“Whatever comes along, just don’t accept it.”

~ Record of Linji, Discourses, XVI

Another way to interpret the above lines from the famous Zen teacher Linji Yixuan is, “Whatever your thoughts, just don’t believe them.” It is an admonition to investigate our stories, the endless stream of stories in our heads. And while we many not wholly banish them ~ how ever would we permanently stop this flow of thought? ~ perhaps we can see that, to use Linji’s terms, they are the guest and not the host. The servant, not the master. The tail, not the cat.

Our stories come to define us and our world. This was my first thought when last week I watched the video of a police shooting of an unarmed man. It made me tremble. A Mesa, Arizona police officer was acquitted of second-degree murder in the January 2016 shooting of Daniel Shaver, a 26-year old white man, father of two young children, who earlier was seen with a pellet gun in his hotel room. He was stopped unarmed in the hallway by police responding to the call. A body-cam video showed Shaver, a bit drunk and confused, doing his best to obey conflicting police commands, crawling forward on his knees, crying and beginning for his life, when he was shot and killed. The policeman had his story ~ Shaver was an imminent threat, the next Las Vegas shooter, a piece of shit ~ and acting on it caused great pain and suffering. His story took a life.

We do that all the time. We may not use an AR-15 assault rifle, but we have our weapons: knives, bombs and words used to hurt others and to hurt ourselves. It is not clear why we do it. After all, we are the host, and need not be defined by the guest. But if our stories have the power to bring death, perhaps they also have the power to give life. So which should we choose? Most of history has shown a servant’s life to be a bleak one, and the pay and hours are not all that good. Perhaps we should try our hand at being the master. You don’t have to believe that story either, but for a time, it might be more fun. I’ll accept that.