As you may or may not know, my daily morning reading/meditation comes from my Zen-a-Day calendar. I’ve ripped off plenty of those pages on plenty of these here pages already. Yesterday’s reading was as follows:
A tea master asked his son to rake the leaves in the temple garden. When the boy was finished, the tea master did not approve. The boy then returned to the garden and took great care to rake it again, so thoroughly that not one leaf or twig remained. Still the tea master did not approve. The boy was baffled, not knowing what else he could do. The tea master stepped into the garden and shook a tree, allowing a few autumn leaves to drift down upon the immaculately swept grounds.
Aside from the nice visual created in my mind, I’m not so sure how well this jives with my current understanding of Zen Buddhism. I suppose I’m cultivating more of an active-zen than anything else right now, which is why the note I placed on the calendar leaf this morning was “zen as an ‘art’ concept ≠ zen itself.”
I think society’s current understanding of Zen is more as it relates to visual experiences than anything else. We see a spartan room with one (or a few) carefully placed objects and say “that’s very zen”.
Caveat: I am not a Zen Buddhist monk, nor has my study of Zen Buddhism been what one might call exhaustive. I’ve read a bunch of things and can only give you my impression of what Zen means. I am by no means an expert. Though perhaps I am.
It doesn’t really matter anyway – the concept of ‘expertise’ doesn’t really fit in with Zen anyway, I think.
This is my third year with the Zen-a-Day calendar. So far, there have been few repetitions, for which I’m thankful. So to get back to what I wanted to say in the first place:
For me, zen (not much point in capitalizing) is, to a certain extent, about stripping things of their perceptual accoutrement, but it’s also about those perceptions themselves. They’re all we have. Zen is about the moment. While my perceptions in this moment are unavoidably shaped by the past (perceptions in other moments), the past isn’t now. And zen is about the now.
So, insofar as the reading placed a pleasant image in my head for a moment, it’s that moment that’s the bit of zen, not the characteristics of the image itself – a few scattered autumn leaves on a pristine bit of ground.