Monday, August 12, 2013

Make Me One With Everything

The Zen Master took no notice of the summer heat as he calmly navigated through the thick crowd of mid-day shoppers. A delicious smell wafting in his direction had drawn him toward a red street cart parked precariously at the curb. Beneath its striped umbrella, a large weathered sign featured an approximate likeness of the hotdogs that were dispensed with precision by the skilled proprietor.
     The Master stood before the vendor, a short stubble-bearded man who wore an almost clean apron and a friendly smile. "Can I help you?" the man asked.  For many moments, the Master did not answer. He would not be rushed and insisted on silence while surveying the traditional wares: Hotdogs with toasted buns were centered on a brown-stained grill; those already cooked had been pushed to one side to keep them warm. Square tins were filled with hot sauerkraut, sautéed onions, fresh relish, sliced pickles, and coarsely grated cheese. Salt and pepper sat in metal shakers and the mustard and ketchup waited patiently to be squeezed from yellow and red plastic bottles. Ice cold drinks, sweating from humidity, were neatly arranged and available for purchase.
     Unusual for this clientele, the growing line of customers did not protest their long wait. Somehow, the Master's presence alone had gifted them with newly found tolerance and understanding. Finally, the Zen Master spoke - his whispered voice barely audible above noise from the street. "Make me one with everything," he said.

As a younger man, I used to pick up an occasional book on Zen, read about 20 pages, put the book down, and then move on to do something else. The exception was when I thought an attractive girl might be impressed by the book's title - in which case, I might read 30 pages. The truth was that I simply didn't get it. I would read it; re-read it; think about it; pick it up; put it down; but I still didn't get it. What I read didn't seem to make a point - which I now know was the point that I didn't seem to be getting.
     Just like a seven year old child who achieves balance on a two wheel bicycle when he finally stops trying, I realized that my lowly kitchen plaque displayed a message that would make me feel just a bit smarter. "It is what it is," the plaque said. This seemed to summarize the elusive concept I had been searching for. If the authors of Zen books put a picture of my kitchen plaque on their back covers, maybe they would sell more books. 
     We Western thinkers have been brainwashed into believing that everything has to make sense. And if we can't figure out why it doesn't, it obviously means we must be missing something: Our reasoning, facts, or basic premise must be wrong, We are good at evaluating reasoning and facts, but then we are blindsided by a wayward basic premise. This is because we mistakenly treat the words "basic" and "correct" as if they are synonyms when they are used to describe a premise.
     The premise that deserves the most scrutiny is the one with greatest potential for causing errors in thinking. Most of us accept that "paradox is not allowed" because the concept of paradox defies logic. But who made this rule?  And nothing about God should be included in the discussion because if God is metaphysical, then by definition, God is outside our understanding and we can only make guesses about him-her-it anyway.
     If you are like me, you constantly find yourself saying "This can't be," when obviously it can be because it is. It's time to 'fess up and admit that opposite and contradictory sides of the same problem can be equally correct because paradox is allowed. And if this seems somewhat paradoxical, that's too bad. It is what it is.

A married couple approaches a rabbi and the husband says, "Rabbi. We have a disagreement. I think that A and B are correct."   The rabbi says, "You are correct."
The indignant wife says, "But rabbi, I believe that C and D are correct." And the rabbi says, "You are correct."
Together they say, "But rabbi. That can't be. They are complete opposites. They can't both be correct."
"That is also correct," says the rabbi.