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The most compelling Buddha statue I ever saw sat in the midst of a stunning exhibit of statuary, paintings, calligraphy, clothing, and other arts held at the Asia Society in New York. It was about 18 inches high and clearly had been carved out of a short log that came off a wood pile. Knife and chisel marks were left unsmoothed. It was, as it seemed to me, a real labor or love that emanated what had gone into it.
Knocked my socks off ... though who knows, maybe the guy who made it was looped on sake and marking time during a boring evening. Whatever, it struck me as far more spiritually alight than all the refined Buddhas and bodhisattvas surrounding it in the exhibit.
If others are like me, there is a collection of nudges that accumulates on the mental book shelf as time in spiritual practice advances.... second-hand stuff that rings your bell. Two that popped up in my mind this morning were these:
Once upon a time, at an introductory forum with the Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn in New York, an audience member said approximately, "Sometimes during [meditation] practice, I feel like such a liar and a phony and a schmuck. What can I do?" And Seung Sahn replied, "You're either a Buddha or a schmuck. There is no in-between."
The Zen teacher Ta Hui [1089–1163] once said approximately, "I have always taken a great vow that I would rather suffer the fires of hell for all eternity than to portray Zen as a human emotion."
My sense is that everyone goes through a gooder-than-good phase of practice. In the beginning, all the effort -- as for example, the precepts -- seem impossibly daunting. So much energy is expended on the failures and screw-ups ... well, it's enough to depress the pope. I might like not to kill, steal, lie, etc., but any examination leads me to understand just how often I kill, steal, lie, etc. Well, to coin a phrase, "shit!"
This is where practice comes in handy. Bit by bit, practice after practice, it becomes a little clearer that Buddhists (except the most annoying ones) do not need to be plaster saints vying for halos on Hallmark calendars. The point is not to be a cookie-cutter goodie-two-shoes but rather to shoulder and see through the responsibilities of this life. It is not necessary for me to say I like anchovies when in fact I dislike them.
Attention and responsibility are more important than becoming a winged critter strumming a harp and playing the 'compassion' card. Can you imagine how boring everything would be if everyone were gooder-than-good? Life is way more interesting than that.
Phew! For a thread dedicated to an "enlightenment" many claim not to possess or know, there surely is a lot of willingness to implicitly declare direction, intent and understanding. Kind of a "I know where I'm going but I don't know where it is?."
Let me get this straight: I don't know what it is, but I long for it ... is that the gist? Am I the only one who finds this a peculiar exercise? This is just a question, not a critique.
I believe I might ask, "What made you assume you weren't enlightened in the first place?"