Friday, February 10, 2012

Selling Distractions

Snow was falling very lightly this morning and that, for reasons unknown, led me to thoughts of Dōgen living at Eiheiji deep in the mountains of Echizen Province, now Fukui Prefecture.

I visited there once, many years ago, and to ensure that i was in the right frame of mind for the visit, i walked up the road from the valley instead of taking the train. It was a long walk, but the weather was beautiful, the sky clear, and the sight of the train working it's way up the valley, along the base of the mountains, on the other side of the rice paddies that filled the valley... was intoxicating. Picturesque doesn't even come close to doing it justice.

Like all large temple complexes in Japan, the area outside the temple was filled with mom-and-pop stores selling every kind of souvenir imaginable. I understand why they are there, but always chuckle to myself as i window shop my way through the stores on the way up to a temple. It just presents such an incongruous message to what the mountain is all about. Outside the gate materialism and accumulation not only prevail, but are touted as indispensable. You can't go home without something. Inside the gate, trainees work day and night to see through that message. They come to see that when you go home you do so with nothing; wrapped up to look like something, like everything, but nothing none-the-less.

I pulled Steven Heine's book The Zen Poetry of Dōgen off the shelf to see what Dōgen might think of that and found this nice poem:

Petals of the peach blossom
Unfolding in the spring breeze,
Sweeping aside all doubts
Amid the distractions of
Leaves and branches.

"Amid the distractions of leaves and branches." That's the definition of our normal life outside the gate. Noise, requests for this and that, demands, crowds, phones, email, bosses, co-workers, friends, schedules, deadlines... and on and on. The distractions in our lives can be overwhelming.

Yet, beneath all of that, there lies a calmness, a vast world of certainty, where peach trees blossom when spring arrives, where spring arrives when peach blossoms appear, where amidst all the distractions of the world, the blossoms gently unfold in a spring breeze.

We can live that life too if you are willing to climb the mountain and walk past the vendor's shops. The message is there, just past the gate, ready and waiting. All you have to do is look past the distractions and you'll see it. Sitting tall, yet settling down, you may still see all the noise floating past, flying this way and that. You may notice thoughts of the distractions come and go, but let them do what they want to do. Let the noise and distractions play their game, while you simply sit in the certainty of being. There is no need to look for it, it is right where it is supposed to be.

Shopping at Walmart
Every shelf displays the truth
Paint is in hardware

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