The Game of Balance and Liberation

There is a story about an old Zen monk who was dying, who had finished everything and was about to get off the wheel. He was just floating away, free and in his pure Buddha-mind, when a thought passed by of a beautiful deer he had once seen in a field. And he held on to that thought for just a second because of its beauty, and immediately he took birth again as a deer. It's as subtle as that.

It's like when we begin to see the work that is to be done, and we go to an ashram or a monastery, or we hang out with satsang. We surround ourselves with a community of beings who think the way we think. And then none of the stuff, the really hairy stuff inside ourselves, comes up. It all gets pushed underground. We can sit in a temple or a cave in India and get so holy, so clear and radiant, the light is pouring out of us. But when we come out of that cave, when we leave that supportive structure that worked with our strengths but seldom confronted us with our weaknesses, our old habit patterns tend to reappear, and we come back into the same old games, the games we were sure we had finished with. Because there were uncooked seeds, seeds that sprout again the minute they are stimulated. We can stay in very holy places, and the seeds sit there dormant and uncooked. But there is fear in such individuals, because they know they're still vulnerable.

Nothing goes under the rug. We can't hide in our highness any more than we've hidden in our unworthiness. If we have finally decided we want God, we've got to give it all up. The process is one of keeping the ground as we go up, so we always have ground, so that we're high and low at the same moment - that's a tough game to learn, but it's a very important one. So at the same moment that if I could, I would like to take us all up higher and higher, we see that the game isn't to get high - the game is to get balanced and liberated.


- Ram Dass, excerpt from Grist for the Mill: Awakening to Oneness

22 thoughts on “The Game of Balance and Liberation”

  1. This reading really interested me. I hadn’t realized that just a thought of something we loved (and I love a lot of nature) could keep us coming back. I thought if you were not attached, that was the important thing. Certainly all sorts of things go thru our minds before we die. Was the monk attached? It didn’t seem he was.

    • In that way the monk was completely attached – attached to life, the experiences of life, the experience of seeing the deer, the deer.

  2. Interesting..Though I haven’t fully understood the Monk story but do understood to some extent what is being conveyed. Thank you so much.

  3. Im interpreting the monk story both literally and figuratively. During our waking life the thoughts and patterns that captivate us fog our access to the “now” and we in turn become those thoughts and patterns (like the monk becoming the deer). This was very relevant for me!

  4. Buddhism has a very peculiar understanding of reincarnation (and quite eccentric views of the different realms, such as the thirst ghosts who cannot drink water, the heavenly realms of sensorial pleasure, and 4 more) but I find that there are big inconsistencies when we cross examine with more ‘factual” experiences such as NDE (near death experiences) or even hypnotic past life regression (as with Brian weiss) which translate into a much more human perspective of reincarnation, of lessons, love, opportunity and growth. In such context, it is my understanding, this would not be possible, to downgrade in consciousness into an animal, specially for a monk who had been meditating all his life… just a thought! sending love…

    • It’s presumptive to believe that because one inhabits a humanoid body that it is any more “advanced” than any other form, or that no lessons could be learned from another existence.

  5. Only the monk could know he became the deer .. Not we have not crossed yet. Once we cross we can see the monk as a deer …or the deer as a monk, or neither.

  6. For me, the story represents how perfectly our power flows to the focus of our attention. The monk focused the power of his attention to beauty and love on the deer. He held onto the image and for only a moment was attached to it and in the next moment became it. Perhaps the deer is a reflection of the inner light of the monk. Perhaps it had been guiding him since the first sighting in a field. In the moment of attachment, the monk’s lightness of being transformed into a deer. The monk, thereby, conceived the vessel of his reincarnation by lovingly holding the image that came to him. From where did this image come? Does it matter?

  7. isn’t attaching your mind to the concept of God just more desire and addiction to attachment? If I give you a seed an actual seed (corn, apple, and so on) and you plant that. and then I give you a pebble(or just have you imagine a seed) and call it a “magic god seed” and you plant that which one is going to grow into an actual plant that someone can use?

  8. Great! I’ve been one that has always gone high spiritually… Lately I am learning to be more grounded and balanced it actually feels pretty good! For me I started to see that being spiritually high was almost causing a disconnect or a pushing away of emotions and have been trying to not project so much and feel grounded.

  9. When Your Finally One With The Absolute Your Not In Fear Over Such Nonsense And Child’s Play. You Rise Above The Transitory To The Unknown And You See The Entire Show CLEARLY.

  10. This is a MUCH older story than zen, or Buddhism itself. That a consistent lesson regardless of presentation of details shines through is some credit to its value. This is also only part of a much larger and more important story/lesson, which serves as a minor element in events surrounding the assemblage of sages at Naimisharanya.

  11. Karma, reincarnation, uncooked seeds and monks with deer fantasies are stories we tell ourselves to explain the unexplainable.

    That said, Ram Dass’ version of things is not far from Buddha-mind.

  12. I am reading “Grist For The Mill” right now (again) and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. I get goose bumps multiple times reading certain excerpts. It’s as he says in the book reading it again this time at this stage I am getting more/different? levels of how it applies to my life at this moment. Thanks for the post!!!

  13. I like to think of that passage as “completely safe” and akin to “taking off a tight shoe” as I heard in replay after replay of Ram Dass interview. No matter where we might be on the path of letting go of attachment, the end is a completion of life as far as we might conceptually take it.

  14. I might not understand the story of the monk, but the way I take it is that you need to be perfect otherwise you get punished for even 1 sec of keeping a thought or an image of beauty and appreciate it. This is nonsense for me as I believe that we should appreciate wonders without being attached to them but contemplating them. (So what do I not understand in that story?)

    • Living in this plane of consciousness, lifetime after lifetime as a result of attachment, is not getting “punished”. Punishment does not come up in this story.

      It is more like being pregnant. A woman either is…or she is not, there is no middle ground. One has even a smidgen of attachment and back we come. Not punishment but opportunity. To do better this time. Wash away some karma and bring consciousness to all beings.

      The monk, as a deer, has only a short life to practice again non- attachment so as to achieve Buddhahood upon death and return as a Bodhisattva.

      • Stories like that just make things a lot more complicated for people to understand in general. As if many things are not complicated enough in life as it is many make them even more complicated by telling such stories. Anyway, each has its own way of teaching it seems.


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