Ignorance is bliss. Temporary bliss for those who think they know what they don't. Eternal bliss for those who know they know nothing....

Is that so? The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life. A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child. This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin. In great anger the parent went to the master. “Is that so?” was all he would say. After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else he needed. A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth – the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fish market. The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back. Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: “Is that so?”   This Zen koan, "Is that so?," like koans generally, encourages self-reflection and the questioning of assumptions we hold without doubts. However, unlike other koans, it is unique in that it isn't disguised as a paradox or absurd riddle. "Is that so?" asks the girl's parents to question their initial certainty that Hakuin fathered their daughter's baby and their later certainty that he did not. Unlike the girl's parents, we, the readers of this anecdote, don't know who fathered the baby. "Is that so?" simply suggests we consider things from many perspectives. That is the essence of wisdom. Wisdom leads us to conclude that perceived truths change (like the girl's claim as to who fathered her baby) and that ultimately no thing is truly knowable. This is the same conclusion we come to when considering paradoxes and absurd riddles. Moreover, without wisdom, there is no compassion (as the girl's parents carelessly ruined Hakuin's reputation). Yet, Hakuin, a man of wisdom and compassion, is unfazed by how he is thought of by others; for he knows who he is, beyond descriptions and thoughts. As well, when we embody wisdom and compassion, we accept situations gracefully, instead of arguing about their fundamental veracity, and make the best of them....

When I was 16, living in Brooklyn with my parents, one summer night I drove to Brighton Beach and sat on the rocks along the shore. Reflections from the moon danced on the water, the ocean breathed in the surf and breathed out a roar. The night sky was a black blanket with pinholes to unknowable worlds on its other side. Lights and sounds vibrating the air, every-thing teeming with aliveness; unique, unlike anything experienced before.

I wondered why the ocean, expressing itself with motion and sound, was not considered as alive as are plants and animals. What did it mean to be alive? The "alive" classification made little sense. Classifications, descriptions and thoughts generally felt artificial, man-made; helpful for organizing and communicating, but otherwise empty of aliveness.

Who am I in all this?

...

All our wishes come true but not in the forms we imagine. In 1973 I graduated from college and planned to start working, have a family and take a year at a Zen monastery when I reached 40, like Philip Kapleau who wrote The Three Pillars of Zen. At 40, my family and business partners would not have been encouraging had I taken a year-long sabbatical. However, at 43 my family and 140 friends threw a farewell party for me at the Harvard Club before I left for a 13 month stay at a Federal prison. What landed me in prison was my involvement in an "insider trading" case. I personally profited $50K. Legal fees cost me roughly $2M and fines and penalties another $1.8M. Moreover, I was no longer allowed to manage other people's money, though all of my investors stayed with me until I was prohibited from working. As a result of my not being allow to work, my net worth today is not even a tiny fraction of what it would have been otherwise. I didn't think that my trading was criminal. But others obviously did. In any event, the cost of going to trial, fines, penalties and the sanctions placed upon me undoubtedly were punitive to an extreme.  How do I feel? Pretty good as I play squash 4 - 5 times a week and I play with the prosecutor in my case. Why? Because I was born with the gene of happiness and the prosecutor is a wonderful guy, good squash player. I did learn something from this ordeal: best be careful what we wish for as every wish will come true but not in the form we imagine. While I didn't go to a traditional Zen monastery, prison was a Zen monastery of sorts. It did provide an awakening moment. During my stay, my interactions with the other prisoners was for the most part fun. As well, I generously paid some to make my bed, clean the shower before I used it and make me foods like hand-cut French fries. The night before I left the prison, I asked a group of inmates whether they would miss me as we had a good time together. Seemingly in unison, they said no, because they hated me. I was a bit shocked. They said they hated me because I had such a good time. Maybe they needed a Zen monastery more than I did....