Doing Something for No Good Reason

Damei asked Mazu, “What is Buddha?”
Mazu responded, “This very mind is the Way.”

~ Gateless Barrier, Case 30

A few weeks ago, we got a new puppy, a German Shepard, just seven months old. Like any spoiled child, we have given her an array of toys, which she obsessively chews, chases and destroys.

Along with the array of hardened plush dolls, including a pink flamingo and a gray monkey that squeaks when released from her jaws, are two balls. One is a kind of Superball that when I throw it five feet into the air, it seems to bounce back six feet, and continues its exaggerated bouncing until she grabs it. The second is a red thick-skinned tennis ball that now has a big hole torn in its side. When thrown in the air, it hits the ground with a thud and only a whimper of a bounce.

Recently coming out of a three-day meditation retreat, and throwing these two balls to Mocha, they became for me metaphors for my states of mind. I entered the retreat feeling like a Superball, free and bouncy; unburdened. It seemed everything I said and experienced was light and appropriate. Interactions with others were easy and just-so appropriate. During a short extemporaneous talk to the group, I felt good and filled with a kind of light.

And then the ball began to lose some of its bounce. I watched myself become more self-conscious. I needed to search for words, as my chats with people somehow felt flatter. It seemed like I was beginning to over-explain myself. And suddenly, I became sure people had biases behind their comments, and their interests were no longer aligned with my own. The ball began to feel torn, and it was hitting the ground with a thud.

I am much tempted to label the first bouncy-ball mind, the free and easy one, as a mind in accordance with the Way. As for the second thud-ball mind, when things for me were harder, I want to think I was no longer acting in accordance with the Way. But I don’t think that’s what Mazu was saying. He wasn’t excluding any state of mind ~ bouncy-ball or thud-ball ~ from the Way.

Usually, at the beginning of the retreat, we go around and share what is important in our lives at that moment. For whatever reason, one of my friends’ sharing did not go smoothly. I could tell she was disturbed about it. That first night, I had a long dream about the retreat, and my friend appeared in my dream. A bit concerned for her, I asked her how she was doing. She responded, in the dream, “I am fine. Really, I am totally fine.“ And I could tell that in her heart, she was fine.

But in waking life, the next few days became more difficult for her, she spiraled down into a thud-bounce. At her low point, she sent me an email asking for advice: should she stay and participate, stay and not participate, or leave the retreat altogether? I suggested: “Stay and participate for no good reason.” Surprising me a bit, she responded brightly:“OK, I will!” And with that change of heart-mind, in the retreat she became noticeably lighter; her sharing became deep and meaningful to all of us. She later told me that she had kind of a break though: “I realized all my previous opinions did not matter at all.” It is not that she figured out she was right, or wrong. For her, nothing in her experience was wrong or out of place. It was something greater than right or wrong. It was simply the Way.

What is Buddha, what is the Way ~ perfection, enlightenment, light? More than that. It is this very mind, bouncy-ball and thud-ball.