A monk as Yunmen, ’What is Buddha?’
Yunmen replied, ‘A dried shit stick.’
~ Gateless Barrier, Case 21
We seem to spend a lot of time convincing ourselves that we are wonderful and great and pure. We are good eggs, as our dialog goes. But maybe realizing we are a piece of shit is a cleaner path toward freedom.
A few years ago Matt Mahurin made a documentary called I like Killing Flies, about Kenny Shopsin, the curmudgeonly but widely-adored owner of a Greenwich Village diner. Kenny, who had 900 items on the menu, was famous for turning away business from his 24-seat restaurant, which forbade parties greater than four: ‘You are a party of five,’ he would yell, ‘even if you split into a two and a three; you will be a party of five for the for the next 100 years!’
Kenny was something of a salty philosopher: “The first duty of everybody in life is to realize that they are a piece of shit…They are not very good…Once you realize you are a piece of shit, it is not so hard to take. Then you don’t have this feeling that you are a good person all the time.’ A car without scratches, he would say, if hard to maintain.
Of course, from the very first we are wonderful and great and pure. But it is in our very ordinariness ~ our very shit-stick-ness ~ that that our natural beauty shines. Don’t mind the scratches or the stink.