Living with the Spreadsheet


The most beautiful and spot-on depiction of enlightenment I can remember is not from the Buddha, from Dogen or from the just brilliant Sawaki. It is not even from a Buddhist. It is from a strikingly natural neo-advaitan guy named Jeff Foster. You see him on YouTube. He said:

"Finally... finally... sitting on a chair can just be: sitting on a chair."

It struck me as funny recently, because I realized it's also the exact definition of "just sitting", of shikantaza (except for the chair part, regrettably).

So why can't we just sit? Instead, we are looking for "enlightenment".
Why don't we just love? Instead, we "relate".
Why can't we just work? Instead, we are doing jobs.
Why can't we just live? Instead, we are burdened with "our" life.
Why can't we just die? Instead, we see a problem or a defect.

Why can't we just do everything 100%? Why is there this unsightly "me"-thing that is always needy, clenching the "my life"-thing that is always a problem – sometimes a bearable one, but still a problem? How did the tangible reality of what we are degenerate to what I call the "spreadsheet" of our lives: a mere list of meaningless memories that we take for ourselves and that needs to add up to a profit, so we can feel reassured for a while instead of alive?

Of course there's answers. The textbook answer is that you mistook yourself for a thing, but things are mind-made, they are ideas. You are not an idea, not the "spreadsheet". You are real! (Which can come as a bit of a surprise.) This answer cannot be known by the mind, it can only be experienced as yourself.

Muho's phrasing seems a bit different, though it obviously expresses the same thing: There are no answers to be found. Instead, you have to give the answer yourself through your life. Which seems to translate to: There is no enlightened insight, there is only enlightened action. There is no delusion, there is only laziness. And Muho's quite solid evidence is the rice harvest. So apparently, you don't have to realize the falsity of the egoic spreadsheet – it may be enough to forget about it altogether [insert overused Dogen quote here]. How do you find yourself then? By simply being yourself!

What I absolutely love about Muho's approach and its expression at Antaiji is: It does not require anything! You could be a total jerk and the next second you can just walk out and chop some wood, so the cooks can work. You can have profound and necessary insights about the universality of love – but you can also simply help the assistant cook with laying the tables. You don't need to understand what mindfulness is – because you can simply hear when your heels are banging on the hardwood floors (and so can others). A mirror-like mind is nice – but so are shiny toilets! Everything is just so super super super simple! No more running in circles after enlightenment – just grab a broom: there it is! You doubt it's there? Of course it's there! Why?

Because you immediately realize you are not sweeping for profit, for that stupid spreadsheet. It just does not show up there: "Today I was nice and kind and I swept the floors thoroughly like a real bodhisattwa: 200 karma points." Or the negative version: "I am too unenlightend to sweep the floors properly. I need to explore the secret of mindful sweeping for a few more years." Bullshit! People need clean floors, you are holding the broom, and the rest just happens without "you". Bang – you are free!

This is also why I have yet to encounter a deeper teaching at Antaiji than the humble: "Let the dishwashing do the dishwashing.", a perspective I am familiar with from my artist profession. While I do not know if I will ever "die on the cushion", it's becoming more and more difficult to survive at the kitchen sink.

The most important teaching at Antaiji however was the people I met. So: sorry to everybody for probably being more of a "teenage" than an "adult" practitioner and depending way too much on my countless teachers: Thanks to Tsukan, to Eko, to Gusho, to Yudai, to Hirukawa, to Jisui, to Steffi, to Tomomi, Megumi and Hikaru, to my very special friend Izumi, to Ole, to Vikas, to Hiro (thanks for the tremendous website work), to Werner and family, to Ellie/Yoshin and many others, and of course to Muho. Have a safe winter; hope to see many of you soon!

And to you:

I love you! Here is your broom!