Sunday, July 22, 2012

Do the Dishes II

Scott Bradley

Asked by a newly arrived monk for instruction, Joshu asks, "Have you had your breakfast?" "Yes, Master," is the reply. "Then wash your bowls," says Joshu.

Though I did not quote him in the previous post, Zenkei (Zen Comments on the Mumonkan) directs our attention to the central reality to which this koan points, namely that the entire endeavor for spiritual transformation resides with the individual. There is no "instruction" external to one's own inner experience which is of any true value. "Apart from 'this person, I-myself, here now,' what Truth can there be? When you see, see directly! What are you looking for, turning your eyes away from yourself?"

But there is much more here. Among these is the understanding that everyday life is Dao. (Substituting Dao for Zen, I understand the path of Zen as but one expression of the spiritual quest among many others, and not, as Zen tends to do, as "the" expression.) Do we not tend toward an incipient belief that 'spiritual' endeavors are somehow different than 'normal' activity. Imagine a sage. Was it a shopping 'housewife' reaching for a box of Cheerios while remonstrating her child? Probably not. Yet, this is where sagacity happens, if it happens at all.

"Marvelous activity," exclaims the well-known poem, "chopping wood and carrying water!" This is buji, the "nothing special", of Zen. It is not that we realize some way of being 'spiritual' and then apply it to life; the way of being 'spiritual' is life and can only be realized in living. And that, for me at least, is a hell of a lot harder than sitting here writing a post and feeling 'spiritual'.

Zenkei shares a poem by Master Shido Bunan:
Do not let the word "Dao" delude you;
Realize it is nothing else
Than what you do morning and night.
Buji may ‘just’ be everyday activity, but it is done in a way far from ‘normal’. Zenkei speaks of the samadhi (“the pure working of no-mind that has transcended both action and quietude”) of activity as is sometimes experienced in artistic expression or in climbing a mountain. Another way to express it is as “flow”. Watts gives us a helpful comparison between this and a form of Christian spirituality: “It is not thinking about God, while peeling potatoes [The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence], but peeling potatoes.” It is an immediacy born of oneness, not dualism.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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