Monday, July 23, 2007

Reflections from the fourth of July

When we were small, some times, our parents would bundle us up and take us off to a grassy hill to see the fireworks. They would park the car, walk to a clear space, spread out a blanket and a bit of a picnic. We were impatient, constantly asking, “Is it time yet? When will we see the fireworks?” As it grew dark, the tension would grow, and the frequency of our questions would ramp up, until our parents finally would snap and say, “Stop asking about the fireworks! You will see them the minute they start! We can’t make it happen any faster!”
Then, when we were completely exhausted, dreamy, hardly paying any attention, suddenly the sky would explode with fiery beauty and splendor, and with hearts pounding, we would be breathing,“Ooooooh, ahhhh, wow!” Dazzled and suddenly wide awake, we would drink in the sky with deep hunger, the whistles and pops punctuating the brilliant colors and flaring patterns. And then the sheer impact of the finale, blazing across the whole sky, a riot of color and noise, until we were awed into silence, and stillness. At last our parents would gather up the picnic things and the blanket and all of us children, and pack us into the car, where we would immediately fall into a sleep so vast and deep that we would have to be carried into the house. And the next day, the fifth of July, would be a perfectly ordinary day.

I believe most of us imagine satori or enlightenment just this way, and that is why we are doomed to disappointment. Joko reminds us, the old masters remind us: Ordinary mind is the way. Nothing special. Chop wood, carry water. It is not a trick, not a clever Zen subterfuge. This very moment is it. And if that moment contains “fireworks,” just so. If that moment contains “carrying the children into the house,” that is it. If that moment contains “waiting for enlightenment,” that is precisely enlightenment realized. I can’t make it any plainer than this.


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