"Out of nowhere, the mind comes forth"
The next time you're meditating and you catch yourself thinking, ask yourself where the thought came from. Try to see what sent it to you, and where it is now that it's here. Soon, you might realize that the thought is now gone. So where is it? If thoughts truly come from "nowhere," can they be controlled or even managed? Perhaps the true realization is that the mind and all its activity does come from nowhere, or at least nowhere that we can identify, and that being aware of it is our only option.
(Note: This phrase may not come from the Zen tradition, and might better be classified as a Buddhist sutra.)
The Tea Shop
A master told his students that a local tea shop owner had a wonderful understanding of Zen wisdom. After this, the woman who ran the tea shop noticed that more students were showing up. If she sensed that someone came for the tea, she would serve them graciously. If she sensed they came to learn about her understanding of Zen wisdom, she would hit them with a fire-poker.
It's one of the great paradoxes of Zen that trying to become enlightened results in disappointment, as you've already failed by having a goal. I've written about this before and I think it's one of the hardest concepts for 21st-century humans to really embrace — you can't desire to not desire, because that's desiring. We're also human and can't really help ourselves.
The corporal punishment notwithstanding, the tea shop owner teaches a valuable lesson. Tea shops are for drinking tea. That is the wisdom. Wanting something greater out of tea is like wanting my computer to type this issue for me and tell me who's going to win the Super Bowl this weekend, and wouldn't it mind placing some bets on my behalf as well? At least when it comes to what my computer is capable of, I'm keeping my expectations reasonable.
Wash Your Bowls
A new monk asked his master for instructions. The master asked if the monk had eaten breakfast, to which he replied that he had. "Wash your bowls," the master said.
Most of our memories concern moments of great elation or anguish. We don't often remember or think about the banal, which make up the vast majority of our experiences. Each day's tasks — making coffee, taking out the trash, feeding the cats, writing a newsletter — make up our lives. They are moments to be lived and experienced instead of lived through in anticipation of the astounding.
I have washed so many bowls in the last 11 months that I'd like never to see a sponge again. This is, of course, impossible. I will wash bowls today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and still after the pandemic is over. It is as much a part of my daily experience as the eating of breakfast.