Of The World

My post yesterday prompted a correspondent to ask, ‘What is going on (actually)? Do you have some verbal answer?’ I suggested in reply that they go and look out of the window.

I received in return a description of things seen and things felt: ‘a very “mundane” verbal description of an experience – and yet, ok as it is.’

After this exchange, as I was out on my bike, I remembered that many years ago, when I was still a student, discussing with a good friend the value of traveling the world – not just to see amazing places, but also to promote personal growth – I quoted a line from a Talking Heads song, ‘I look out the window, and I call that education.’

I also thought, while riding, of the stamp that used to appear on books in the Zen Center library, courtesy of Celeste, the librarian who has since died, with the exhortation, ‘Have an Ordinary Day’; and of how Ed Brown, invoking Suzuki Roshi, talked of the ordinary being special and the special being ordinary.

The word ‘mundane’ has a connotation of boring, or perhaps even sense of drudgery attached to it. A sample online definition tell us:

Mundane, from the Latin word mundus, “world,” originally referred to things on earth. Such things were supposed to be uninteresting when compared to the delights of Heaven; hence the word’s present meaning.

And yet: this is what we have; this is where we are. Okay as it is. When we feel that we have to be looking for the supramundane and ignoring or belittling the mundane, we miss the opportunity to practise – or as Dogen would say we miss the moment of practice-realisation. When he says in the Genjo Koan, ‘here is the place; here the way unfolds’, it is easy to look past the fact that he really means right here, right now. Whatever that looks like.

On my ride yesterday, the world looked pretty beautiful. Once I was over the hill from Mill Valley, and descending towards Muir Woods, I was sharing the road with turkey, quail, and, unprecedented for me, two coyotes by the roadside in different places. I rode north along Highway 1 with the blue Pacific as a backdrop. It was wonderfully life-affirming, even the section that had recently burned, with its scorched ground, crisped brown leaves, and traces of pink fire retardant on the asphalt and barriers. And so was riding on 17th St later in the day, with three young people, two on scooters, one on a bike, all ringing their bells as they enjoyed their afternoon excursion. And so was chatting with the cashier at the supermarket, and being flustered by a careless driver soon afterwards.

Every moment counts.

2 thoughts on “Of The World

  1. It reminds me of a line that always stuck with me from question 14 in Dogen’s Bendowa. I can’t find exactly the translation that I have in my mind, and probably I cobbled together several in my memory without realizing it, but the way I remember it, Dogen wrote: “[They] only know that in mundane affairs, there is no Buddhadharma, they do not yet realize that in the Buddhadharma, there are no ‘mundane’ affairs.”

    Of course, some translators render it “worldly affairs” or “secular life”, and others “the mundane”, and some translations render it one way in the first phrase and differently in the second phrase, which obscures the parallelism.

    And yet, ok as it is.

    As always, I appreciate your posts!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s