The Other Side

Original photo by with addition of Dash by Kim Mosley

I search and search... The perfect this and that. One day it is searching for the perfect diet, then the perfect exercise, then the perfect shampoo, then the perfect friend. The dissatisfaction is looking for the perfect me... How would I really like to be, what would I like to know?

I totally confused a man at the free sample sushi table at Central Market today. I've never seen it without someone handing out samples before. There is a little story here. A few weeks ago I was handed a piece of sushi by an Asian looking guy. He said, have a kamikaze roll. I wondered if he knew what it meant and finally found out that it also referred to a drink that was a mixture of various ingredients.

So I figured that kamikaze must have more meanings than the one who gets in an airplane and rams it into an enemy plane, killing all. 

Today the chef/pilot was nowhere to be seen. I was a little worried about him. 

An old man was there, also waiting for a sample. I put a sample in a cup and handed it to him. He declined the gift, and so I ate it myself. Then he said, “Oh, that was very nice of you." So I said, “Yes." I think I more surprised him than anything... but probably should have responded better.

How would the I who I'd like to be respond? If I'm already me, who was it that was responding? Would/should we be the person who'd we like to be? Since our friends like us as we are (I don't think they'd wait around), would we have to find new friends?

Suzuki Roshi said, “You are perfect just the way you are... and you could stand a little improvement? Could both parts of the statement be true? I

If I am perfect just as I am, why do I have to do anything? And also, why do I have to change.

A high school classmate recently wrote, “You don't marry the perfect spouse. You marry to become the perfect spouse.” But where do you start? I’m full of loose pages and frayed edges and need a lot of tender conservation.

I certainly often think it is better on the other side of the stream. I waited breathlessly until I could get a drivers license... but by the time I did get it, at 23, it wasn't such a big deal. And I waited breathlessly to get through with high school, to get through with college, to have a real job, to retire from the job, to this and that. I waited breathlessly for what would make me happy. All things on the other side of the river. Where is the boat to take me across?

Wait, the wise man says that I'm already there. Can't he see I want to be on his side, where the grass is greener? How can I be satisfied with this stuff that isn't the perfect this or that... or is it?

Kim Mosley


Zen without Kanzeon

From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps, story 78 of 101 Zen Stories.
Real Prosperity
A rich man asked Sengai to write something for the continued prosperity of his family so that it might be treasured from generation to generation. Sengai obtained a large sheet of paper and wrote: “Father dies, son dies, grandson dies.”
The rich man became angry.  “I asked you to write something for the happiness of my family!  Why do you make such a joke of this?”
“No joke is intended,” explained Sengai.  “If before you yourself die your son should die, this would grieve you greatly.  If your grandson should pass away before your son, both of you would be broken-hearted.  If your family, generation after generation, passes away in the order I have named, it will be the natural course of life.  I call this real prosperity.”
When I first read this, I was in my twenties and a smart-mouthed young man. I found Sengai’s answer to be a smart-aleck answer to a trick question. Somehow I did not hear the last paragraph, heard another version, or a re-telling by a smart-aleck.

Many years later, I helped my wife by working the sound system to do the funeral of a young man who died of AIDS.  Six months later, his family was back.  His younger brother could not go on without him.  He committed suicide. The parents and the remaining son grieved and I grieved with them.  The knobs on the sound system, thankfully, were large enough to be seen through tears. This was not the first funeral for a young person I attended.  At this time, I thought to myself, “Our children are dying too early.”  At this point I understood Sengai’s compassion for the rich man.

I’ve attended funerals for friends and children of friends where the parents and even a grandparent was there.  This is not prosperity.

My problem with tonight’s prompt is that I hear it in my own voice, maybe the voice of the smart-mouthed young man part of me.  I wonder if I had heard it direct from a compassionate teacher, would I have understood it differently? On my first reading, I just heard a smart mouthed, trick answer.  It sounds like so many I met in academia, just waiting to zing you and show off in response to an honest request for help or information.  On considering it again, maybe the master is pointing out the self-centric nature of the question, the answer depends on where you stand.  Or maybe telling the initiate to look inside himself for the answer that he already possesses.

I wonder if encountering some other tragedy will reveal the wisdom in this story.
Lady Wisdom always speaks.  She sets her own pace.
Zen writings without a teacher too often fail to carry the compassion.  My home shrine has no image of Kanzeon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.  Maybe I need to keep her image before me while reading Zen stories and ask for her wisdom.

—Jeffery Taylor

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