“What is perfect? From the Zen mind, perfection is not being there.” Frederick Lenz
Charlotte Joko Beck in Everyday Zen explains a famous Buddhist parable: “A man was being chased by a tiger. In his desperation he dove over the side of a cliff and grabbed a vine. As the tiger was pawing away above him he looked below and saw another tiger at the base of the cliff, waiting for him to fall.
To top it off two mice were gnawing away at the vine. At that moment he spotted a luscious strawberry and, holding the vine with one hand, he picked the strawberry and ate it. It was delicious! What finally happened to the man? We know, of course. Is what happened to him a tragedy?
Notice that the man being chased by a tiger didn’t lie down and say, Oh, you beautiful creature. We are one. Please eat me. The story is not about being foolish even though on one level, the man and the tiger are one. The man did his best to protect himself, as we all should.
Nevertheless, if we’re left hanging on that vine, we can either waste that last moment of life or we can appreciate it. And isn’t every moment the last moment? There is no moment other than this. The man being chased by the tiger is finally eaten. No problem.”
“The horse. Here is nobility without conceit, friendship without envy, beauty without vanity. A willing servant, yet never a slave.” Ronald Duncan
The Pali word dukkha means suffering and stress and unsatisfactoriness, but it also includes all the minor annoyances of life as well. It’s basically getting what one does not want and not getting what one does want.
I had a chance to see and experience dukkha in several ways this afternoon. There was a hot air balloon preparing to launch and I stopped to take some photos. I could see this was going to take quite a while so I had to leave to find a bathroom and come back.
I watched the crew struggle to drive the van with all the equipment onto the grass but it was too soft and muddy, and they got stuck several times. I spoke to the pilot who was determined to launch no matter what so he could get his certificate, though he was obviously frustrated.
About 45 minutes later they got the balloon hooked up to the basket and set up the fan to inflate it. I felt sorry for this guy as he pulled and pulled but the fan wouldn’t start. It turned out it was out of gas so they filled it up and were back in action.
His crew seemed to have no experience and had to have everything explained to them at least twice, but eventually the balloon was up, up and away and I trudged back through the mud to my car.
Because of the direction the van ended up parking I didn’t have the beautiful late afternoon light, but I tried to get an image I could use that would capture the essence of dukkha.
Novelist Hermann Hesse, author of Siddhartha said: “I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but to mature and transfigure us.” Yes.
“A fresh attitude starts to happen when we look to see that yesterday was yesterday, and now it is gone; today is today and now it is new. It is like that – every hour, every minute is changing. If we stop observing change, then we stop seeing everything as new.” Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
“From the very beginning all beings are Buddha. Like water and ice, without water no ice, outside us no Buddhas.” Hakuin Ekaku
Hinayana is a Sanskrit term literally meaning the smaller or lesser vehicle. So how does this affect me, the average spiritual seeker you might ask? I’ll give you a simple yet crystal clear example, none of that finger pointing at the moon stuff.
Yesterday I was at the Strasburg Rail Road where hundreds of people gathered to ride Thomas the train. Compared with the larger steam engines, Thomas was clearly the lesser vehicle (no offense intended).
Or so I thought until I saw this miniature steam engine which actually runs on coal. There seemed to be a serious debate going on, probably about the vehicles or paths known as Hinayana, Mahayana and Tantrayana Buddhism.
Chögyam Trungpa once said: “We must begin our practice by walking the narrow path of simplicity, the Hinayana path, before we can walk upon the open highway of compassionate action, the Mahayana path.”
I didn’t ask if this lesser vehicle was headed for the open highway of compassionate action, but with all those little train fans running around I think it probably was.
In The Art of Happiness the Dalai Lama said: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” In other words, take the dog for a ride.
This is a photo of an illusion; the table and cards are reflected in an old mirror. The objects may be real, which as you will see is debatable, but the reflected image does not exist.
In an attempt to understand what is and what is not real, I give you The Eight Similes of Illusion by Patrul Rinpoche. These should be taken seriously, and with careful contemplation, you may be able to use your illusion.
“As in a dream, all the external objects perceived with the five senses are not there, but appear through delusion.” This explains all those times I couldn’t find my car.
“As in a magic show, things are made to appear by a temporary conjunction of causes, circumstances and connections.” It’s an illusion Michael; a trick is something a whore does for money.
“As in a visual aberration, things appear to be there, yet there is nothing.” I can easily observe this by looking deeply into my checking account.
“As in a mirage, things appear but are not real.” If you have an illusory royal flush you may want to bluff.
“As in an echo, things can be perceived but there is nothing there, either outside or inside.” Note to self-test for echo.
“As in a city of Gandharvas, there is neither a dwelling nor anyone to dwell.” Fun fact: while Gandharva literally means smell eater, it’s also a term for singers in Indian classical music.
“As in a reflection, things appear but have no reality of their own.” See mirror image.
“As in a city created by magic, there are all sorts of appearances but they are not really there.” This is Disneyland in a nutshell, but you don’t have to tell the kids until they get older.
The Buddha said: “We live in illusion and the appearance of things. There is a reality. We are that reality. When you understand this, you see that you are nothing, and being nothing, you are everything. That is all.”
Deal me out, I got nothing.
Sometimes you find yourself in a strange place, and then try to figure out if there’s a deeper meaning to be found in the experience. So it was when I found myself in the motorcycle charnel grounds on the second floor of The Cycle Den in Columbia.
It was a depressing place, as I imagine the charnel grounds in Tibet are with the giant vultures, but depressing in a different way. I looked at those old machines and saw the people that once owned and loved them.
These now decaying bikes represented freedom, adventure and escape. I remembered the quote by Hafiz: “Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive.”
It is said that the Buddha encouraged his students to meditate in the charnel grounds as a way of releasing the ultimate attachment: the attachment to one’s body and to this life itself. So despite the overwhelming sadness, I stayed to reflect on the impermanence of all things, and how the pursuit of pleasure is a paradox.
Dan Aykroyd once said: “You do not need a therapist if you own a motorcycle, any kind of motorcycle.” This may or may not be true, but having sold mine last fall I am now back in therapy.
I drive there in my SUV with the radio on and the feeling of safety that comes with four wheels and airbags. It’s as close to feeling alive as playing virtual golf, with a virtual caddie and drinking a virtual martini.