Another Monday, another very short Zen story. This one comes from The Great Heart Way, a truly remarkable book co-written by the teachers at Great Mountain Zen Center in Lafayette, Colorado, where I first sat.
There was a traveling monk who went from temple to temple carrying a big bag of horse manure over his shoulder. When he arrived at a new temple, he would set his bag down and exclaim, “This place smells like shit!” Then he’d pick up his bag and move on to the next temple and do the same thing, surprised every time.
I hesitated briefly when choosing to post this story: as pithy and humorous as I find it, it could come across as an obvious point rather coarsely expressed. In the end, I decided that this tale embodies quite well the frank earthiness of Zen—and as I mention on the homepage, if I’m not offending someone at some point, I’m probably not doing my job.
For me this story is pertinent not only because of my deepening interest in Zen, but even more, my ongoing quest to find a more fulfilling life situation, one that more fully approaches my magic mantra of Money, Mission, Mate, and Home. Nearly eight months since I pulled up stakes and left Denver for Austin, I’m still questioning whether the pastures here are, in fact, as green as they seemed back then. I’m not surprised to find that the big bag draped over my shoulder smells the same here as it did back there, and I’d sure like to avoid the example of the monk in this story.
Wherever we go, a great deal of what we see is precisely what we bring with us. Our own issues invariably get projected onto new horizons, as our habits find new ways to play themselves out. A change of scenery can surely shake things up, give us new perspectives; but the bits inside the kaleidoscope are still the same. In my experience, albeit limited, Zen meditation can help settle the endless twisting and turning of our mind’s kaleidoscope, giving us glimpses of a clearer vision.
Regardless of whether you meditate, pray, or pursue a different path, it seems to me that the more we can acknowledge our own participation in the unsatisfactory things we see around us, the better. To paraphrase the credit card commercial, what’s in your bag?