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Buddhadharma : Fall 2017
fall 2017 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 31 the path What Do You See? by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold One of the first years that I was at our Brooklyn Temple, I went out one Sunday morning 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 and asked what was up. He said he was organizing 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 pack- aged. 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 transfor- mation. After initially regarding this man as someone on lower ground, sud- denly 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 medi- cine: 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 depen- dent 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 I have put him on then? We must not deviate nor be distracted from what is true. What does that mean? It means that in the moment when we look and our mind instantly begins to form a clear and certain image, we see that construction. It is only then that we can recognize its destructiveness. We see how in that moment a whole person—who is as vast as the universe—becomes an object in our mind. And you know what we do to objects: we throw them away when we have no more use for them. The remedy for such violence is to see with the unbiased eye of wisdom what is directly before you. Fall 2013