So last week I catch a headline in Newsweek: Why Getting Rid of Clutter Doesn’t Make You Zen. Of course I read it and my molars start to grind before I’m halfway through. How I want to be free of this! Not free of reading, but free of judging what I read.
The author takes clever exception to the crock of wisdom that a clean house is a clean mind. And like nearly everyone who tosses around that familiar punchline, Zen, she thinks it is a joke. We have a dart we like to throw at comedians who ham it up for a laugh about Zen.
Words, words, words: Fluttering drizzle and snow.
Silence, silence, silence: A roaring thunderbolt.
– Zen Expression
The writer goes on to defend herself against the irrational notion that you can get rid of your emotional past. Not her. As proof, she quotes Faulkner’s “The past is never dead. In fact, it’s not even the past.” Why you would want to take housekeeping advice from a guy who could write a 1,287-word sentence before he found a period, I do not know. Write a sentence, that is, when he was sober. Sure, he won prizes. But that’s not the prize you really want.
Most of us can’t tell our mind from a hole in the ground. In truth, our mind is a hole in the ground. Our mind is the cluttered house. Our mind is the cypress tree in the garden. Our mind is exactly what appears in front of us, without separation.
Though clear waters range to the vast blue autumn sky,
How can they compare with the hazy moon on a spring night!
Most people want to have pure clarity,
But sweep as you will, you cannot empty the mind.
– Keizan Zenji
Studies have shown that most of us think. (Zen joke.) Most of us think our mind is our thoughts. We think our thoughts are what we are. Thoughts about the past, the future, the snappy little article in Newsweek. But here Keizan Zenji tells us otherwise. The mind he speaks of is not the thinking mind beneath our skull. It is true mind. Buddha mind. And he tells us it cannot be emptied.
Now this Keizan guy is so deep and so precise that they sometimes call him the Mother of Zen! He describes our mind perfectly. Vast, clear, incomparable. If you have a concept of clarity, that’s not it. If you have an idea of purity, that’s not it. If you have a picture of emptiness, that’s not it. It is empty as it is. And it appears full. Doesn’t it?
This is not for you to take my word on. This is something for you to examine for yourself. Where is that past you think you can’t let go of? Where is the emptiness you envision as a vacuum?
We should thoroughly study ourselves from top to bottom. Our existence has nothing to do with the old or new, the past or the future. This time we are living right now exists as it is. There is no way to compare it to anything else. It is more than enough. It is the life of the sun and the moon, the life of the mountains and the rivers, the life of hundreds of grasses and myriad forms.
There’s a good description of emptiness! Everything, anything, sun, moon, hundreds, myriad. When we say empty, you see, we mean it is not a fixed thing. It is constantly changing. It takes every form. It is empty and full. We misjudge empty when we think it is lacking. Or when we think it is the feeling of lacking.
In any of the phases of the moon before it is full, is anything truly lacking? Is the crescent moon lacking? A half moon? Of course not. You can see that assuming that the moon – or your life – at any time is not full doesn’t make any sense. Perhaps you are much more logical than I am, and you don’t wait for the day your life will be full!
Oh that Maezumi! He’s always telling a Zen joke. You have to clear away the clutter before you can laugh out loud. You, yes you, are Zen! Now put your shoes in the closet.