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Detritus


Like one's house, the mind may clutter up with a noticeable residue that slows its processes and clogs up the gears, so to speak. These days, my clutter is often a chock-full computer-hard drive whose directory has become a jungle of unruly, untrimmed branches and twigs overextending in every direction. To consider pruning it back to a manageable size daunts.


Well-intentioned, the mess has grown mostly semi-conscious. I jot down a thought or two or three, record an interesting quote, and then take a stab at synthesizing these items into something cohesive and, perhaps, a solid intro to maybe a completed essay. Unfortunately, most of these attempts result in false starts, stunted beginnings, and incomplete files that I revisit now and again with little or no further progress.

Clutter is the result, like shoes to stumble on, books and papers piled on chairs and tables, and the accumulated dust and cobwebs in the corners and under the bed. There comes a time to use it or toss it.

Here are a few random thoughts, discoveries, anecdotes, and comments I thought were better used than tossed:

First:

"Before one studies Zen [meditation], mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen [awakening], mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters; after enlightenment [awakening], mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters."[1]

One might write a book on the depth of this classic Zen Buddhist teaching. But even a superficial observation is richly valuable.

Before meditative practice and some insight into our true selves, we see and live normalcy. But, unfortunately, normalcy, for many of us, is chaos. Our confused thoughts and the resulting chaotic actions stemming from them are challenging mountains to scale and cold, swift rivers difficult to cross.

Then, in meditative stillness, we intentionally cease struggling against gravity and swimming against the current for a while. Instead, we take a break and observe the challenges and our relationship with them.

As our meditative practice matures, our self-knowledge deepens. Although the challenges are still there, our understanding of reality is broader. As a result, our acting has a subtly different quality. The mountains and waters are somehow different because we begin to "see" them differently. Gravity is just gravity, but it weighs less. Currents are just currents, but we struggle less. Both are of wholly different qualities.

Finally, awakened, we climb the same mountains and swim the same rivers significantly more effectively, with substantially less confusion and chaos and, most importantly, with less fear.

A more contemporary rendering of the notion:

"If before enlightenment, a jackass, after enlightenment, a jackass."[2]

Ahh, but after Enlightenment, we know what sort of jackasses we are to our bones and marrow. So, let's you and I sit with that!

Second: Here is a nugget from Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism and author of the Tao Te Ching:

"Pay attention to your thoughts; they become words. Pay attention to your words; they become actions. Pay attention to your actions; they become habits. Pay attention to your habits; they become character. Pay attention to your character; it becomes your destiny."

The word "character" in Greek means an "engraved mark," a "symbol or imprint on the soul, to engrave, to scrape and scratch."

The historical Buddha's "Noble Eightfold Path," the notion of Enlightenment includes the recommendation of "Right Attention." Attention to what? To keep it simple, begin with these. Be attentive to your words, actions, habits, and character.

Words are tools. As tools, they can be constructive or destructive, weapons or bandages. "[A] fundamental truth of language, that what is put in words is not the thing itself." [3] In Latin, the word Logos, the root of the modern word "logo," means word, symbol, or idea, all of which are approximations of reality and meaning.

Action, or acting, is the essence of creation. Hence, the old cliche: "The only thing that doesn't change is change." Indeed, everything in the cosmos, including ourselves, constantly evolves at the tiniest sub-atomic level. Meditation opens awareness of our "acting," and we learn to adapt to changing circumstances intuitively and beneficially as we can.

Character is simply possessing and endeavoring honestly to act from a solid ethical foundation. There are many reliable systems from which to operate. Here, I draw from a Buddhist model.

"Cease from Evil.

Do Good.

Do Good for Others."

Of course, there's a fair bit more to it than these, but these are a beginning.

Christian principles are tired or disgusting to some these days, but it is hard to disagree with the "Golden Rule."

In Mark 12:31, Jesus says:

"Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these."

Or, the ultimate classic, "The Golden Rule" in the Book of Matthew 7:1:

"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets."

Finally, my glib favorite:

"What goes around, comes around."

It's a warning to be conscious of ethical "whiplash" in all one does or says.

To finalize this collection of detritus, we look to our dear friend Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics:

"The highest good and the end toward which all human activity is directed is happiness, which can be defined as continuous contemplation of eternal and universal truth."

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[1] Dogen Zenji (1200–1253), Also known as Dōgen Kigen Eihei Dōgen, or Kōso Jōyō Daishi was a Japanese Buddhist priest and founder of the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan.

[2] Helen Amerongen, Across the Empty Sky: A Biography of Patrick Hawk Catholic Priest and Zen Master (Self-published 2022, ISBN: 979-8-9866014-2-7, 2022), p.xii.

[3] Amerongen, p.ix.

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