Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Tomato

The Tomato
by Scott Bradley

Commenting on the antics of two Zen monks, Wu-men tells us that they are like two slapstick characters in a puppet show. And that's all I have to say about that koan or his comments on it.

What speaks to me is the image of the puppet booth. So often, usually at the end of the day, I am able to see all the day's little confrontations, imagined or real, with or between others — the opposition of egos — and realize the utter folly of it all. There is a certain perspective from which we can see that all these antics are as important and relevant as Judy and Punch having it out in the puppet booth. It's nonsense. Yet, as the parts are played out, that booth seems like the whole world, and the conflicts appear as of universal significance. Absolutes have been transgressed. Rights have been violated. Wrong has been done.

This larger perspective is much easier to gain when it is others who play the parts. But it is possible, too, when we ourselves have been one of the actors. And it is even possible to realize the puppet booth folly at the very moment we are in it. Such moments are quite liberating. Just as we might laugh at Judy and Punch, we now laugh at ourselves.

When we think of puppets, we think of external control; they act in the full belief that they act of their own free-will, but they are controlled by something outside themselves. When we are able to see ourselves in the booth we likewise realize that we are under the control of some 'other', but ironically, that 'other' is ourselves. From this perspective, the rule of ego holds the strings and makes us do what, on reflection, we do not wish to do.

Yesterday I invited a friend into the garden to take whatever vegetables she might want. I pointed out the very first ripe tomato to her, a golden sun cherry, and she nonchalantly plucked and ate it. I had plans for that tomato. It was, in some sense, 'my' tomato after all. It was to be a gift to someone else. 'My' gift.

Somehow, miraculously, I was able at that moment to see the booth, and not play the role that 'me' wanted to play. Instead, I just had a good chuckle. This was a very petty matter, needless to say, but aren't they all?

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

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