Friday, August 23, 2013

Everything is Best, Part II

Early in August, I was asked to sit "up front" this Monday and give the evening talk.  As I began preparing for this, I had a different koan in mind; then it came to me that the koan we used on "12 & Zen" Friday might be the best one to use.  What follows here is pretty much what I plan to say on Monday.

When Banzan was walking through a market he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer.
“Give me the best piece of meat you have,” said the customer.

“Everything in my shop is the best,” replied the butcher.  You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best.”

At these words Banzan became enlightened.

(He came to a realization)

Perhaps you’ve heard of the First Noble Truth = Suffering.  Life is suffering. To be human is to suffer.  Why?  The Second Noble Truth tells us why -- Suffering is caused by craving, our attachments…

“Give me the best piece of meat you have,” he asks.  Isn’t this a perfect setup for suffering?

         I’m hungry          …craving
         I want food          …craving
         I want the best    …craving “squared”

The BEST … It's a loaded word for us.  Even Banzan.  I can picture him whispering under his breath, “Oh do I love pork chops…they are the best cut.” And he might go on thinking how he hates liver.

My friend Jim and I talk camera stuff a lot.  We usually carry our small cameras everywhere.  A few years ago just before  we began doing this, Jim had a very capable compact Casio camera.  But I bought a Canon SD700.

Later on, Jim liked what he saw in my little Canon camera and bought the latest version, the SD 800.  No longer did he see the Casio as the best.

But when it comes to our large SLR cameras, Jim and I agree that Nikon is the best.  Since 2008, we’ve been very pleased with the Nikon D300.  That is, until Jim recently bought a Nikon D7100.  Now my D300 doesn’t seem to be the best anymore.

This is what we do when BEST enters the mind; probably beginning with the caveman looking for the best club or the cavewoman looking for the best grinding stone.

“Everything in my shop is the best,” replied the butcher.  EVERYTHING? How could everything in his shop be the best?  A sales gimmick, right?  He wants to sell all his meat that day.  He wouldn’t say this flank steak is best but those short ribs aren’t so good.

From the butcher's perspective, everything could be the best.  What if, to every customer, the butcher picked out the best piece of meat available….

·          I’d like a T-bone   – he’d pick the best T-bone.
·         The best chicken thigh – he’d pick the best chicken thigh.

…until finally there is only one piece of meat left; but it, too would be the best piece available.  Using his butcher skills, he could choose each next best piece of meat.  Maybe he’s onto something here?

But if I’m the customer, how do I know for sure I’m getting the best?  There’s that little nagging doubt.  Can we ever really know what is best?  Can anything actually be the best?

When I was 19 years old, having less than stellar grades at Colorado State, they requested that I not return the following year.  With the Viet Nam War going on, I joined the Naval Air Reserves instead of the possibility of being drafted.  It meant only 6 months of active duty, one weekend each month for 5 years, and two weeks each summer.   This was the best thing for me, yes?

In January of 1968 the North Koreans captured the USS Pueblo.  This became known as the Pueblo Incident.  I was just 25 at the time, now going to Humboldt State College. I was raising my grade point average, obviously college was the BEST thing for me, and I had just met this girl named Beth…and … My reserve unit was recalled to active duty!  Bummer.  Not good.

As it turned out, being recalled turn out to be one of the best things.  (1) Beth and I married in the summer of 1968; (2) my active duty turned out to be only one year, (3) all at NAS Alameda; and (4) I received the GI Bill which helped pay for the remainder of college.

Worst can turn out to be the best.

Best can turn out to be the worst.

"You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best.”

First this koan draws us (and Banyan) into the world of duality with the word BEST.

Everything is best!  How could that be?  Now great doubt enters.

"You cannot find here..."  HERE …  That’s it!  "At these words Banzan became enlightened."  He got it! He woke up.  He experienced “Best” without words.

We have everything we need right here.  Just this!  Or in this case, everything that the butcher offered.

Craving, reaching, grasping, pulling things into my life, holding on, knowing the answer – does not bring me happiness.

Nor a closed or narrow mind, excluding things from view  -- There's an old Chinese saying: “Don’t slander the sky by looking at it through a tube.”  This will not bring happiness and contentment.

What we call BEST or WORST, could instead become:

·      Good enough.

·      It could be worse.

·      A glass half full.

Give me the best, right here, but everything is the best -- This is what Banyan experienced.

What was the best thing that came to you here?


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