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Excerpted from Going on Being by Mark Epstein, M.D.. Copyright © 2001 by Mark Epstein, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of Random House, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.
 

"Therapists are used to looking in certain places for the key to people’s unhappiness, I maintained. They are like Nasruddin looking under the lamppost, when they might profit more from looking inside their own homes."

  Mark Epstein, M.D., Going on Being, Part 2

In my first book I used the parable as a way of talking about people’s attachment to psychotherapy and their fears of spirituality. Therapists are used to looking in certain places for the key to people’s unhappiness, I maintained. They are like Nasruddin looking under the lamppost, when they might profit more from looking inside their own homes.

In my next book, I returned to this story obliquely when I described locking myself out of my running car while trying to leave a meditation retreat that I had just finished. I knew I had locked my keys in the car (it was idling away right in front of me, for goodness sake!), but I still felt compelled to look on the ground for them just in case I might somehow be miraculously saved. Being locked out of my car, with it running on without me, seemed like an apt metaphor for something akin to the title of my first book, Thoughts Without a Thinker. Something like a car without a driver, or, in this case, a driver without his car. Humbled by my own ineptitude, I felt closer to Nasruddin in my second pass through his story. Rather than seeing him simply in his foolish mode, as a stand-in for psychotherapists looking in the wrong place for the key, I now felt sympathy for Nasruddin, allied with him searching in vain for what he knew was not there.

But it was not until some time later, when I came upon the same story in someone else’s work, that I could appreciate it in yet another way. In a marvelous book entitled Ambivalent Zen, Lawrence Shainberg told how this same parable captivated his imagination for ten years. He, too, thought that he understood it. The moral, he concluded, is to look where the light is since darkness is the only threat. But he determined one day to ask his Japanese Zen master (who is a wonderfully engaging character as described by Shainberg) for his interpretation.

"You know the story about Nasruddin and the key?" Shainberg asked his master.

"Nasruddin?" the roshi replied. "Who is Nasruddin?"

After Shainberg described the story to him, his master appeared to give it no thought, but sometime later the Roshi brought it up again.

"So, Larry-san, what’s Nasruddin saying?" the Zen master questioned his disciple.

"I asked you, Roshi."

"Easy," he said. "Looking is the key."

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