Thursday, 10 October 2013

Foolish Wisdom

Jean-François Millet (II) 008 In the woods you take stock, make adjustments, and move on. Small matter, great matter. Life or death. Rain or less rain.

It's different from ordained practice, for a different enlightenment. Hermit rituals must be practical; nothing is done on someone else's promise that you will, in a year or twenty, find meaning in it. We are fundamentalists; winnowers, tossing the kernels of the ancient masters to the wind, and blowing off the chaff.

Yet the monastery is germane: oryoki, housekeeping, mindfulness. Shaving off hair that becomes tangled and greasy is symbolic inside the walls, but entirely practical on the mountain. One of many "foolish" zendo ceremonies that look less foolish when you live at their source.

That summer I learned that order and form, so seemingly obsessive in coenobitic Zen, are the bedrock of hermit practice. Things go to hell fast outdoors; they get dirty, broken, and lost. Exterior things, and interior things too. You must attend to them. Zen centre training gave me the skills to do that.

Who knew?

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo of Le Vanneur, by Jean-François Millet, courtesy of The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei; le Musée D'Orsay; and Wikimedia Commons.)
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