Zen and grass buddhas

This housecleaning day…
All gods and buddhas are left
sitting out on the grass.

—Masaoka Shiki

[…quoted in Sweeping Changes: Discovering the Joy of Zen in Everyday Tasks, by Gary Thorpe]

I borrowed this daily dharma from the “Zen Under the Skin” blog. It was posted there a while back and I always enjoyed its meaning and the imagery that surrounded it.

To begin with, there is a poignant statement on mindfulness (rather big topic in Zen practice only overshadowed by the transient nature of… well…everything) where the concentration applied to the task of cleaning or house-keeping is just as important to religious reverence or practice. In fact, in this case, it is equal. Would you be completely mindful of the task at hand were you to be keeping the altar intact while you clean. Instead all religious ideas are cast aside and the icons dumped on the grass. No time for them when the house is a mess. Refer back to my first posting on why this is important. I relate (poorly in my mind) a story on the origin of the title of this blog which relates to mindfulness.

I would think if any word is counter-intuitive to the Zen philosophy/religion/practice it would be “multitasking”. The insistence on doing more than one thing at once (due to time constraints or whatever) while not giving anything its due attention is just as bad as doing nothing at all. I keep on picturing people in the car driving while talking on a telephone while listening to the radio while eating. All that attention is diffused and you do not enjoy or feel any of it. Your conversation is bland, driving erratic, food un-tasted, coffee spilt and ears ringing. Not one bit of fulfillment is derived from any of those tasks.

The other noticeable aspect of this statement is that practice (my “zen” word for religion) is not the most important thing in life. If I were to attend meditation groups at the detriment of my family then my practice is bad. This is why I skip a few Sunday sittings. Wife has a headache or the baby is especially active that morning means that my attention is needed elsewhere. My practice is better for it. Being “Zen” does not mean that you sit everyday or where the right beads or bow when you are supposed to bow. It means that you understand your role in the lives of your friends, family and co-workers as well as yourself.

This is not to say that I am perfect in this. Of course, I am jut as clueless as any husband or father when it comes to the emotional needs of the family sometimes. And I am lazy at work sometimes as well.

The last image that I like with this little quote is that of the icons/statues sitting on the grass. It reminds me of some of the Shinto shrines that I have seen as well as a story from a zen monastery in the Pacific Northwest. The monks would trace a large kanji for the word “Buddha” in the sand in the front of the temple. It was a large garden plot and took quite a lot of time to complete. However, it stayed that way until illegible by “dog, child or nature”. No fences or signs or screaming monks as children ran through. It was transient and it changed. When it was time to rewrite the kanji, it was rewritten. Simple and elegant.

If the buddha falls or the wax drips you can just leave it. It doesn’t mean anything. Nothing ceases to change.



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