Shared Hands

vignette by Fred Leeds

A traveler finds himself walking a solitary path; a second man appears on the path before him. A piece of fruit lands on the ground before them. A disappointed bird squawks overhead. The traveler scoops up the windfall, splits it in half, and extends the second half to the other man. “This is so your efforts will not go unrewarded,” says the traveler.

“Your merit too should not be forgotten,” says the other man. He bows as a gift in return. As he reaches out to take the offering, he sees that his hands have become the traveler’s.*

Please tell me, dear reader: Are they one traveler or two?

Here is one possible answer:

Merit is something that should be transferred. This does not mean that merit is first a commodity and is then transferred, but that true merit flows from a humanity which is already shared. Giving is ongoing and has no giver, as our human being is already one gift. There is only one traveler: Buddha, at once taking the form of self and other.

*Adapted from a traditional Zen story. See NO DUCKS: The Koans of Huai-hai (available on the internet).

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