Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Things We'd Rather Pretend Don't Exist

Today was that time of the year again--time for me to clean out the bathroom sink drain. The sink had been draining slower and slower over the past several weeks, so I knew it was time to clean it. But I kept putting it off. I'll do it next week, I kept telling myself. And on the summer went until I had run out of excuses.

Cleaning the drain is the home-owning task that I like the least. Even though I know that most of the gunk inside the drain is the result of my shaving, I want to gag just thinking about it. 

In Zen, there is no good or bad; picking and choosing is the source of unhappiness. Thinking creates pleasant and unpleasant, beauty and ugliness. Still, I couldn't help but squirm in disgust at the slimy mess awaiting me in the drain pipe.

As humans, we seek pleasure and try our hardest to avoid discomfort. When I unscrewed and removed the drain pipe, then snaked a paper towel down it, Basho's poem echoed in my mind: 
Fleas, lice,
The horse pissing
Near my pillow
Deep down I know that, like the horse pissing next to Basho's pillow, it's all It. Nothing is left out of the great reality. Everything is vital, integral; it's all the body of Buddha. In our ignorance, we as humans would like to remove anything we deem unpleasant: flies, lice, the slime in the pipes.

Avoid picking and choosing, another voice said in my head as black jelly-like slime in the shape of a cylinder slid out of the pipe. My stomach clenched. How on earth could this be part of the Buddha's teaching?

The mistake we often make is to confuse our response--or reaction--to something with the thing itself. Just because I gag at the sight of something putrid doesn't mean that there's anything "wrong" with it. That's simply my reaction to it, conditioned in part by my upbringing, culture, and biology. But if I were a crow, a dead raccoon on the side of the road would be a feast.

Avoid picking and choosing, I reminded myself as I tied the plastic bag shut. I shivered when the task was done. Thank goodness! I suppose that I could feel guilty about my reaction--after all, what kind of Zen teacher gags in disgust at some goop?--but I didn't.
If black slime is it, then so is my instinctive revulsion.
When our bodies and minds naturally lean towards or away from an experience or object (we all prefer one meal over another), that preference too is the great reality. The impulse to pick and choose is itself It. The Buddhadharma includes everything, even our rejection of other things.

Good thing too because in another 300 days or so I'm going to have to clean the drain again. Fun...

No comments:

Post a Comment