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Chapter 3: The Owl and the Phoenix

The secretary went back to the woman and said, “Don’t worry, don’t be sad. The rabbi says that your husband will come back soon. Go home and be at ease.”

Happy, the woman left, saying, “God will reward your rabbi a million times over, he is so kind.”

When the woman left, the secretary became sad, and told someone who was standing there that this was not going to help: “Her husband cannot come back, poor woman, and she left here so happy.”

The bystander said, “But why? Don’t you believe in your rabbi and his prayer?”

The secretary said, “Of course I believe in my rabbi and I believe in his prayer. But he has only heard the petition of the woman, and I have seen her face. Her husband cannot ever come back.”

One who has seen the face of ambition, one who has seen the face of desire, one who has seen the face of lust, will never come back to desire, to lust, to ambition. It is impossible, the face is so ugly.

Chuang Tzu has seen the face of ambition. That is why he says: “Your post, your power, your prime-ministership, is just a dead rat to me. Don’t screech, and don’t get dismayed.”

“This undying phoenix arises out of the south sea
and flies to the seas of the north,
never alighting except on certain sacred trees.
He will touch no food
but the most exquisite rare fruit,
and he drinks only from the clearest springs.

“Once an owl
chewing an already half-decayed dead rat
saw the phoenix fly over.
Looking up he screeched with alarm
and clutched the dead rat to himself
in fear and dismay.

“Prime minister,
why are you so frantic,
clinging to your ministry
and screeching at me in dismay?”

This is the fact, but only once you know it, only then. Listening to a Buddha, or to a Jesus, or to a Zarathustra, you have always heard: “Drop desiring and bliss will be yours.” But you cannot drop it, you cannot understand how bliss can happen when you drop desire, because you have tasted only desire. It may be poisonous, but it has been your only food. You have been drinking from poisoned sources, and when someone says, “Drop it,” you think, “then I will die, thirsty.” You don’t know that there are clear springs, and you don’t know that there are trees with rare fruit. You look only through your desire, so you cannot see those fruits and those trees.