One of the Indian stories tells how the merchants in some of the towns (when India was the richest country in the world) were very strict about business ethics. One man cut some corners. Well, they used to expel such people from the city and stone them ― not kill them ― but stone them and drive them away. So they took everything this man had, tied him to a stake outside the city, held back his wife and child, and threw stones.
There was a little boy there, the son of one of the big merchants. Not often you get the chance to throw a stone at a grown-up! He picks up a sharp stone, and he throws it. It catches the man on the face and just misses his eye. The blood pours down.
Well, then they release his wife and child, and all the people go away. The two of them rush to him and set him free. Now ― he’s got nothing; he’s penniless; he’s disgraced ― in the sunset, the dying sun. He will have to go to the next city. Perhaps he has some faint hope of an uncle somewhere, but it is total destruction.
As he hangs his head and looks down, he sees a gleam; the ray of the dying sun makes a gleam on one of the stones. He bends down and picks it up ― it is a great jewel. The rich merchant had a ring with a big jewel in it; in the excitement he must have knocked it somehow against a brick or something like that, and it fell down. The little boy, not looking, just grabbed the sharp stone and threw it.
There is a Japanese poem:
The stones which were thrown at me —
When I picked it up,
One of them was a jewel.
This comes again and again. There is something hidden even in the terrible experiences we have, which ― if we have spiritual sight and discrimination ― we can find.
I will read from a translation of a book which I did translate all except this little bit. It is in A First Zen Reader and is by Sessan:
There is an old saying in the Zen school: ‘When you come to pick them up, the very stones are gold.’ When the eye of the heart is opened and we see rightly, the shattered tiles that have been dropped on the road are shining with the gleam of gold. In our everyday life, to recognize the true worth of every little thing, every tiny fragment of what we are using every day, to respect it — that gives life real meaning. In the daily life of Zen, everything is to be made pure and exact and elegantly simple. In our conduct — going, staying, sitting, and lying down, as we say — we are never to think of anything as trivial, but to find a great meaning in it. In using one’s personal things, we must not use them casually or forgetfully or wrongly or mistakenly ― they must be used rightly. These days they talk about consumables which, of course, is all right, but it is not good to use for profit the consumables, to acquire economic advantage for oneself. Higher than use for profit, is the loving use of the things in the right way; it means to love the things we use. But even so, to love things because they are pleasant and because they suit me, still does not yet get away from self-satisfaction. There has to be proper living use. Then, for the first time, there is life in the handling of the things, and that is a very fine thing. But it is not yet outside the sphere of practical wisdom. We have to go further and come to — good use of things. Now, for the first time, we come to follow the nature of the thing itself when we use it, and we come to live virtuously. Again one step: we must come to pure use; we must purify the things when we use them. Now it is that their religious meaning appears. Nowadays it is fashionable to use phrases like ‘cleaning up society’, but it is when we try to make things pure, uncontaminated, infinitely clear and noble as we use them, that the seeds of religious life are sprouting. Again a step: we must come to spiritual use; to spiritualize the things as we use them. Now it is not just a thing, not just a material substance, but it is of spiritual nature, spiritual essence, and it becomes radiant. ‘When we pick them up, the very stones are gold.’ The thing is a blessing, is precious — instinctively we find a gesture of reverence in ourselves.
Fingers and Moons
by Trevor Leggett