This morning I went to the local store for my newspaper. While chatting, my friend the manager mentioned that her 20-year-old son was having a down spell, mildly depressed but mainly pondering why each day seemed the same -- off to work, back home, off to work etc. -- same old grind each day with nothing on the horizon to perk him up. He was asking, "what is life for, what's it all about, why am I here, Is this all there is?"
I told the mother that Zen, one of the highest mystical paths for seekers of wisdom, held in high regard the phrase,"Before enlightenment, Zen is chopping wood, carrying water; after enlightment, Zen is chopping wood, carrying water." So, if our life is this way -- just work each day, no wonder we get depressed. But the Zen saying also has in it a secret, which is that the attitude you have, your spiritual state, can transform profoundly the everyday mundane action into the transcendent. An ancient Hindu phrase says it well,"The walk of an enlightened man is as different from the walk of an unenlightened man as that of a giraffe from an elephant."
The enlightened man has an awareness, a deep understanding, gratitude and unity inside so that each and every action he does is bathed in this grace and is transformed into meaningful completeness and peace, hence the before and after of the above saying. Zazen meditation is simply to get one to the state were the mind is quiet and the light/resonance of the human being can emerge and resonate.
A sage once told me that this life is nothing more than a University.We are signed up for a number of undergraduate courses for which we attend classes and take exams. We must pass them or else we fail and do not get our diploma, which is valuable, and the key to higher learning, job opportunities and a better informed and meaningful life.
Likewise, in daily life there are many courses to take.Everything that happens at any minute,is either a duty or a lesson or both.
Adolescence, jobs, relationships, attachments, illness, work, accidents, wealth ,marriage, old age, death. Every one of these is a course we must take, study and pass. If we extract the point of wisdom from each course we pass and in the process learn the difference between our true nature and that of the world we live in.
"Man must realize that he is truly beautiful. If he can dispel the blackness of the mind -- desire, ego, anger, haste, pride, jealousy, envy, resentment, doubt, treachery, deceit and many other bad qualities -- he will no longer be depressed. Everything within him will be beautiful, clear and happy. All that is wrong will have left him. Only the beauty of God will remain."*
Increasingly in present times, it becomes more difficult to do this work. Silence, which is a prerequisite, is seen by many, particularly the young, as undesirable, even an enemy to be avoided. I once facilitated a therapy group for recovering teenage drug addicts who wanted to practice meditation. I told them to sit up straight, close their eyes and simply watch their breath for one minute. We began and 15 seconds later I became aware of nervous laughter, giggles and general discomfort in the group. Of the 11 people there were only two who were able to continue the experiment for 60 seconds and they were ridiculed.
It seems our lives have become so crowded with computers, cell phones, earphones, texting and other stimuli that the nourishing power and beauty of silence has become awkward and uncomfortable, especially for the young. Emptying the closet of the mind is seen as threatening, and has been replaced by stuffing it with an increasing volume of stimuli. This is the exact opposite of cultivating a peaceful inner life. A millenium ago in ancient Japan, the Zen poet Basho wrote this famous Haiku:
The still pond;
The frog jumped in.
Sound of water.
It is considered to this day one of the finest examples of Zen literature. Yet,how out of place and rare do these words seem in today's hustle and bustle.
I once asked my Zen master, Nakagawa Soen Roshi how to still the mind.
His answer was:
"When holding a pot of water, how to make still? Not by shaking -- just hold carefully and let settle"
So if we hold life gently yet firmly the water will settle.If we keep dropping things in it will stay turbulent.When it finally settles we will see our image and wisdom quite clearly.
Wisdom calms your worries,and lovingly teaches the
mind how to be peaceful.Then your qualities become
peaceful,and your thoughts and intentions become
peaceful.The wisdom you have inside yourself is the
very best psychology.It will never abandon you. It will
be there to teach you what you need to know.Please
reflect on this.
* M.R.Bawa Muhauyaddeen
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