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:
INWARD & OUTWARD VIEWS
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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?”