The Buddha said that any task you do if done mindfully is a sort of meditation. We assume he said it, we’ve been told he did, but no one I know was anywhere near that bodhi tree, so we take it on faith. When it comes to things like chopping large quantities of onions, or roasting coffee beans I totally get it, it does seem like meditation, and deep at that. Walking the dog makes the list, and perhaps convincing the cat to do anything she didn’t think of by out waiting her. I can even accept washing the car or the dishes, but washing the dog is only so on rare occasions and only if I medicate her first, and the cat, forget it. But even Buddha would have to concede that no matter how totally mindful you are, driving anywhere in either Broward or Miami-Dade counties is as far from meditative as opting to commit sepuku with a butter knife.
He would arrive as I was still struggling to convince the dog that he didn’t need to drag me around the neighborhood, that he knew the backyard well enough.
I’d lose the argument in the end, that was a given, but he’d concede me enough time to wolf down breakfast, and I’d hear the small door in the wall open and then the clatter of bottles that the milkman deposited there.
Now it’s paper cartons from the grocery, the dog and several successors are now in whatever Valhalla is set aside for canines, and I suspect I may be getting lactose intolerant, which has nothing at all to do with how I now spend my mornings, with toast and a cortado on the patio, deep into my New York Times, trying to remember my long-gone youth.
If you go to a lecture and listen carefully will you become wise? If you go to a hundred lectures are you a hundred times wiser?
Where did the teacher find wisdom, did he sit in endless lectures. Watch him most carefully is he not wise with sleeping, and when eating, when he walks to the lectern and from it? Watch in silence and find his wisdom.
A wise Buddhist teacher once told me that anything you do, if you do it mindfully, can be a form of meditation, and I have taken this into my practice, albeit with mixed success, but that is one reason they call it practice.
Walking silently, following your breath in and out, aware of your feet, the earth, the sky is definitely meditative.
Chopping onions, carefully drawing the knife thorough the layers creating neatly incised bits is certainly meditative.
Sitting by a pond watching the sun slowly set it ablaze as the breeze ruffles the surface is absolutely meditative.
But folding laundry, no matter how mindfully I approach the task always and quickly morphs into a mindless search for the missing sock.
He says, “it’s like learning to walk again after you’ve had a stroke, you know you can but nothing seems to work quite right when you try.”
She says, “you just upgrading from one model iPhone to the newer model, so don’t overplay it, it isn’t a matter of life itself you know. And if you didn’t need the newest and latest you wouldn’t have this problem would you?”
He says, “You’re right to that extent, but think if I didn’t need the newest and latest I’d hardly be a male of my species, so be thankful i’m having these problems. Anyway, i think i have it now, finally.”
She says, “why didn’t you answer when I called? You said you had the phone figure out, so turn around and go get the milk and butter, Sorry about the rain, it was sunny when I called as you are leaving the office for here.”
He walks slowly, with a stoop, born of time or knowledge of a world that has seeped away. He smiles, but you cannot tell if it is at the worm slowly crossing the sidewalk, or the young woman pulling on the leash of her far too large dog. He could walk this route with his eyes closed, has done so to prove a point, but he knows he might hit someone. That happens when his eyes are open, given his stoop. He has become a student of shoes, and in summer, of feet. He can tell a great deal about a person by her feet. He prefers women’s feet. They care and it shows. He’s amazed how calloused and dirty men’s feet often are, as if washing them was always going to be an afterthought. He knows the day is coming when he will no longer be able to walk. When that day comes, he hopes they will just put him in a pine box and not wrap him in a blanket and wheel him around, swabbing the drool from his chin. He was a baby once, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience that time either.
If you go walking one day and meet a person you think may be the Buddha, ask him what is the heart of all of the sutras. If he answers you with Dharma will you be certain this person is not the Buddha? If, on the other hand, he says nothing at all, and merely holds up a mirror, will you be certain you are seeing the Buddha? Decide before he crosses the river and is gone from sight.
A reflection on Case 1 of Bring Me the Rhinoceros (Koans)
We walk forwards to try to see where we are going, always wanting but never seeing where we have been. Is it better to walk backward seeing clearly where we will not go without idea of a destination. Look down and decide.
A reflection on Case 92 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)
His brother said that if you left the windows open at night, the ghosts would come in and might steal your soul. He didn’t care, he wanted to hear the song the stars sang every night, to see them come down and move in pairs across the mesa, for stars, he knew turned orange when they left their celestial perch, and would certainly keep the ghosts away, for ghosts were like rabbits and hid when the stars came near, and once in a while, if a ghost moved too slowly he would hear its cry as it was captured by a star. And, he was certain, ghosts preferred doors, and they kept theirs tightly locked, for you never knew what you’d find out on the mesa.