This month's Musings was sparked by this story from the Buddha’s Life and a passing remark from the Guide.
Once, near the town of Shravasti, the Buddha was seated with his disciples when a woman named Krisha Gautami made her way through the crowd and knelt at his feet. Her tear-streaked face was wild with grief, and in the fold of her sari, she carried a tiny child.
“I’ve been to everyone,” she pleaded desperately, “but still my son will not move, will not breathe. Can’t you save him? Does the Blessed One work miracles?”
“I can help you sister,” the Buddha promised tenderly. “But first I will need a little mustard seed – and it must come from a house where no one has died.”
Giddy with joy, Krisha Gautami raced back to the village and stopped at the very first house. The woman who met her was full of understanding. “Of course I will give you some mustard seed. How much does the Blessed One need to work his miracle?”
“Just a little,” Krisha Gautami said. Then, remembering suddenly, “But it must come from a house where no one has died.”
Her neighbor turned back with a smile of pity. “Little Gautami, you know how many have died here. Just last month I lost my grandfather.”
Krisha Gautami lowered her eyes ashamed. “I am sorry. I will try next door.”
But next door it was the same – and at the next house, and the next, and the house after that. Everyone wanted to help, but no one, not even in the wealthiest homes, could meet that one simple condition. Death had come to all.
Finally Krisha Gautami understood. She took her child to the cremation ground and returned to the Compassionate Buddha.
“Sister,” he greeted her, “did you bring the mustard seed?”
“Blessed One,” she said, falling at his feet, “I’ve had enough of this mustard seed. Let me be your disciple.”
-- Adapted from The Dhammapada by Eknath Easwaran
Several things caught my attention while reading the story this time around.
One: The Buddha does not say to Gautami:
“All formations are transient!”
“All formations are subject to suffering.”
“All things are without a self.”
“Everyone suffers! You don’t have to grieve!”
Instead, he compassionately offers to help her and gives her a direction that will create an opening for her to realize the truth of his teaching.
Two: Krisha Gautami did not pause to say:
“O, Blessed One, how can mustard seeds help my son to breathe again? And why do those seeds have to come from a house where no one has died? What if I cannot find mustard seed? Can I get sesame instead? Do I have to go now or can I wait until tomorrow?”
Instead, “giddy with joy” she raced back to the village to do what the Buddha bid her to do.
Three. Once Gautami experienced the truth of the teachings, she let go the pursuit of the “mustard seed” to become a disciple of the Buddha!
The origin of the word disciple comes from the Latin discere, to learn. As a Buddhist, she pledged to learn from, to adhere to, to follow the Teachings.
There is so much we can apply to our own Practice from this story.
Making it Work
Having one’s own “direct experience” is the cornerstone of Zen. We are not required to “believe” anything. We are required to examine everything “I” believes as a way to transcend the “I,” the process of suffering, that keeps us from being present to how things are.
Unfortunately, without a lot of practice having one’s “own experience” is translated by the ego as “looking to ego/conditioned mind for what something means, and then believe/do what the ego/voices say to do.”
Here is an example:
We hear often about how Practice is working for people. We feel inspired to have the lit-up experience that everyone else seems to be having. We call the radio show to talk to the Guide about this, and her first question is the one we were hoping she wouldn’t ask:
Guide: “Do you Record and Listen?”
Participant (some version of the following):
“I used to, but I haven’t for sometime now.”
“It doesn’t seem to work for me.”
“I don’t want to R/L. Can I do something else?”
“I couldn’t make it work, so I stopped.”
“Yes! I do it religiously everyday for 10 minutes. But I still don’t feel lit up.”
How often have we stopped doing something…
going to the gym,
…because “it just isn’t working for me?”
This is a BIG bamboozle that we all fall for in some form or another. We can call it the “if it doesn’t work for me, there’s something wrong with me or it” bamboozle.
If egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate can get us to believe the conclusion that something is “not working for me,” it has ensured that it remains firmly in control of our life experience.
Some of us may actually pause and look to see why “it doesn’t work for me.” We might even earnestly report that the “voices of self-hate or resistance or ego identity” are responsible.
But how many of us actually pause and turn our attention to exploring…
how to make it work?
This revolutionary shift in orientation extracts us from the narrow, limited, and negative position of ego and opens us to the world of potential and possibilities. Now we are riding the Life wave of discovery. The more we do this, the more we realize the point of shifting the orientation is not to make “it” work per se (whatever it is), as much as to be in the process of Life’s yes and out of the process of ego’s No.
Don’t Make It a Contest
Even when we are looking at “how to make things work,” we must not stop paying attention. Ego has a back way in through another con game: Making It a Contest.
We’re talked into staying in an untenable situation…
“I need to stay in this job even though I am miserable because I need the health benefits.”
“I have to go to that party. How else will I know whether I have conquered the temptation to eat sugar?”
“I have to do this on my own. No one can know that I have trouble handling things like this.”
“I can’t move out because I want peace and quiet. It would hurt my roommate’s feelings!”
“I have to accommodate his request. If not, he’ll be offended.”
…that makes us deeply unhappy because it is the right spiritual thing to do! We’re told that if we were doing practice and doing it sincerely, then whatever the situation, we would be able to bear it with phlegmatic equanimity!
In fact, Life would never want us to suffer. We can practice trusting that if we have a lesson to learn, Life will keep offering us what we need to transcend until we transcend it!
So exiting a situation that makes us unhappy and making a choice for happiness is not a “failure” of the spiritual aspirant, no matter what the voices say. It’s a triumph over the ego that is rooting to perpetuate suffering.
We may not always be clear whether we made a choice from conditioning or freedom, but we always see/learn something if we’re paying attention!
And if we are Awareness Practitioners,
paying attention to everything,
and not taking anything personally
is what we do!
Be the Buddha. Do What the Buddha does.
Conditioned mind desperately wants answers to content questions.
“Should I leave or stay in this relationship?”
“How do I make myself meditate when I don’t want to?
“How often do I have to Record and Listen?”
Practice patiently points us to changing our context.
Often, like the instruction with the mustard seed, what we are told to do as a practice may seem completely outside the realm of addressing the issue we are grappling with.
There is wisdom in this way of redirecting the attention! The ego does not want an answer, it wants attention. It uses anything that is said to maintain itself.
When Practice gives us a task…
“Drop the conversation.”
“Come back to the breath.”
“Don’t indulge the self-hate.”
“Make a recording about what is true for you.”
“Lose interest in how you feel.”
…we are being assisted to make the movement into Awareness that reveals the context within which “our issue” is no longer a “problem.”
Practice movements are always encouragements to get out of the process of “there is something wrong” and drop into the awareness of how it all simply is.
If we want to be the Buddha, we have to do what the Buddha does, we have to act on the Teaching. If Practice tells us to get a handful of mustard seeds, we need to jump at it, giddy with joy, not from a place of blindly believing what Practice says but from enthusiasm for being disciples, dedicated to having our own experience of what the Teachings point to.
In the words of the Short Recitation:
“We are not here to create and cling to beliefs. We are here to pay attention. We are here to use everything in our experience to see how we cause ourselves to suffer, so we can drop that and end suffering.”
Is there an aspect of Practice that ego resists? If so, practice doing it anyway, no matter how “I” feel, to make the movement from ego’s no to Life’s yes. R/L
Is there a situation in your life which ego has made a contest? Talk to the Mentor! Tune in to the Intelligence That Animates and see what the Mentor says is most compassionate for All.