast,
And they cannot eat.
The sick meet the king of doctors;
Why don't they recover?
The practice of Zen in this greedy world --
This is the power of wise vision.
The lotus lives in the midst of the fire;
It is never destroyed.

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I am back. I appreciate you patience with me. Another challenging period with chronic fatigue. Each time I learn a few new steps in the dance...

-

I have passed over this verse from The Shodoka before without paying much attention, but reading it this morning it struck me as powerful for the first time. The words aren't especially poetic, but it unlocks many thoughts as I read it.

The hungry are served a king's repast,
And they cannot eat.
The sick meet the king of doctors;
Why don't they recover?


I take the king here to refer to the Buddha. The "king's repast" would be the teachings of the Buddha. The medicine offered by the "king of doctors" would be the relief from suffering as one walks the path of wisdom.

These gifts are available to all, yet most of humanity seems unwilling partake and unable to even recognize that it is what we all hunger for amidst our confusion and suffering. Sadly, this blindness to our basic need is the common state "in this greedy world."

But, regardless of how few actively walk the path, regardless of how lost and chaotic the world may seem, the way of truth remains:

The lotus lives in the midst of the fire;
It is never destroyed.


But also, reading this verse, do you by any chance think of the story of King Midas? The king's repast that cannot be eaten and the mention of a greedy world... Ever since childhood, I have been fascinated with the Greek myths, and it seems to me that most people don't quite recognize the message of the Midas myth. It depends on how much of the story one knows and how deeply it has been contemplated.

Many just know the phrase that someone "has the Midas touch," that is, everything they touch turns to gold. If that's all one knows, then the Midas touch is imagined to be a good thing. Look at the businesses that foolishly incorporate Midas into their business name. The notion that turning everything into gold is a good thing is precisely the opposite meaning of the myth. It is the very delusion that King Midas himself suffered from.

For those who know a little more of the story, they see it as a comical tale about the problems of greed. That is closer to the truth, but it still misses the world-threatening horror of uncontrolled greed suggested by this powerful Greek myth.

A quick recap of the tale: Midas was a foolish, small-minded king who was granted a wish by one of the gods. He requested the boon that whatever he touched be turned to gold -- which he immediately received. Thrilled with this new power, he raced back to his palace, touching trees and animals and everything as he went, turning all to gold. Arriving at his palace, he was famished, so he had food brought to him. But as soon as he put the food in his mouth, it turned to gold and became inedible. In desperation, he grabbed a flagon of wine to drink from it, but he nearly choked when it too immediately turned to gold. In his horror, he cried out, which brought his daughter running to him. Frightened by his demeanor, she ran into his arms... and, yes, was turned to gold. The gods, in order to prevent the entire world being turned into gold -- which would be its destruction -- eventually intervened and removed the power from King Midas's touch, but leaving him a broken man.

If we think about the implications of this story, especially in this modern era of hypercapitalism, it illustrates the terrible world created by commodifying everything and everyone. When people and things are only seen in terms of their quantifiable economic value, we end up turning living beings and the planet itself into dead wealth. When an entire society is built on the King Midas model, the only question is, will Midas starve to death before he destroys the entire world?

When we are enthralled by the perspective of the "greedy world" we measure all of life's pathways and experiences using a crippled calculus. Spiritual truths, deep meaning, inherent dignity-- there is no column on our ledger for these things, and so they become unreal to us, valueless, invisible. In the greedy world's cost-benefit analysis, we become unable to eat the king's repast or receive the medicine from the king of doctors. People end up starving, not from lack of food, but because the food, which is widely available, remains unseen.

What then is the solution? On the personal, most human level, we remember how to see what is commonly overlooked. We remember to feel what the inner heart tells us is worth feeling. And we learn to measure real value against the measure and aspiration of the human spirit. In this way, slowly, steadily, we recover the full vision of ourselves and the world as an interwoven living panorama rich with endless shadings and illuminations of meaning and value.

The practice of Zen in this greedy world --
This is the power of wise vision.



Recommended Books: Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

Buddhism and Zen





56] The hungry are