(From a dharma talk given by Roshi Janet Jinne Richardson,csjp
Zen Community of Baltimore/Clare Sangha)
The old song “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it” is a song about being distracted from what’s going on, from action, by art. To the accompaniment of a magnetic melody, the singer talks about misplaced priorities and the lyrics tell of allowing the means to take precedence over the goal. “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it.” Are the means important? Is art important? Go to a museum any day; listen to a concert; read a book and the answer resounds loud and clear. Must we cherish the means? Of course. The challenge arises when we upset the priorities, as the song says, and allow the WAY it is done to obscure WHAT is done. “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it” is a songwriter’s warning, a red flag. Be alert, be attentive.
Look at that famous observation: “She can’t see the forest for the trees.” She is so swept away by the parts that she can’t see the whole. Her attention is fixed on the small units—the trees—so that the total picture—the forest—is lost. Her life is off-balance.
Look with me at the experience of a contemporary American woman poet. She writes: “Customs clinging to my skirt like bits of tawny straw or briar from my day walks through interminable countryside.” Fixed ideas and attitudes hang on us. Moving through the interminable countryside that is our life, things attach themselves to us like bits of straw or briar. Sesshin is a time to let go everything that clings to our clothing, that is our skin, our minds, and hearts. These precious hew hours of sesshin are a cleansing bath, refreshing and reinvigorating. We rejoice in this opportunity to distinguish between WHAT is done and the WAY it is done, to look at both the forest and the trees and perceive which I swhich in our lives. We celebrate these customs that cling, bits of tawny straw or briar from our day walks through life. We celebrate the practices that sheds them to reveal the beauty of the interminable countryside that is our life
Look at that familiar lovely picture of the mother teaching the child cradled in her arms about the moon. The mother points her pretty finger at themoon and her gaze is fixed there as she describes the science and symbolism of the heavenly body to her child. But his attention is fixed on her pretty finger, and everything Mother says about the moon, Baby attributes to her pretty finger. His perception of reality is off track.
Look again at Zen Master Judi and his student as in Case 3 of the Mumankan. The young man saw Judi raise one finger to questions about Zen. So the young man imitated his master and missed out on this own direct experience of reality. This sesshin, give old Judi a thrill: shed light on the DOING as well as the WAY is done, see the forest AND the trees, see the briars and bits of tawny straw that are fixed ideas, fixed behaviors and customs. With that contemporary American woman poet, walk free, live in your own direct experience of reality.