Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cape Cod Zen and a crow with a corn muffin

I've taken up Zen, again, after quitting it, again. This time I'm back at the informal meetings, which I like better but which are in the morning. Mornings are impossible during the school year, what with Cloud being young and rambunctious and all, but doable in the summer when my husband can stay home with him. It's one thing to attempt Zen meditation at home, with a cat on my lap and a small child trying to climb up my back and sit onm y head (or just hit me repeatedly and demand attention). It's quite another thing to subject the good people of the Zen Center to such behavior. Plus, to be perfectly honest, practicing kung fu stances 1, 2, and 3 or "cross jab kick" is a much more effective way to introduce a three-year-old to an Americanized version of his culture.

(I also count in Mandarin with him, and use the small handful of Mandarin phrases I know, so in spite of my terrible American accent, he's getting somehing genuinely Chinese too... well, sort of genuine.)

(Also, teaching a child to count to 100 in Mandarin is soooo much easier than teaching him in English! Counting in English falls apart as soon as you get to eleven and doesn't pick up again until around thirty. Mandarin has no such weakness.)

I like informal Zen better than formal because... well, just because. Because I do. Because while the robes are cute, I'm not really into them. Because I'm too fat to sit cross-legged on the floor, but quite comfortable folding up on the old church sofa. Because I like the silly talk of life's little nothings much better than the lectures on the fundamentals of Buddhism. Because I don't care one ounce about hierarchies. Because kung-ans are just in-jokes, just like the pun strings shared by old British fellows, or the drinking references fraternity brothers make to each other.

Because sitting in quiet meditation is the FUN part of Buddhism! Eking out a pathetic garden on a mountaintop is the hard part. Meditation and kung-ans are the perks that attract new monk recruits. That, and not having to feed 5-10 children in addition to yourself and your wife with that pathetic garden. Traditionally, Buddhism was just an alternative method of living in poverty.

Buddhism was a painkiller for the soul before there was widespread wealth, just like biting a stick was a painkiller for the body before there was ibuprofen.

It's intended to be both fun and profound, even for the desperately poor. Well, I'm not poor, and I don't need profundity, so I'm going with fun. I have no intention of becoming a member, of taking the precepts or achieving anything, of ever calling myself a Buddhist. The only thing I want to achieve is nothing, and that's quite possible with informal Zen.

I left the house a little early this morning so I could stop and get something to eat. That something was a corn muffin that was frozen in the middle. (I'm sad that local businesses sell such things. I deliberately chose this place over Dunkie's so I could keep my money in the community, and I wish my efforts weren't rewarded with frozen muffins, but that seems par for the course with this establishment, and at this point I think the owners are just trying to run their business into the ground so they can sell it cheap and move on with their lives.) Past the parking lot was a lovely little ancient cemetery (17th to 19th century, primarily, although I did see one stone that was dated 2010) and in the cemetery was a lone crow being harassed by a lone blue jay.

I watched them for a while, and after a few minutes, I suspected that the crow was eying my muffin. So I threw him a piece. (No big loss; it was a frozen bit.) He flew off with it, the blue jay hot on his heels, and landed on a different stone. I wandered over and threw him two more bites. Then I wrapped up the rest to take home to my son, figuring that the muffin would thaw during Zen.

So, Jim, that's what I meant by "feeding a corn muffin to a crow."

I'm sure cornbread doesn't have a whole lot of the nutritional value that a crow needs to be healthy. That's okay. It's better than a chocolate muffin, right? And I have some vague notion that most acts of compassion that people perform are not really all that helpful, on the grand scale of things in life that would be helpful. Maybe I feel this way because I read a lot of history. (We white people are fantastic at compassionately messing things up for nonwhites all over the world.) Maybe it's because I'm involved in the community of adoption, where every silver lining comes with a dark cloud for somebody, and nothing is entirely good. Many good deeds fall into a moral gray area, and I'm getting better at recognizing those areas.

Zen practitioners speak of an end to all suffering.

But you know what - doesn't everyone?

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