Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Happy Dogs

Once while I was staying at Deer Park, I noticed the caretaker had brought along his dog.

I love dogs, so I would sometimes get the dog going a little bit.  I would sit outside with my tea, and I'd say "wooh!", and the dog would flop on over, and I'd pet him and push his head around a little. 

When I finished my tea, we'd really get into it.

Once, to the great delight of the dog, the monks scheduled a walk around the grounds.  So, solemnly, everybody lined up started off, with the dog darting up and down the line beside us.

Like I said, I love dogs, and when they show energy like this, I just feel bad not being able to reward their joy.  So I'd put my hand out for the dog to chew on and slobber on when he would pass.

I got scolded for this, so I tried to stop, but the dog would have none of it, so I got scolded a couple of more times.

Afterward there was a short meeting, where we'd all sit in a circle and talk about our insight.

The monk who had scolded me wasn't there.  There was another guy there, who I suppose had seen the whole thing.  He told me that the monastery was for deep meditation, and that it is an important thing, this practice, so that we may rid ourselves of our attachments to the past, and to the future, so we may learn to live in the present, so that we may learn to appreciate our lives.

I never liked the phrase "living in the present".  It is one of those phrases that Buddhists sometimes use to avoid meaningful investigation.  I mean, nearly everything you know is from "the past".  It is here, part of your life.  It is where all your weight lies -- not the trees and cars and pieces of paper that you are looking at right now. 

The weight of a person is in the hurts and disappointments of the past.

So the thing people call "the past" is important.  If you can't come to see that clearly, if you are not working with what you carry, or what lies between "you" and another, then  what is your "practice"?

Avoidance of difficult feelings?

Besides, "the past" is something that some people see differently than most -- "physically" differently.

There are some traditional koans that, in fact, that point to this.

I didn't mention this, though.  Instead, I asked the monk about the dog.

I said if there's anyone appreciating his life, walking along that path, it was the dog.  And, if there was anyone who's mind never strayed far from the present, it was the dog.

My answer confused the monk.  He said that when we enter a monastery, we give up our attachments to some things that we find pleasing, and we do this to gain insight.

So I asked how does that appear in a man?

Is it closer to one of the solemn monks?  Or is it closer to the dog -- alert, and bright with energy on a walk along the trail?

Who is seeing clearly?

The monk responded "we are not dogs" and made it clear that the conversation was over.

But there was another guy there, who had been listening.  He was a writer from Santa Barbara.  He had stayed quiet, for a little bit, but then spoke up.

He said there was something that he always found curious, and that was the manner in which the things we call "practice" diminish the things that, perhaps, are the actual point of a true practice, and that perhaps, we can't look to find a "place" or "practice" or "form"  that will reflect a true evolution.

This man was particularly well-spoken, and I wish I could repeat what he had said, here, word for word.  But I can't, so I'll  just have to do with that little paraphrase, and leave it at that.

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