Not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away.
― Hakuin Ekaku
Wise words from Hakuin Ekaku, the 18th century Japanese Zen Buddhist master. You have probably heard of his famed kōan ( a short story, statement or question meant to test a Zen student’s progress) that basically asks: What is the sound of one hand clapping?
Heady stuff. But today we’re focusing on two of his thoughts, the one at the top and this gem:
At this moment, is there anything lacking? Nirvana is right here now before our eyes. This place is the lotus land. This body now is the Buddha.
We are creatures of desire and envy. We want constantly what others have, somehow thinking it offers us some intangible that will somehow provide us with lasting happiness. We envy other places, seeing in them qualities that we believe are lacking in those places we now occupy and believing that those places will provide a higher level of happiness or contentment.
But is happiness better found in more things or in far flung places? As Hakuin points out, in this moment, is there anything lacking? What prevents you from knowing what your happiness or what your truth might be?
Those two things–truth and happiness– are interior qualities. No place or thing can provide lasting truth or happiness. The secret is in not straining for these things but in recognizing that they are at hand, available if only you open yourself to them.
You may still want to to improve things in your life, acquire things or even physically move. But remember that they are not the way to contentment because it is already here, wherever that might be.
I write these words as a reminder to myself. I am as susceptible as anyone to falling to the lure of thinking that I can find happiness in external things and places. But a simple reminder helps me remember the happiness found in simple things, in recognizing the good things present in the humblest moments.
I thought about just that the other day. I was trudging through the mud outside my studio, a common thing at this wet time of the year. At first, it made me cringe and grump about it for a bit. Then I wondered why it bothered me so. It was part of the place that is a very important piece of my life and simply a product of the ever changing seasons. Soon it would be dry and grass would again be growing. I changed my point of view and felt a pang of happiness in that wet moment.
Simple things are not necessarily small things.
And vice versa.
And maybe that’s the message of the new painting at the top, a 24″ by 18″ canvas that I am for the moment calling Seek and Find : We can seek far and wide to find the thing closest to ourselves.