Now and Zen 1/4/20

About Zen by Richard Bleil

Earlier one of my posted dealt with what little I knew about Buddha. I’m not a Buddhist Monk, but I find the practices personally attractive. So, I thought I’d try it once again, and while I’m not a Zen Buddhist, I would like to post a bit about what I know of Zen.

This is inspired by a friend of mine who tells me that when she’s blue, she likes to clean. She went on to say that she knows it doesn’t make sense, but honestly, it does. Her cleaning reminded me of the Zen masters who used to have their students polish silver. Cleaning, as it turns out, is a very Zen-like activity, not because cleanliness is next to Zenliness, but because it is a repetitive and relatively mindless activity.

The Zen Masters used to have “riddles” that they would give to their students. The best known of these is the question, what is the sound of one hand clapping? The master would send the student off to ponder this question. Invariably, the student would return with an answer to the riddle. Opening and closing your hand rapidly does make noise, so this would be one of the student’s guess. The master would simply say, “wrong”. They would come back and slap their leg. The master would say, “wrong”. Then they would beat their chest. “Wrong”. The sound of wind through the air. “Wrong.” There is no answer. “Wrong”. I need a new question. “Wrong”. The color is blue. “Wrong”. I fell asleep. “Wrong.”

The time it took varied from student to student. Some came to the answer very quickly, others would take months. Eventually, the student would return to the master, usually with shame, and confess that they had no answer. Their mind went numb, and they simply lost track of time.

That, the master would explain, is the first step. Every answer the student gave was wrong, because the answer is that there was no answer. The exercise was meant, eventually, to clear the mind of every thought, of every desire. The master was looking for nothing. Quite literally.

Consider polishing silver. The act is repetitive and requires very little actual mind power. As one performs the task, their minds might be quite active, thinking of “to do” lists, or solving a problem, or a rocky marriage, or a myriad of things. But eventually, the mind gives way. The redundancy of the task lulls the mind into emptiness. This is a state of Zen, a state the Zen masters would say is as close to communing with God as possible.

Ours is a culture that, much like the Romans liked to do, borrows from people around the world. Bungee jumping came from a “rite of passage” used by a tribe in South America. Ear stretching came from Africa. From the Far East, we imported meditation.

I was dating a woman (yes, I had a date once) who invariably came back from work every day wound up and complaining endlessly about the same thing over and over and forever. She would complain from the moment she stepped through the door until bedtime and lose sleep in the process. I listened patiently, trying to be supportive of her needs, but it became clear that complaining wasn’t the answer. She needed a way to clear her mind, let it go, and relax so she could sleep. I recommended meditation (something I should resume if you want to know the truth). Every night, before bed, we would meditate. Well, I would meditate; as it turns out she just respectfully sat quietly, but that was still better than nothing. We would put “Zen” music on our home service for a few minutes, and just sit comfortably and clear our minds. It did wonders for her.

Then she dumped me.

If you think that I am going to recommend that you try meditation, well, you’re right. I recommend it. Find a very comfortable place to sit, sit with your spine as straight as possible (this aligns the major chi’s in your body according to ancient Eastern belief), close your eyes, and just clear your mind. If you catch yourself thinking about something, try to let it go. You want to think of nothing. Just listen to the soothing music softly playing. You don’t have to do it for long; try, maybe, two or three minutes to start with. You can increase the time eventually if you like; the masters would meditate for days according to legend.

As for my friend? Yes, cleaning helps to clear the mind. It’s just an activity that doesn’t take a lot of mind power, occupies you for hours, and in the end, hey, you have a cleaner living space. Whatever it is that is Zen for you, it’s healthy. It reduces stress, helps you to relax, and makes for a better lifestyle.

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