Buddha once saw a jackal, a wild dog, run out of the forest where he was staying. It stood still for a while, then it ran into the underbrush, and then out again. Then it ran into a tree hollow, then out again. Then it went into a cave, only to run out again. One minute it stood, the next it ran, then it lay down, then it jumped up. The jackal had the mange. When it stood, the mange would eat into its skin, so it would run. Running, it was still uncomfortable, so it would stop. Standing, it was still uncomfortable, so it would lie down. Then it would jump up again, running to the underbrush, the tree hollow, never staying still. The Buddha said, “Monks, did you see that jackal this afternoon? Standing, it suffered. Running, it suffered. Sitting, it suffered. Lying down, it suffered. It blamed standing for its discomfort. It blamed sitting. It blamed running and lying down. It blamed the tree, the underbrush, and the cave. In fact, the problem was with none of those things. The problem was with his mange.” We are just the same as that jackal. Our discontent is due to wrong view. Because we don’t exercise sense restraint, we blame our suffering on externals. Whether we live in Thailand, America or England, we aren’t satisfied. Why not? Because we still have wrong view. Just that! So wherever we go, we aren’t content. But just as that jackal would be content wherever it went as soon as its mange was cured, so would we be content wherever we went once we rid ourselves of wrong view.
Even in zazen you will lose yourself. When you become sleepy, or when your mind starts to wander about, you lose yourself. When your legs become painful—“Why are my legs so painful?”—you lose yourself. ”-“You just sit in the midst of the problem; when you are a part of the problem, or when the problem is a part of you, there is no problem, because you are the problem itself. The problem is you yourself. If this is so, there is no problem.”-“When you start to wander about in some delusion which is something apart from you yourself, then your surroundings are not real anymore, and your mind is not real anymore. If you yourself are deluded, then your surroundings are also a misty, foggy delusion. Once you are in the midst of delusion, there is no end to delusion. You will be involved in deluded ideas one after another. Most people live in delusion, involved in their problem, trying to solve their problem. But just to live is actually to live in problems. And to solve the problem is to be a part of it, to be one with it.
I was only beginning to enter into the infinite subtlety of Gregorian chant. It was - and remains - the only public prayer I have ever been able to engage in without feeling like a phony and a jackass. But then, one day in 1965 or so, it was simply abolished. With a stroke of his pen, Pope John XXIII - who had such good ideas about other things - declared that liturgy would henceforth be in the vernacular language of the people. That was, effectively, the end of Latin chant.Then all those monks and nuns who had devoted hours and hours a day began to sicken and fall into depressions, but nobody noticed for a long time. Maybe, as I can well believe, the music toned up their systems in some mysterious way. Or perhaps chant really was a language that God understood. Faced with numerous liturgical scholas shrieking away in the new vernacular hymns, Divinity may have covered its ears and withdrawn, leaving the monks to pine. We parish musicians, illiterate in anything written after the 13th century, stumbled around trying to score liturgies for guitar and bongo drums, trying to make sense of texts like "Eat his body! Drink his blood!"It wasn't because the music got so bad that I quit going to Mass, but it certainly was the beginning of my doubts about papal infallibility.
On the first day of November last year, sacred to many religious calendars but especially the Celtic, I went for a walk among bare oaks and birch. Nothing much was going on. Scarlet sumac had passed and the bees were dead. The pond had slicked overnight into that shiny and deceptive glaze of delusion, first ice. It made me remember sakes and conjure a vision of myself skimming backward on one foot, the other extended; the arms become wings. Minnesota girls know that this is not a difficult maneuver if one's limber and practices even a little after school before the boys claim the rink for hockey. I think I can still do it - one thinks many foolish things when November's bright sun skips over the entrancing first freeze.A flock of sparrows reels through the air looking more like a flying net than seventy conscious birds, a black veil thrown on the wind. When one sparrow dodges, the whole net swerves, dips: one mind. Am I part of anything like that?Maybe not. The last few years of my life have been characterized by stripping away, one by one, loves and communities that sustain the soul. A young colleague, new to my English department, recently asked me who I hang around with at school. "Nobody," I had to say, feeling briefly ashamed. This solitude is one of the surprises of middle age, especially if one's youth has been rich in love and friendship and children. If you do your job right, children leave home; few communities can stand an individual's most pitiful, amateur truth telling. So the soul must stand in her own meager feathers and learn to fly - or simply take hopeful jumps into the wind.In the Christian calendar, November 1 is the Feast of All Saints, a day honoring not only those who are known and recognized as enlightened souls, but more especially the unknowns, saints who walk beside us unrecognized down the millennia. In Buddhism, we honor the bodhisattvas - saints - who refuse enlightenment and return willingly to the wheel of karma to help other beings. Similarly, in Judaism, anonymous holy men pray the world from its well-merited destruction. We never know who is walking beside us, who is our spiritual teacher. That one - who annoys you so - pretends for a day that he's the one, your personal Obi Wan Kenobi. The first of November is a splendid, subversive holiday.Imagine a hectic procession of revelers - the half-mad bag lady; a mumbling, scarred janitor whose ravaged face made the children turn away; the austere, unsmiling mother superior who seemed with great focus and clarity to do harm; a haunted music teacher, survivor of Auschwitz. I bring them before my mind's eye, these old firends of my soul, awakening to dance their day. Crazy saints; but who knows what was home in the heart? This is the feast of those who tried to take the path, so clumsily that no one knew or notice, the feast, indeed, of most of us.It's an ugly woods, I was saying to myself, padding along a trail where other walkers had broken ground before me. And then I found an extraordinary bouquet. Someone had bound an offering of dry seed pods, yew, lyme grass, red berries, and brown fern and laid it on the path: "nothing special," as Buddhists say, meaning "everything." Gathered to formality, each dry stalk proclaimed a slant, an attitude, infinite shades of neutral.All contemplative acts, silences, poems, honor the world this way. Brought together by the eye of love, a milkweed pod, a twig, allow us to see how things have been all along. A feast of being.
Devote the mind to confusion and we know only too well, if we´re honest, that it will become a dark master of confusion, adept in its addictions, subtle and perversely supple in its slaveries. Devote it in meditation to the task of freeing itself from illusion, and we will find that, with time, patience, discipline, and the right training, our mind will begin to unknot itself and know its essential bliss and clarity.
In all these assaults on the senses there is a great wisdom — not only about the addictiveness of pleasures but about their ephemerality. The essence of addiction, after all, is that pleasure tends to desperate and leave the mind agitated, hungry for more. The idea that just one more dollar, one more dalliance, one more rung on the ladder will leave us feeling sated reflects a misunderstanding about human nature — a misunderstanding, moreover, that is built into human nature; we are designed to feel that the next great goal will bring bliss, and the bliss is designed to evaporate shortly after we get there. Natural selection has a malicious sense of humor; it leads us along with a series of promises and then keeps saying ‘Just kidding.’ As the Bible puts it, ‘All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.’ Remarkably, we go our whole lives without ever really catching on.The advice of the sages — that we refuse to play this game — is nothing less than an incitement to mutiny, to rebel against our creator. Sensual pleasures are the whip natural selection uses to control us to keep us in the thrall of its warped value system. To cultivate some indifference to them is one plausible route to liberation. While few of us can claim to have traveled far on this route, the proliferation of this scriptural advice suggests it has been followed some distance with some success.