making a song out of ordinary things

am home from work this afternoon early, because my daughter has the flu. It’s been a busy week, because the virus has made its way first through my oldest daughter, then has started with me, and now my youngest. Despite feeling under the weather, my little one, who is currently laying on the sofa near by, resting, felt the sudden urge to sing. Not a common song, or a current pop one from the radio, but one that she made up on the spot – about an ordinary every day event. It made me smile, and then got me to thinking about how beautiful children are. They are for many many reasons, but in particular today, children are beautiful for me because they can create something wondeful out of something that appears to be quite mundane and ordinary… they, in general, make the world delightful and extraordinary. The shortest song even, about something as simple as a spoon, was enough to make her laugh a little extra, and made me smile. On a day when we are both feeling run down, it was just the right thing to lift our spirits. It is why I delight in the ordinary.

Now, what comes to mind is a Zen story about tea:

Bodhidharma’s eyelids and the origins of tea

Awareness comes through sensitivity. You have to be more sensitive whatsoever you do, so that even a trivial thing like tea… Can you find anything more trivial than tea? Can you find anything more ordinary than tea? No, you cannot–and Zen monks and masters have raised this most ordinary thing into the most extraordinary. They have bridged “this” and “that”… as if tea and God have become one.

Unless tea becomes divine you will not be divine, because the least has to be raised to the most, the ordinary has to be raised to the extraordinary, the earth has to be made heaven. They have to be bridged, no gap should be left.
Tea was discovered by Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen. The story is beautiful. He was meditating for nine years, facing a wall. Nine years, just facing the wall, continuously, and sometimes it was natural that he might start falling asleep.

He fought and fought with his sleep–remember, the metaphysical sleep, the unconsciousness. He wanted to remain conscious even while asleep. He wanted to make a continuity of consciousness–the light should go on burning day and night, for twenty-four hours. That’s what dhyana is, what meditation is–awareness.

One night he felt that it was impossible to keep awake; he was falling asleep. He cut his eyelids off and threw them! Now there was no way for him to close his eyes.

The story is beautiful. To get to the inner eyes, these outer eyes will have to be thrown. That much price has to be paid. And what happened? After a few days he found that those eyelids that he had thrown on the ground had started growing into a small sprout. That sprout became tea.

That’s why when you drink tea, something of Bodhidharma enters you and you cannot fall asleep. Bodhidharma was meditating on the mountain called T’a, that’s why it is called tea. It comes from that mountain where Bodhidharma meditated for nine years.

This is a parable. When the Zen Master says, “Have a cup of tea,” he’s saying, “Taste a little of Bodhidharma. Don’t bother about these questions, whether God exists or not, who created the world, where is heaven and where is hell and what is the theory of karma and rebirth.”

When the Zen Master says, “Forget all about it. Have a cup of tea,” he’s saying, “Better become more aware, don’t go into all this nonsense. This is not going to help you at all.”

the other saying that comes to mind is – Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water, after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. ~ Wu Li



November 30, 2007


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