I’ve been chewing on something these past days. This morning I swallowed! Now waiting for digestion and the accompanying nourishment that comes from taking something into oneself. And really it was non-digestion that was at the root of what I’ve had my teeth into. Let’s see if I can find the necessary words now while I’m in digestion mode. Or perhaps better still I’ll describe chewing and leave the digestion and learning for later. Better not get ahead of myself ay.
In Soto Zen we don’t have a formal koan system where one is given an enigmatic saying which one then chews on (or more traditionally one sits with.) The point being to solve the koan/problem. Which is basically to digest and deepen, and thus mature, ones understanding of how to live. We say that the koan arises naturally in daily life, and it does. The trick, or skill, is to recognize the koan when it arises. And not shy away from the inevitable pain of having ones nose (more often than not) pressed up against ones fondly held sense of oneself. Most of us like to carry a reasonable sense of ourselves. A kind and considerate person able to have empathy with all that comes to us. Yes, there are the shadow sides too and you can’t ignore them. However for the most part we step from light to dark and back again fairly seamlessly and (hopefully) without overly beating oneself up when the shadows loom. Or overly pleased with ourselves (hopefully) for being the way we like to appear.
I liken the koan to a bone. A dog is given a bone, it’s then received with teeth closing around it then chewed for awhile. Then left lying around and eventually buried! Is it buried to mature in the darkness of the earth? Readying for the time it’s dug up, chewed on some more, eaten and digested? Does the time in the earth render it more digestible? Who knows what that dogie bone burying thing is all about.
For we humans the bone can come in many forms. The origin might seem to emanate, like the bone, from an outside source however if you look at it the origin is far more complex. I’m seeing the source as the press of the moment to moment (moments so fleeting as to render that expression meaningless) dynamic interplay between oneself and existence. So the koan comes both from outside and from within – and arises naturally! And actually on close examination the arising of the koan is one movement, not two. Whether it is a sharp word, uttered by oneself or by a friend. A disappointment. A challenging of some kind – mentally, emotionally, practically, spiritually. One has a bone! Depending on circumstances, and past causes and conditions, it tends to be the common way to think that either (crudely put) I act on the world or the world acts on me. And which ever way I look. Life is not fair! And it isn’t.
That there are the very well off and the woman whose image I saw yesterday, picking grass for a meal, is simply – beyond words. That people encounter a circumstance which results in suffering, long term. A circumstance such as rape, senseless acts of violence, random killing sprees. The list could go on and on and on. These ARE senseless, unasked for uninvited and basically tragic. There are of course consequences flowing from ones actions and words and thoughts, constantly. Consequences are realized immediate, or later, or very much later. Like the bone those consequences can lay buried and often unknown to us. That is until some kind person, or condition, digs it up and hey presto a bone – to chew!
So my current chewing bone had been buried for a lot of years. It concerns something I said which was false, unwise and very hurtful. I’d no idea of this hurt I’d been part of creating. It is so often the case that we do not know the consequences of our acts, it would be impossible to know all of them actually. I’ll not go into details about the event since that’s private and personal. Which does not mean I am not openly contrite.
M, please accept my unreserved apology.