Lucy Cornelssen was a mystic whose German translation of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi has been widely read over the last three decades. She spent the last years of her life in a little cottage at the foot of the sacred Arunachala Hill. We used to spend several hours each week with her, in the early and mid-1980s. Though she spent most of her time in solitude, she would become very lively while narrating her storehouse of stories and tales.
Even though she was in her 90s, when we started the Journal, we made her an honorary associate editor, which should took quite seriously. Through letters, she would send bits of papers with quotes and stories. These two stories are from Lucy’s vast collection.
(Lucy loved this story. I can picture her relating it with slow and meaningful pauses and when she came to the last line, her face lighted up with a most radiant smile.)
There was once an extraordinary woodworker named Ch’ing. He carved a bell stand from a simple piece of wood. But when it was finished, whoever saw it was amazed. To them it seemed that no human being could have made this stand; it was divine. When he was asked how he did it, Ch’ing replied, “I am only a woodworker; how can this be a piece of art? . . . Yet, there is one thing. When I am about to begin a bell stand, I reserve my energy and still my mind by fasting. The first three days I have no thought of reward for this work. When I have fasted five days, I am beyond praise and blame. And when I reach seven days, I am so silent that I have moved beyond the state of bodily awareness. When my skill is completely concentrated and there are no outside distractions, I travel to the forest and examine the nature of trees. If I find one whose form is heavenly, I begin carving. In this way, I simply match up ‘Heaven’ with ‘Heaven’.”
(Lucy liked this story because she and Ryokan had a lot in common and this particular story reminded her of a similar incident in the life of Ramana Maharshi.)
The Zen master Ryokan lived a very simple life in a little hut by the foot of the mountain. One evening when Ryokan was out, a thief went to his hut only to discover that there was nothing in it to steal. When Ryokan returned, he found the thief in his hut. He addressed him politely, “You have come a long way to visit me and you should not go without something. Please take these clothes as a gift from me.” The thief was shocked. He took the clothes and ran away, embarrassed. As Ryokan sat naked looking at the moon above him, he thought: “How I wish I could give him this lovely moon.”