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The Four or Five TruthsThe incomparable lion-roar of the doctrine
Shatters the brains of the one hundred kinds of animals.
Even the king of elephants will run away, forgetting his pride;
Only the heavenly dragon listens calmly, with pure delight.
Zen textYou only get what you are big enough to take.
Jimmy Hoffa Jr.
The ways to find one's way to Enlightenment are many. There is prayer and fasting, and some try that to great effect, but that road is severe, particularly to people with electronic scheduling software and a lot of business lunches as part of the general requirements of their jobs, not to mention drinks after work, and pretty soon fasting, if not prayer, is out the window.
The Buddha was quite clear on this subject: if Enlightenment was reserved for those who don't have to work for a living, it would be a pretty unfair deal all the way around.
The Buddha said it, and the scriptures make it clear over and over. In work lies Enlightenment just as surely as in wandering around in a bathrobe with a bowl of rice in one hand and a stick in the other. One need not remove oneself from the world to transcend it. One must use the tools that are put in one's path. Perhaps a tale might elucidate this point.
One morning the Buddha stopped by a barbershop for a little touch-up. The barber was a voluble and philosophical fellow, as many of that profession tend to be, and he regaled the Buddha with a host of meaninglessanecdotes and flippant observations in which the Buddha had no interest.
At the end of an especially broad and runny river of drivel, Buddha closed his eyes and took one of those deep, cleansing breaths that afterward became such an important part of his teaching. The barber at last noticed this and set down his scissors thoughtfully.
“Oh, Buddha,” he said into the gigantic void that was parked, sighing profoundly, in the chair. “I notice that I have been speaking without stop for well unto twenty minutes and you have said not a word. Is there something you wish me to infer from this?”
The Buddha smiled, and the Buddha's smile was indeed a beautiful thing to see, shedding radiance all over the place. “Yes, my friend,” the Buddha said. “Your job is to cut my hair. My job is to sit and have it cut. You see how close to perfection we might be if we each accomplished our duty without distractions.”
The barber was immediately struck by the truth of this and miraculously said not a word for the rest of the haircut. Buddha got to read the new issue of Car & Driver and left a nice tip.
You see? That's how it works. Everybody does what he or she is supposed to do without a lot of fuss and noise and emotion. Things get lighter. The lighter they get, the more enlightened you become. Pretty soon, nothing makes any particular difference. Except the work.In the tree, the nightingale sings;
What else should he do?
It takes but three
To line the cooking pot!
A steelworker makes steel, and in that action lies his Enlightenment. An accountant loses himself in his rows of numbers and may thus find the pathway to his oneness with the Universe. For others, the road to wisdom lies in two frequent states of being: sitting and silence. Mostly in meetings.
Sitting. And silence. Both are at the heart of Zen. They are also at the heart of the work we do.
Think about it. We are in a meeting. We sit. We are silent. At times, true, there is a verbal duty for us to perform, so we speak. And then, others speak. And while they speak? We are silent.
On our way to work, we sit on the train or in our car or we stand staring into the near middle distance like a cow in the field. We are going from here to there. What are we doing? Nothing. In that nothing lies everything.
We receive our mail, both electronic and paper, throughout the day. While we evaluate and respond to it, we sit. We are silent. At times, true, others enter our domain and require speech or reaction from us, but when they are gone, we return to our task and while we do so? We sit. And are silent.
We sit on a transcontinental airliner, traveling for four or five hours for a meeting whose meat will occupy perhaps ten or fifteen minutes. We stare out the window of the plane, trying to decide whether to watch the in-flight entertainment. We sit and are silent.
Between planes, we watch the inescapable CNN feed on the television that is bolted to the ceiling. A portion of our minds is taken up with the interesting story of the dancing bear that was adopted by a family of Bosnian dwarfs. But inside, as we sit with less than 10 percent of ourselves engaged, somewhere within, we are silent.
In that silence, there is liberation. There is peace. There is an end of desire, passion, and suffering.
We read papers that will shape our destiny. The Wall Street Journal thinks our industry is spiraling down into the toilet.
Our spirits rebel at what we read, be it newspaper, memo, or E-mail. Inside, we are a riot of feeling. But stop. Look within. Is there not something in there that really doesn't give a shit? Of course there is. In that place, there is silence. There is the Buddha.
There is the answer to the management and control of elephants both large and small.
Why, look. Here comes one now into our little corner of the village. “Owoooo!” It raises its trunk heavenward and lets out a trumpeting cry. Perhaps it dances around the area...
Throwing the Elephant . Copyright © by Stanley Bing. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.