When Banzan was walking through a market he overhead a conversation between a butcher and his customer.
“Give me the best piece of meat you have,” said the customer.
“Everything in my shop is the best,” replied the butcher. “You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best.”
At these words Banzan became enlightened.
‘Everything is Best’, an old Zen story taken from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.
The other day I saw the most beautiful woman in the world. The funny thing is, no one else seemed to think she was beautiful. I didn’t get a picture of her, but this photo reminds me a little of how she looked – (this wonderful photograph is by Mark Story — to learn more about his work visit Mark Story Photography)
Usually, of course, our concept of beauty aligns more with a picture like this –
Beautiful as well, but have you ever noticed how narrow our concept of beauty has become? It was during a walk in the woods when I first discovered beauty in an unexpected place. I was in my teens, and walked past a pinecone. Now, pinecones are not considered ‘ugly’ by anyone, but they are certainly common. I looked down at this pinecone, no different than any of the hundreds of others littering the ground, and was suddenly breathless at the beauty I saw there. I was astounded at the shadows, the curves, the symmetry. Soon after, I began seeing beauty everywhere – in the shapes of clouds, in a crinkled-up soda can, and even in a pile of dog-poop beside a trail. The world had suddenly become filled with glorious beauty, and I couldn’t imagine that I had been missing all of it before.
This was one of my first real lessons in realizing that what I took for ‘the real world’ was actually a world given to me by my culture. And as wonderful as my culture was, it tended to adhere to a rather strict and glossy idea of ‘beauty’. Witnessing beauty fills us with an amazing feeling. But the beauty my culture had conditioned me to appreciate could only be found in magazines, on television, or in national parks at scenic overlooks. I could appreciate the glory of a colorful sunset, but missed the equal glory of an old, dry leaf.
We discover this beauty when we begin to pay attention to the workings of our minds. We notice how our ‘automatic’ reaction to something beautiful is actually a reaction that emerges from certain prejudices and ideals. As we notice the workings of our minds, and learn to appreciate the humorous way in which our minds jump from conditioned response to conditioned response, our minds begin to open. Our prejudices and ideals, once examined, begin to crumble. As those walls tumble down, they open our view to a world which is too beautiful to describe.
This is when our mind becomes free of prejudice. Indeed, the very idea of ‘beauty’ falls away, into a pure perception of all the sensations around us. Our bodies become fully alive – vibrant, sensitive organisms that are fully receptive to the symphony of sensations surrounding us.
We don’t discover this through special training or by forcing ourselves to try to see things differently. We do it simply by observing the workings of our minds, and asking some intelligent questions when our mind ‘fixes’ on a particular idea or prejudice. What discoveries lie behind the walls we’ve built around us!