Feb 27 2019

Yoka Genkaku – The hungry are served a king’s repast (from The Shodoka)

Published by at 9:36 am under Poetry

[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

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.

/ Image by ursrules1 /

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 selection, 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 understand 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.

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 evoked by this potent 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 obvious distress, she ran into his arms… and, yes, was turned to gold. The gods, in order to prevent the entire world from being being destroyed by being entirely turned into gold, intervened and removed the power from King Midas’s touch, leaving him a broken man in his palace of gold.

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 and all the natural world 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 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, living connection– 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.” When we assign mere financial value to anything, any person or creature, any experience, we blind ourselves to its inner nature, rendering us unable to imagine genuine connection, starved for spiritual nourishment and healing.

We weaken our capacity to interact with the world or engage with our friends and loved ones in a meaningful way. We become blind to life itself. People end up starved for meaning and purpose, not from a lack of meaning in life, but because that meaning, which is inherent and everywhere, remains unrecognized in the Midas worldview.

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 value with the scales of the heart. In this way, slowly, steadily, we recover the full vision of ourselves and the world as an interwoven living panorama rich with endless illumination of meaning and value.

The mindset of the “greedy world” leads to blindness and lack of meaning. The greed of King Midas would have destroyed the world. We must seek instead the touch that connects and enlivens. That is what allows us to awaken and see and finally enjoy the feast laid out before us.

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

Recommended Books: Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Buddhism and Zen

Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

China (665 – 713) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Hsuan Chueh lived in the Yung Chia region of south-eastern China, later known as Wenzhou Prefecture. (His name is also transliterated as Yongjia Xuanjue.)

While still a youth, Hsuan Chueh left his home and began to practice meditation and study Buddhist texts. It is said that he received enlightenment upon reading the Vimalakirti Nirdesha Sutra.

Hsuan Chueh is perhaps best known for composing the Cheng Tao Ko, a collection of Zen teaching poems. This work has been popularized in the West through the influence of Japanese Zen schools, where it is known as The Shodoka and he is referred to as Yoka Genkaku.

More poetry by Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

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4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Yoka Genkaku – The hungry are served a king’s repast (from The Shodoka)”

  1. 9jim)james albert carlinon 27 Feb 2019 at 10:17 am

    what i learned from a Ted talk about healing
    5 things we need to tell ourselves
    1 we have permission to heal
    2 we have permission to forgive ourselves and others
    3 we can honor the journey we travel together
    4 we can say i love you
    5 we can say thank you and be truly thankful

  2. maria robsonon 28 Feb 2019 at 5:33 am

    Thanks, Ivan. For me this (& carlin’s reply – thanks carlin) is a reminder that we already have all the resources we need, if we want a shift, to stop ‘pleading’ and start actively BEING. The lotus blooms in the midst of fire…nice!…and TRUE.

  3. Olga T.on 01 Mar 2019 at 7:43 am

    My Grandmother always advised us to have a Snack before we went to a Luncheon or Dinner given by a distinguished Person so that we did not look too hungry or were too famished to eat from all the Choice Foods.

  4. Elaon 03 Mar 2019 at 2:34 pm

    Devotion vs Knowledge

    There are two paths to mitigate
    Our hunger for the Ultimate
    Devotion and knowledge

    There is no clarity but deep blind faith
    There are pure vibrations of love
    Reaching out to the One
    Returning back and
    Filling the hearts with pure joy
    They are not interested in
    The heavy knowledge
    They can not digest that
    They are happy in their own shell

    If they are fully surrendered and
    If they remain constantly merged
    In the divine love whatever
    May happen in their life
    Storms will come and pass
    Without touching their inner self
    But souls have become weak and
    Hence are unable to recover.

    Now few have transparent knowledge
    They have understood themselves
    To Whom they belong and what to do
    They have sound reasons in their head
    Their love is not blind for that One
    They have the power of wise visions to
    Help their own mind and also others
    They can stand tall like a light house
    They have become capable through
    The practice of practical Raj yoga to
    Constantly remain safe like a lotus
    In this vicious rotten burning world.

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