There is a story about a beautiful young girl who lives in a village and she becomes pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who the father was. At first she didn’t want to tell them, but later the girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master, whom everyone revered for living such a pure life. When the enraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter's accusation, he simply replied, "Is that so?" When the baby was born, the parents took it to Hakuin, who had by now lost all respect from everyone in the village. The parents demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. Again Hakuin replied, "Is that so?" But he took the child and cared for it, which he did for many months. After awhile, the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told and confessed that the real father was a young man in the village. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby, and with profuse apologies they explained what had happened. Again Hakuin replied, "Is that so?" and he handed them the child.
This is a great story because it says a lot about how quickly we jump to conclusions and assumptions, and how we believe whatever anyone says. I’m sure all of us have stories where we, or someone we knew, were blamed for something that we or they didn’t do and maybe even subsequently punished for it.
The book that taught me never to make assumptions and to know that there is always a bigger picture was don Miguel Ruiz’s book “The Four Agreements,” which I would highly recommend reading. The third Agreement is ‘Don’t Make Assumptions.’ Ruiz says, “Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.”
We can’t always rely on what we hear or read, and we definitely cannot rely on gossip or second-hand information. We have to have the courage to ask questions. If we think someone is mad or upset with us, ask them! If they don’t tell us, then it’s on them. If we’re not clear on something someone told us, we need to ask them to either repeat it or to clarify what they said. And if we don’t have all the facts, wait until we do.
Much of our media is especially bad at this. Something happens and they start speculating and offering their opinions; however, not all the facts, if any, are even in yet! But they’ve already reported it as they see it, people blindly believe it, and lives have been ruined because of the misreporting. Do your research when you hear or read news so that you know that what’s being written or said is the truth and that it is not based on speculations or beliefs.
The other great thing about this story is how Hakuin handled the situation. We can’t always handle what happens to us, but we can handle how we react to whatever happens. It’s not always easy, I know. In the past, I’ve been the recipient of gossip that wasn’t true. I could have gotten upset about it, but I decided that people were going to believe whatever they wanted to believe; therefore, I wasn’t going to waste my energy trying to counter whatever was being said. If someone asked me, I would tell them. Otherwise I had the attitude of Hakuin by thinking, “Is that so?” True, there are times when we do need to defend ourselves especially if there is some kind of legal discourse or consequences that could harm us further.
When it comes to people who are lying or gossiping, they are showing their true colors and are speaking more about themselves than the people they’re lying or gossiping about. Sometimes we can just let it play out and the truth will reveal itself on its own.
In everything in life there is always a bigger picture that we don’t always see. Marcus Aurelius said, “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” Again, it goes back to our thoughts and how we think. As Wayne Dyer said, “Change the way you see things, and the things you see will change.” And Buddha stated, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” Therefore, know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper August 7, 2015.