Wonhyo is a legendary 7th-century Korean Son monk. He is most famous for his journey to China, one that he never completed. The story goes that one day, exhausted and exposed to a terrible storm, he sought shelter in a cave. Fumbling through the darkness, he satisfied his terrible thirst with a cool bowl of water that he found in the cave.
The next morning when he awoke, Wonhyo realized that the water he had drank--so refreshing and pure the night before--was in fact a brackish pool inside of a human skull.
Vomiting in disgust, he had a profound Awakening. The mind, he learned, has the power to transform all experience. Phenomena are empty; it's our minds that create good and bad, delicious and rancid. To quote Hamlet, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Indeed.
After that, Wonhyo abandoned his trip to China, turned around, and returned to Korea.
It's a great story. I had a similar experience the other day, nowhere near as profound, but similar.
My wife cut up a fresh watermelon from a local farm. I eyed it curiously before taking a slice--the insides were yellow, not red like I was accustomed to.
Now I'm not a picky eater, so I was willing to give this a try. I tossed a wedge in my mouth and chewed. It was good, not quite like "regular" watermelons, but sweet and juicy nonetheless.
Later my wife asked me how I liked the watermelon.
"It's good," I said, "but not as sweet as the red kind."
She pursed her lips skeptically. "You know, I think it tastes exactly like the red. It's the yellow color that makes you think it tastes different."
I stood silent. I tried another slice, this time with my eyes closed, and sure enough, it tasted like red watermelon. Holy crap, she was right!
Here's the trip: the moment I opened my eyes and saw the yellow watermelon, my mind and tongue reinterpreted the flavor, like a placebo effect. My mind couldn't accept the fact that yellow watermelon tastes the same as red.
It was just like with Wonhyo. Our mind determines the tone and flavor of our experiences. I wasn't tasting the watermelon as much as I was tasting my expectations.
It was a pretty humbling experience. I'm just happy mine was with a yellow watermelon and not a skull.
Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: DailyCraft.