Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Nothing Special. Everyday Ken.

Nothing Special: Everyday Ken

Charlotte Joko Beck is a wonderful, marvellous Zen teacher who used to lead the Zen Centre of San Diego. She is a dharma heir of the late Taizan Maezumi, Roshi and she is the author of two truly tremendous books, Everyday Zen: Love and Work and Nothing Special: Everyday Zen. I have stolen her book title for my play on words for the title of this blog.  If you have not read any of Charlotte Beck's works than you owe it to yourself to do so.

There is an old poem that says:

Eat when you're hungry,
Drink when you're dry,
If a tree don't fall on ya,
You'll live 'till you die.

Today we would call that 'Hillbilly Zen' but Hillbilly or not there is deep, profound truth hiding in that little verse.

There is a Zen story of a monk who travels many days over many, many miles seeking a particular Zen Master whom he hopes will show him the path to enlightenment. After an arduous journey he finally arrives as the old master's monastery and in due course seeks an audience with him where he asks to be taught all that he need to know in order to obtain satori or enlightenment. Having heard him out the Zen Master asked the monk if he had had his breakfast and when the monk replied in the affirmative the Master said, "Then go wash your bowl."

The Venerable Tenzin Palmo, a Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition says:
We're going to get old,
we're going to get sick,
and eventually we're going to die -
if we don't die before we get old and sick.

This is it. This is all there is. There is nothing else. There is nothing else to seek. There is no further truth to look for. There is no blinding enlightenment to be had. We are going to get old and sick and we are going to die if we don't die before we get old and sick.

After dinner this evening I cleared the table, washed it, put the fancy table cloth back on it and then placed the fruit bowl back in the center. I got out the broom and swept the floor before placing the chairs back around the table and turning out the light.

In the kitchen I placed the leftovers in containers and placed the containers in the fridge along with the milk and butter and other condiments that had been taken out for the meal. I washed dishes while the sink continued to fill: first the glasses, then the silverware, then the plates and bowls, and finally the pots and pans. Each was rinsed after it was washed and placed in the drying rack. The stove and counters were washed. The floor was swept and then quickly mopped. Nothing was rushed. Nothing was hurried.

As soon as I had finally finished and had turned the kitchen lights off and turned the night light on, my mother came in to set a dirty glass in the sink she had forgotten in the computer room. That glass, seed, will gather more.  There are many, I know, who would get upset. "I just did dishes. Why couldn't you bring that before I was done?"

Why get excited? Dishes are never done. Kitchens are never clean. Meals are never finished. Tomorrow meals will be made again, floors will be swept again, dining rooms will be set right, dishes will be washed, kitchens will be cleaned.  This is the nature, the rhythm, the fabric of our lives.

I have related before that for years and years I did not cook, choosing to eat in restaurants to be around people. I would hurry home from work. I would hurry to change. I would hurry to town. I would hurry to the restaurant. I would hurry to eat. I would hurry home. I was in a desperate rush not to have to cook, not to have to clean, not to have to eat alone. Rush, rush, rush. I missed one half of my life in the rush and I missed the other half in not taking part in the process.

Do you seek enlightenment? Do you look for the meaning of life? Have you eaten breakfast? Then wash your bowl. There is nothing to do except what needs to be done. There is nothing that needs attention accept what you are doing now.

I spent most of my life doing exactly what everyone else does: looking for life everywhere except where it is. I was fortunate to eventually find someone who showed me that life was not there, it was here. Right now. In this moment. Can you see it? Do you understand? Be honest with yourself. It has become popular in this age to feign awareness that one does not have, to feign understanding that still eludes us. But this is important. Do you understand? Do you see it? If the answer is "no" or "Not really" it is okay. Life is the school and the lesson. We need simply pay attention to gain what we seek.

The sceptic asks, "And you, Ken, do you see it? Do you know it?"

Yes, sometimes. And at other times I am lost in the delusion, swept away in some mind moment, lost in an emotion. I just find my way back much quicker now. I have been exercising a lot in the gym of life. Life is the gymnasium of the soul. Gymnasiums test us. They make us strong.

When you wish to sand a piece of wood you don't brush it with a silk scarf. You get out the sandpaper to make it smooth. When you want to build muscle in the gym you don't lift an empty barbell. You put the heavy weights on it.

In life we need to be lifting the heavy weights, building muscle, washing the dishes, cleaning our bowl. Then, some day, the light begins to dawn.

Today I got up and ate my breakfast and then cleaned up after the same as every other morning. Then I went for my walk. Just like every other morning. I planned dinner. Just like every other morning. I ate my lunch like I do every day and cleaned up after like I do every day. I spent some time with Tess, nearly had an argument, got momentarily annoyed before I brought myself back on track by reminding myself she isn't trying to be difficult - English is simply not her native language and sometimes the conversation goes off the rails. I came back home and made dinner for myself and my folks and then I cleaned up. I have sat on the computer here for a shot while and in a moment I am going to make a cup of tea and read until I am sleepy.

This day was nothing special. It was an ordinary day. Nothing special, everyday Ken. Nothing special, everyday Zen.

(Originally posted to Multiply November 22, 2008)

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