Pillows and Cats
A monk asked a teacher, “What does the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion use so many hands and eyes for?’ The teacher replied, ’It is like someone reaching for a pillow in the middle of the night.” He later added, “Throughout the body are hands and eyes.”
~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 89 (abridged)
The most fundamental point we learn in Zen is that we and all other things ~ including angels and demons ~ are not separate from the very beginning. It is an understanding that we cannot explain in words, but must experience. That experience often is more mundane than lofty, more simple that grand,; essentially more pillow than Bodhisattva of Great Compassion.
In a retreat we just completed, one of the attendees, a well-known choreographer (see www.fujiwaradance.com) was generous enough to take us through an exercise of trying to see ordinary things in the most simple way. She advised us to move our gaze around while laying on the carpet, standing nose-to-nose with a pillar, or facing out the window. “Notice the lines,” she would say each time we shifted position, “Notice the textures, notice the play of the light and shadow.”
At one point she asked, “Who is seeing?” and I thought, “I don’t need to answer that question.” With that, I could feel the texture of the cushion I was looking at in my mouth. It was neither a big thing nor in the least bit strange. For a moment, the cushion and I were not so separate.
This sense of not being separate is the best medicine in unsteady times (As if times have ever been steady). With practice and experience, we don’t find understanding by explaining the complex workings of the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion. We find it by just reaching for a pillow, by smelling the wet alfalfa left in the back of a pickup truck, or by feeling your cat’s back arch when you scratch her.
(Could not resist the too-cute picture of my Bluebell’s look-alike)