Consatantly marvel in wonder at the ordinariness of it all!


(a reader at posts the following):

So OK, I am one with the Kosmos; what next?

Dear fellow-practitioners,

This is difficult for me to put into words; please have compassion. Perhaps every Zen practitioner has realized that he or she is inseparably part of a cosmic whole in which everything is connected with everything else; and that the words “part of” do not mean very much in this context.

But still, this piece of cosmos known as ‘I’ has to negotiate its practical existence, and that is as difficult as it ever was. The fruit of fearlessness has not yet come my way.

For all its apparent intellectual detachment, this problem seems real to me and troubles me a great deal; can any of you help? I would be grateful.

A lotus to you all,

(my reply):

Excellent post! Excellent title! Excellent question.

Several useful sayings and anecdotes come to mind.

I am trying to remember one Zen saying which more or less says,

“Before Enlightenment , trees are trees and mountains are mountains.

When Enlightenment comes, trees are not trees and mountains are not mountains.

After Enlightenment, trees are again trees and mountains are again mountains.”

Before “enlightenment” or “grace” we live in an ordinary world which is sometimes rather uncomfortable and unpleasant, if not down right humiliating. Every day we are constantly forced to perform repetitive, boring, and even disgusting tasks such as moving our bowels, cleaning
our bodies and clothing, cooking our food, washing our dishes, dressing, undressing, going to sleep, waking up, and dealing with sexual urges.

Even Jesus had to deal with bowel movements for he says: Matthew 15:17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught (sewer)?”

A human form is very noble and inspiring when seated in the lotus meditative posture, like a Buddha or a Mahavaira, or when the human form is hanging on the cross, crucified for the sake of all humanity. But
the human form is not very noble or inspiring when it is seated on the toilet, or when it is on its knees scrubbing the kitchen floor.

It is very helpful to realize that THE VERY DESIRE FOR LIBERATION (enlightenment, salvation)…. THAT VERY DESIRE ITSELF, is an impediment, an obstacle to Liberation and Moksha and Salvation. Even the Christian scriptures say, Mark 8:35: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it”. All desire is a form of bondage, an attachment, and a source of suffering, even seemingly pious and virtuous desires, such as the desire for enlightenment or liberation or salvation or moksha. Even the desire to HAVE NO DESIRE (to be dispassionate) is a form of passion. It is ironic that the Crucifixion of Christ is also called “The Passion”.

I realize that you are asking your question in the context of Zen Buddhism and not Christianity, but let us examine your question in the light of some interesting verses in the New Testament, and I hope to make several interesting points.

In John 1:26, “John the Baptist answered them, saying, ….. there standeth one among you, whom ye know not.” Of course, John the Baptist was referring to Jesus, who was only one of many in the crowd that day, and not even the sort of person who would stand out in the crowd. Christians are not surprised that this Jesus is so plain, ordinary and unremarkable. We see in Isaiah 53:2 “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him”.

Basically, what all this is saying is that Jesus was no movie star. He was an ordinary person who lived in an ordinary room, ate, slept, and wore ordinary clothes (just like you and me and everyone else). Of course,
Andrew and Peter are quite astounded when they suspect that this one ordinary person in the crowd is the one person whom all the Prophets predicted as the “Messiah”. In John 1:29, John the Baptist point out Jesus from the crowds by saying, “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

Naturally, John’s two apostles, Andrew and Peter, are curious and intrigued. We read (John 1:37) “And the two disciples (Andrew and Peter) heard him (John the Babtist) speak (calling Jesus the ‘Lamb of God’), and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, where dwellest thou? He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.” Andrew and Peter are astounded and perplexed by the ordinariness which they behold. How can some ordinary person who lives in poor circumstances be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”? We might even imagine Andrew and Peter in these verses, standing in Jesus humble home, mouth agape, looking about at the bed, the table, the chair, MARVELING IN WONDER AT THE ORDINARINESS OF IT ALL!

Stop and think for a moment. If YOU could reach that point in YOUR spiritual life where at EVERY WAKING MOMENT, you were CONSTANTLY MARVELING IN WONDER at the ordinariness of everything, what would
you have achieved? What would your spiritual state be called? Would you be happy or sad in such a state?

Another “ordinary figure” in religious scriptures is Krishna. Just like Jesus, Krishna is described as a physical individual with a body, pastimes and enjoyments, friends and relatives, and yet in spite of this “ordinariness”, Krishna is simultaneously the ETERNAL GOD, an Avatar, an Incarnation, that INFINITE UNIVERSAL FORM, revealed to Arjuna in a vision, much like Jesus’ Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Krishna’s Uncle Uddhava comes to him one day and says, “All of the meditation and yoga that you have taught me seems so difficult for me. I despair of ever making any spiritual progress with such yoga disciplines.” Krishna replies, “If you can arrive at the point where you see ME (GOD) in all creatures and all things, even humble and base things, then you will have achieved the highest level of spirituality, an no other discipline or meditation or sacrifice will be necessary.” If a person could achieve such a continual state, in which they see God everywhere, in all things, at all moments, does it not seem to you that such a person would be CONSTANTLY MARVELING IN WONDER at the ordinariness of it all.

Aristotle, in the Metaphysics, says “Philosophy begins in wonder.” When Moses was tending his flocks, and noticed a flaming bush, he was overcome with wonder, and abandoned his worldly occupations and duties, to take a closer look. Exodus 3:3, “And Moses said, I will now turn
aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” Is not all of physical reality, though in one sense quite plain and ordinary (because we have grown accustomed to it), yet in another sense a “wondrous burning bush”?

The Apostles do get to see this homely, ordinary Jesus radiant with light on top of Mt. Tabor during the “holy Transfiguration”. This radiant “taboric light” is what those eastern orthodox icon paints attempt to depict by the “halo” which surrounds the heads of saints and martyrs. The monks of Mt. Athos practiced the continual repetition of the ‘Jesus Prayer’, in hopes of achieving continual and unceasing ‘prayer of the heart’. Eastern Orthodox “Lives of Saints” sometimes describe a monastic, in such prayer, suddenly shining radiantly with this ‘Taboric light’. The supernatural light of this phenomenon came to be called “the uncreated light” and became the serious subject of theological debates around the 14th century in Greece, in a dispute between Gregory Palamas and Barlaam Calabria.

The word hesychaia, in Greek, means PEACEFULNESS. Hesychasm refers to the spirituality which was characteristic of the early Church Fathers in the 4th and 5th centuries. These monks were hermits dwelling in the deserts seeking inner peace and spiritual insight while practicing contemplation and self-discipline as they studied the New Testament and the Psalter. Hesychasm refers to the type of contemplation which developed with the Byzantine spirituality from the 10th to the 14th centuries. Such spirituality employed the method of praying the Jesus Prayer “(Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.)” The saying of the prayer was synchronized with one’s breathing. This spiritual practice is characteristic of the spirituality described in the five volume collection called Philokalia. Hesychasm refers to the theological exposition of the contemplation of God as proposed by Gregory Palamas in the 14th century and became the official doctrine of the Orthodox Church. Palamas’ aimed for this proposal was to defend the hesychastic spirituality and the way of prayer of the monks of Mt. Athos and the Byzantine Orient against the attacks of the Barlaam Calabria. Palamas distinguished between the unchanging essence of God and His uncreative energies. The
Taboric Light (the light that surrounded Christ in the Transfiguration), the goal sought in contemplation by the hesychasts, was a theophany, or manifestation of God, through His uncreated energies.

We would all prefer to be God or Buddha, shining radiantly with a supernatural radiant light, rather than sitting on a toilet producing gas and foul odors. But no matter how much we meditate or pray or worship or fast, we do not experience any supernatural light, except in our hearts and imagination. We do not escape the bathroom or the bedroom or the kitchen or the dentist’s chair.

Blaise Pascal said it best in his Pensees (Meditations): “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him, the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity then, consists in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

When the student asks the master about enlightenment or Buddha-nature, the master asks, “Have you had your breakfast?”. When the student replies “Yes!”, the master says “Then go wash your bowl.”

It is by THOUGHT, and EQUANIMITY that we transcend the unpleasant physical realities of our mundane corporeal existence. Mind makes suffering. Mind makes all things, in a way, all things that matter. Eleanor Roosevelt stated this in a different way when she said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. Even a thief hanging on a cross is able to keep his dignity and elevate his mind. We can never escape the need to sit on a toilet, but we are not forced to keep our MIND on the toilet, or IN the toilet. Our Mind is free to be in the Heaven of Heavens with the Archangels and Cherubim and Seraphim, ceaselessly changing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts”. Are those angelic orders not also CONSTANTLY MARVELING IN WONDER at the ordinariness of it all.

Once, an officer of an invading army entered a Zen Buddhist monastery, and found the Zen Master seated in meditation. The officer drew his sword, but the Zen Master did not move. The officer said angrily, “Do you not realize that I am a man who can run you through with this sword, without blinking an eye?” The Zen Master looked at him and replied, “Do YOU not realize that I AM A man who can BE RUN THROUGH without blinking an eye?” The officer felt greatly humbled, bowed, and left in peace.


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