A young student approached Master Dogen in the garden one day and asked, "What are the necessary steps to take in order to achieve enlightenment?" There was silence at first as the master continued to prune the flowers, and then, without looking at him, Dogen asked, "Have you eaten yet today?" The student seemed mildly puzzled but replied, "Why, yes I have." The master said, "Then go clean your bowl."
Over the years I've drained several Dale's Pale Ales while thinking of this Zen koan and have both marveled at its simplicity and been downright flabbergasted over its complexity. Don't get me wrong. We don't spend an abundance of time here at the Anthony household sitting around tossing out Zen riddles at each other when there's nothing left to watch on the DVR. Donna's more of a Scrabble gal, actually. But my long-time interest in eastern spirituality has made me very curious about the meanings behind this particular koan. And you thought finely-crafted ales were made just for sporting events!
Being neither enlightened nor a Buddhist scholar, my gut-feeling tells me that Dogen is fairly big on "taking the first step". Satori is a pretty tough nut to crack, so they say. So if one is to aspire to enlightenment, one has to get the ball rolling by doing the simple things. The boring things. And sometimes those things are the most difficult, as anyone who's attempted a diet on the Monday morning after the Super Bowl will tell you. However, I'm not sure the drudgery of convincing yourself to have a fruit cup instead of a cheese omelette in the morning is the largest initial barrier. For me, I think it's fear.
I've always wanted to ride a motorcycle. But I think I never learned how simply because I was afraid of what might happen to me. Or perhaps it was what others have said might happen to me. Hey, I'm just as scared of road rash as the next guy! Regardless, I hesitated to sign up for a class, but I finally did. And even then I canceled at the last minute, simply out of fear that I would fail, or crash, or be laughed at by some huge dude on a Dyna Glide. However, after watching numerous You Tube videos about the training class and convincing myself that I wasn't wasting an entire weekend, I joined up and I did it! I know, though, that having an M-class license doesn't make you a good rider. That comes with experience and time. But the scooter and I have done a couple thousand miles together and I now wonder why it took me so long to get started.
I have a feeling, though, that our friend Master Dogen was sharing with the young student something even more rudimentary than merely what it takes to finally decide to start a diet or go back to school or learn how to do in-line skating (my next journey). My guess is that Dogen was speaking of the tedious, ordinary everyday tasks that have to be done in order to accomplish anything...the "ya gotta do what ya gotta do" stuff. Hey, wouldn't we all like to spend Saturday simply playing video games or laying in a hammock on the beach. But the carport needs swept. The carpets need vacuumed because we have another Open House on Sunday. That giant package of toilet paper needs to be purchased at Sam's Club. And those bowls on the counter need cleaned. (or in our case, rinsed off and put in the dishwasher)
I'm not sure exactly why Zen Buddhism intrigues me. My interest probably started while watching the show Kung Fu as a boy. Sure, the fighting was great, but I remember being much more entranced with the dialogue between young Caine and Master Po. The gentle yet pointed way that he shared insight into the world around us seemed very calming and believable to me. Later in college, I was able to read and discuss Buddhism and other eastern religions with students who had much more experience with them than I did. (interesting, huh? Having the chance to discuss eastern meditation in a Catholic seminary!) And it was there that I realized that this seemingly simple philosophy required much more effort than I would have ever imagined. Sitting zazen and staring at a blank wall is, on the surface, one of the most mundane tasks that you can imagine, and yet actually trying it was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. But I know that if the end-result is to be experienced, the baby-steps must be taken.
Ya gotta do what ya gotta do. It's inescapable and unavoidable. I grudgingly remember that as I approach the one-month mark of living the beer-free life. All of the pundits point to the fact that my acid reflux-demon will eventually depart the scene thus making it easier to do my job. So, I continue to believe them while taking baby steps towards enlightenment, exchanging my Dale's Pale Ale for a pint-glass filled with ice cubes and apple juice while I watch the baseball playoffs this weekend. I'll also have a clearer head, should the game get boring and I decide to ponder that "if a tree falls in the forest and nobody's around to hear it, does it make a noise?" riddle.
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