Sunday, May 4, 2014

Not Zen 109: Ordinary Achievement

A grandmother sat on her front porch drinking iced tea with her grandson. The sun hung low in the sky. The air had settled, still and hot. Flies buzzed in the shade of the porch. The family housecat slept in the corner. Every now and then, its ears twitched at a fly.

The grandson put his glass down. He gathered his arms around his knees.

"You say there's a natural flow of events and I should look for it." He nodded as he spoke. "But I've got to do more. I have to act. Everyone does. You say 'so act naturally.' But don't you see that's crazy?"

She titled her head.

"Lots of bad things are 'natural,'" he continued. "Sickness is natural. Ignorance is natural. I want to work towards sainthood, enlightenment, salvation. Something special. I want to achieve something. Those things aren't natural. They're paths to being the best I can be."

"Striving is ..." She started to say 'natural,' her grandson could tell. She paused to lick her lips.

"Do you understand what I'm talking about?" he continued. "I mean, you're the most at peace of anyone I know. And the nicest. You're almost a saint."

"You should have known your grandfather. There was a saint."

"Listen to yourself. Do you remember what it was like to have to try to be good, to really wrestle with bad temptations, or is it all just natural to you now?"

"This is a good moment," she said quietly.

"It's always a good moment to you."

She picked up the cane that lay next to her chair. With it, she pointed to a branch in the tree in front of them. There, in the crook of the branch, rested a nest built by bluefinches. A hatchling poked its head above the lip of it. The chick raised its beak to beg for food from its absent parents. It fluttered its wings.

"Does a bluefinch understand how to fly?" she asked. "If it could speak, would it talk of the struggle to understand the methods? Or does it merely achieve?"

"Flight is normal for birds," the boy answered without hesitation. "When they get to a certain age, all of them can do it."

"Enlightenment more natural for people than you think. Everyone can achieve it."


"You're on your own for that part, like a bluefinch when it learns to fly. I'm sorry. Just because I've achieved something doesn't mean I understand it. And even if I understood, I couldn't give you the power to fly."

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