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Buddhadharma : Fall 2013
26 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY FALL 2 0 1 3 and asked what was up. He said he was organiz- ing his stuff. I said, “You know, people are going to be coming soon for our Sunday service, so all your personal things here are going to be a bit of a problem.” He said, “Don’t worry, Reverend, I’ll have it all cleaned up.” So I set off on my run and went around the block figuring I’d swing back to see how it was going. As I ran past, he saw me and called out, “I’m on it, Reverend!” I said, “Okay, great.” When I came back a while later, the sidewalk was immaculate. All of his gear was carefully organized and meticulously packaged. Not only had he taken care of his own things, but he had also broken up all of the wood from the fallen branch into same-sized sticks and tied them into a bundle with a piece of cloth. He had then attached the bundle to a branch of the tree and on a piece of cardboard written a note that said, “Dear Sanitation Workers, just pull this string and this wood will drop out and you can haul it away.” I kid you not. If we were a business, I’d have hired the guy. In that moment, my sense of who this person was went through a transformation. After ini- tially regarding this man as someone on lower ground, suddenly my view of him was raised. Our initial expectations of someone can be defied and changed by experiencing them in a new way, which enables us to see how our fixed ideas are false. Experiences like this offer a certain kind of medicine: they give us pause, teach us not to be so quick, and help us understand that superficial appearances are just that. But this is still working on the surface, because this kind of opening is dependent upon having our expectations challenged. What if I’d come back from my run and all of his gear was still laid out and he hadn’t done a thing? Or what if he hadn’t been so courteous? What ground would positions for skillful purposes; we can use them knowingly. Yet how much suffering, how much human destruction—past, present, and future— arises from a view that places everything in a relative position? This is the mind that dominates and subjugates the Earth and everything on it for its own convenience. This mind confuses us, giving rise to the idea that it is our place and our right to subjugate. That’s why we examine the many ways those false assumptions get played out. And what we realize is how frequently our behavior comes down to habits of convenience and our tendency to be lazy. But ours is not a practice of laziness. New York City is a perfect place to notice how quickly our mind turns toward those sharp and decisive discriminations, because everywhere we look we see the vast spectrum of humanity. We can practice just observing the mind as we walk down the street and pass people by, or as we sit on the subway or stand at a counter. What do we perceive? Attraction, repulsion, formations of mind, unreal mental constructions, and thoughts and fantasies that we take as the truths about oth- ers. Yet all of this is our conditioned mind. We say to ourselves, “This person is smart; that person is stupid. This person is lazy; that person works hard. This person is interesting; that person is bor- ing.” We get so caught up in our ideas about oth- ers that we silently judge them without ever really seeing the person who is right there in front of us. One of the first years that I was at our Brooklyn Temple, I went out one Sunday morn- ing before sunrise for a run and saw that there was a homeless fellow on the front sidewalk who had bags of gear spread out all around him. In addition, a limb had broken off the tree in front of the temple and fallen on the sidewalk during the previous night’s storm, so the whole sidewalk was a mess. I went over and said good morning New York City is a perfect place to notice how quickly our mind turns toward sharp and decisive discriminations, because everywhere we look we see the vast spectrum of humanity.