Using a Zen Stick

Syn­op­sis: Zen Stick: some­times, we need a smack upside our heads, metaphor­i­cal­ly, of course.

The Zen Stick

Every Fri­day I get an e‑mail from Shamb­ha­la Pub­li­ca­tions, with a lit­tle Zen quote. I was going to write the “stick” arti­cle, and then, this quote showed up, which is sort of such a stick:


To cling to one­self as Bud­dha, one­self as Zen or the Way, mak­ing that an under­stand­ing, is called cling­ing to the inward view. Attain­ment by caus­es and con­di­tions, prac­tice and real­iza­tion, is called the out­ward view. Mas­ter Pao-chih said, “The inward view and the out­ward view are both mis­tak­en.”
 — Pai-chang
The Zen Read­er (aff. link)
edit­ed by Thomas Cleary, page 54

Inter­est­ing­ly, Mas­ter Pao-chih could have also said, “The inward view and the out­ward view are both cor­rect.”

Now, about that stick.

What­ev­er is she
try­ing to tell me?

Zen is filled with sto­ries of stuff like stu­dents being tossed out a win­dow as a way to get them to wake up. 

In some Zen Tem­ples today, a per­son wan­ders around with a bam­boo rod, and thwacks you across the shoul­ders if you slump or doze.

So that’s sor­ta my guide­post. Er. Stick.

But for me, it’s nev­er phys­i­cal. I pre­fer a good ver­bal thwock.

For Dar­bel­la and me, there’s,
“Or… you could get over yourself.” 

This line, admit­ted­ly used more by Dar in my direc­tion, is a reminder for those times when I wind myself up and start rant­i­ng. I’m caught in my own stew, and even after decades, that line does wonders.

I used this line with a friend the oth­er day, who post­ed a link on Face­book: “46 Things to say to an anx­ious child.” I fig­ured that was about 45 too many. Life isn’t a nego­ti­a­tion  —  you’re either awake, or not.

Friends report­ed being on a plane, and the flight atten­dant want­ed the mom behind them to buck­le up her 7 year old for landing.

Quoth the mom, “You’ll have to wait, I’m nego­ti­at­ing with her.”

Get out the Zen stick.

Which is all about cut­ting through the bull, and stat­ing the obvi­ous. And the obvi­ous is always, “Deal with it. Stop telling your­self sto­ries. Do some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

That’s real­ly the point, too, with the above quote from Pao-chih. 

His idea is that these two schools, inner and out­er, are like any oth­er divi­sion. As soon as you turn away from the actu­al thing, you’re miss­ing the point. 

If you pick a side, and then argue for the “right­ness or cor­rect­ness” of the view, maybe even giv­ing your life for the per­spec­tive you hold, all you have is the descrip­tion.

Now, of course, all of this can be con­fus­ing, because we are con­di­tioned to try to “get it right.” The belief in right or right­ness becomes a sub­sti­tute for the actu­al thing. And we end up liv­ing our lives starv­ing to death sur­round­ed by food.

It’s like imagining eating a slice of pizza, as opposed to actually eating one.

Anoth­er Zen sto­ry goes, short ver­sion, that a Mas­ter spoke often on emp­ty­ing your mind. A dis­ci­ple said, “My mind is emp­ty, now what do I do?”

The Mas­ter replied, “Dri­ve it out! Get rid of it! Don’t stand there in front of me with noth­ing in your mind!

Get it?

The disciple’s mind was filled with thoughts of how emp­ty his mind was  —  thoughts of how advanced he was, see­ing that his mind was emp­ty! Oops!

Caught by the thought. Trout on a line.

Look­ing for more on this topic? 

Check out my book, Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall.

Wayne’s “East­ern” book takes you by the hand and helps you to find peace of mind. Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall is a Zen-based guide to liv­ing life ful­ly and deeply.

As I said above, inner and out­er are also both true and valid paths. The prob­lem comes when you make one or the oth­er the only path. “This is what I do” is help­ful. “This is right…” not so much.

The prob­lem with
being a wishbone

Many are the peo­ple who get some­thing in their heads  —  some­thing some­one told them, some belief or def­i­n­i­tion about them­selves (or about how the world works) and all they have is grief and misery.

So, they build a fence, a wall, around the belief, and keep oper­at­ing from with­in it, get­ting the same lousy results, feel­ing like crap, and noth­ing changes.

So, they try harder.

And hard­er.

And things get worse, and they still don’t get it.

The belief they hold is lead­ing them to destruc­tion. It doesn’t mat­ter how well thought out the belief is. If it gets you lousy results, it is ineffective.

Zen stick.

Stop it. Now! No excus­es, no, “But… but… why can’t I have what I want?”

Answer: because choco­late ice cream is nev­er going to become spaghetti.

No mat­ter how dif­fi­cult you make it, the only thing that will change a thing is to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. To stop think­ing. To stop analyzing.

To act differently.

It’s not inner or out­er, right or wrong.

It’s “What shall I do, this time, to sim­pli­fy, to get over myself, to act?”

Zen stick.

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