Baby Steps Along the Bodhisattva’s Way


This post follows on one from yesterday, about which a friend asked a couple of follow-up questions that led to a little additional rumination on my part.

As far as what our “true nature” is and how exactly we bring it to bear on everyday situations, I’ll admit that I feel pretty far from qualified to break it down. I’ve been working my own way back to some of Dogen’s original writings, and I picked up Shunryu Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” as a contemporary (20th century) text to help give me an entryway. When I first read Dogen, some years ago, I found it all pretty hard to wrap my head around, but that seems to be part and parcel of the whole Zen tradition. Zen thinkers seem to owe a lot to the Taoists in terms of how they play with words, and they’re equally suspicious of language – while at the same time necessarily making ongoing use of it to try and teach others and to understand and expound on the tradition.

In the Soto Zen school, there’s a strong notion regarding “just sitting” (i.e., in zazen) as, in some paradoxical sense, the very essence of “enlightenment” or awakening. The practice isn’t about cultivating oneself or getting somewhere or attaining something. It just is what it is, and this same mindset can be applied to every moment of existence.

In the same talk of Suzuki’s I had originally quoted yesterday, he speaks about cooking in much the same way:

“To cook is not just to prepare food for someone or for yourself; it is to express your sincerity. So when you cook you should express yourself in your activity in the kitchen. You should allow yourself plenty of time; you should work on it with nothing in your mind, and without expecting anything. You should just cook! That is also an expression of our sincerity, a part of our practice. It is necessary to sit in zazen, in this way, but sitting is not our only way. Whatever you do, it should be an expression of the same deep activity. We should appreciate what we are doing. There is no preparation for something else.”

It’s worth noting that at the end of the same talk, Suzuki tells a short anecdote about two friends discussing and debating the Bodhisattva’s way. After a bit of back and forth, one says to the other, “We have had enough discussion, so let’s have a cup of tea!”

To be honest, that seems like a perfectly good response, too.

Posted in roundabout response to the WordPress Daily Prompt: Baby

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