Updated: Aug 16, 2021
Strolling along the edge of the sea, a man catches sight of a young woman who appears to be engaged in a ritual dance. She stoops down, then straightens to her full height, casting her arm out in an arc. Drawing closer, he sees that the beach around her is littered with starfish, and she is throwing them one by one into the sea. He lightly mocks her: “There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?” Smiling, she bends down and once more tosses a starfish out over the water, saying serenely, “It certainly makes a difference to this one.”
This is a story by Loren Eisley, I read it in Ben and Rosamund Zander’s book The Art of Possibility, a retelling of an original Buddhist story between a monk and his disciple. I found it to be the best contemporary explanation of how we can live our lives in one of two ways. The first is a life of calculation and second is a life of contribution. Rosamund Zander describes calculation as the mind of measurement. It lives in a world of scarcity and achievements. Life is seen as a zero-sum game where there are winners and losers. It is a mind that competes with others even while practicing Buddhism. In this world, everything is ranked and measured.
In contrast to this, is a world of contribution. This is where we experience infinite opportunities and possibilities. It is a universe where we can find everything in abundance. Rather than focusing on achievements, we look for ways we can contribute. Rather than doing it on our own, we become part of something bigger than ourselves.
We do this by following Rule Number 6, “Don’t take yourself so seriously.” It turns out that there are no other rules, only Rule Number 6. It is a paradox but when the small-self is exposed then the true-self is able to shine itself. It is the small-self that hoards and clings.Rule Number 6 sounds a lot like Namuamidabutsu. We might call it the Rule of 6 Characters. It is how a Shin Buddhist can become deeply self-aware.
Perhaps this is how we can get through the rest of COVID19—by merely contributing without worrying about the outcome, by relaxing our expectations in order to experience our life more fully. Rather than measuring what we have now against how it used to be, we can embrace this new world ahead of us and save every starfish possible laying along the beach. It would mean the world to everyone we meet.
Namuamidabutsu, Rev Jon Turner