― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
"I tell all of you with certainty, unless you change and become like little children,
I awoke this morning to the sound of rain and crisp, cool air floating through the windows alongside my bed. Un-detered, the chorus of songbirds sang their parts in the pre-dawn symphony as I rolled over and set the alarm to 6:30 a.m to give myself a couple of more hours of sleep. Moments later, I rolled over again and turned the alarm off. Although I had thought otherwise, I was ready -- or so I'd thought. I got up and sat down to the laptop to stare at a blank screen -- and waited.
And waited some more.
After awhile, I got up again, set the timer, walked over to the altar in the corner of my bedroom, lit a stick of incense and Sat down in front of a different blank screen.
Now, an hour later, I'm ready -- I think.
No longer able to restrain himself, the professor shouted, "Stop. The cup is overfull! No more will go in!". Nan-in replied, "You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can't put anything in. Before I can teach you, you'll have to empty your cup."
Although I first read that story in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones back in 1970, I now realize I had only glimpsed the rim of that empty cup.
Even as a 24 year old, fresh out of college and engaged in my first year of teaching school, I certainly "got" that there is a difference between the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom. By then, I'd run into factory workers during my seven years of summer employment that appeared to have a much better handle on what the Real Deal was than most of my college professors. I also sensed from the story that arrogance probably wasn't going to cut it with a Zen master, a fact that I've had verified any number of times number of times over the years as I ran into brick walls with Aries male bravado without considering my own limited capabilities.
Little did I know, though, that this teaching, like the coffee down at Brad's Place, was being served in a bottomless cup.
Then and Now
For several years now, I've been studying the Lojong Slogans. After reading a number of commentaries a number of times, I began casting a daily slogan from among the 59 slogans for contemplation and practice last year. I continue to be amazed at how helpful they have been.
Today, I cast the 6th slogan of the Lojong Teachings today: "In post-meditation, be a child of illusion." One of the most haunting of the 59 aphorisms that make up this Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training, it is also, perhaps, one of the most radical. It seemingly flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Rather than exhorting us to "grow up and get real", we are encouraged, instead, to recapture the open and spacious sense of wonder that characterizes the mind of the child as we arise from our meditation cushion to move through the day to day activity of our lives.
As Mindfulness Practice develops and we become more acutely aware of the fluidity and transparent nature of our own thoughts and emotions, the ephemeral nature of "mindstuff"
becomes more obvious. With Practice, our perspective widens and deepens, and in that gracious spaciousness of deepened Awareness, something shifts.
At a certain point, we see for ourselves that "reality" is not all that solid, and that the boundary between imagination and perception are not as hard and fast as we were led to believe. In fact, much of what we experience is actually an inverted form of "make believe". What we believe alters what we see -- and makes it so.
Conditioned as our minds are by our upbringing in conventional society, what we "know" is not only limited by the organic limitations of our sensory apparatus, it is largely a function of the stories that we have accumulated, consciously and unconsciously, throughout the course of our lives. Much of the time these belief structures operate subconsciously.
With Practice, we come to see this in operation and see that these stories are no more substantial than fairy tales, maybe less so. We come to understand that what we see and react to are our own interpretations of reality -- not Reality itself. We come to know that who we are and what we see "out there" are so much more than the ceaseless operation of our conditioning.
At a certain point, we then see for ourselves that we are the people we've been waiting for -- and this is the Promised Land. At that point, the most adult thing we can do, perhaps, is to be childish -- at least some of the time.
Realizing that we are all co-creating the reality we share, we can each take time to "imagine all the people living lives of peace" -- and do our own small part to bring it about. We can choose to wend our way along the path of our lives with an open heart and open mind.
It just takes Practice.
(* The visualization practices of Tibetan Buddhism and other spiritual traditions, like prayer, are are actually mechanisms that harness the power of imagination to prime the pump of reality in the desired direction. )