The question of zen is what now? Not what’s next as in I’m bored now what do I do, but what occurs next in our perceptions of life around us.
What now is the recognition that in any moment, however one subdivides that into seconds or milliseconds, until we die there is something next. It might seem as if the last what now is the same as the next what now but scientifically and existentially that cannot be true. Our mind likes to make it all the same in order to simplify its work yet that does not change reality.
Each moment is different. If zen has a job, it is to notice that. And if it had job requirements, the only one would be not hold on to what one notices in one moment and to move on to the next. And if there was a job description, the requirements and the objectives would be the same. No bliss, no enlightenment, no objectives, just noticing/feeling/experiencing.
And the job location would be universal as in requiring one to do this no matter what else one is doing, like travelling around parts of the Asia or sitting at a desk at work.
My experiment with no comparisons on this trip brought up more issues than I imagined. The original inspiration for the experiment was a story my friend Chris told of a Japanese zen student that he met who would not compare the food at home to the food prepared where he was living in the US. The idea that each experience was its own to be not repeated and essentially different from the next meant that comparing two different meals was really comparing (as they say) apples and oranges. A meal is not a meal is not a meal.
The easier conceptual part was to try not to say x is like y. (Please ignore the comparison in the second word.) Recognizing that many of the adjectives we use are about comparison, like easier, added a new struggle. Finally trying to eliminate time comparisons like the one that started thus sentence or even harder (see they pop up everywhere like rabbits oops another) like last and next seems well impossible unless I narrate my experience in simple present tense in spontaneous writing that describes/states the qualities of that moment without boundaries.
I hope you get the idea.
In spite of the language inadequacies of describing this experiment, there are things I learned.
Comparing things makes me feel like I know what the new things is even when I don’t. The mind creates an idea of comfort when it thinks that one experience is like another whether it was seconds ago or years ago.
Comparing when traveling can turn a unique experience into a repeat of a previous one, at least mentally. Trying to make my experience clambering about Angkor Wat the same or different than when I clambered about Tulum or the Mayan ruins in Honduras was really not what I intended to do, yet that is exactly what my brain tried to do.
Comparisons cause me to stop experiencing what is going on now. And in doing so I miss things from the now. Or do not notice the things that allow me to lose my phone or hat. Comparison make me to lose what is happening now because I am caught in a vision created in my mind of the past.
I notice the sloppiness of language a bit more. What does it mean to say I had a great trip? What does that convey in terms of accuracy, memory or what I felt at a particular time? Nothing. So I have tried to say fulfilling, interesting, challenging and any other ing that come to mind.
I also notice my desire for the best which is perhaps the ultimate comparison, the great bright comparison, the supreme comparison, the incomparable comparison to paraphrase and mutilate the Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra. Seeking the best automatically eliminates or degrades what is not the best which in the seeking process means about everything. The best denies all that came before and sets up the situation when it become superseded afterwards. The best is never.
I have experienced enough in life to know the best does not last long and accumulating bests does little. Best lists have really short shelf lives. And they create desire to repeat the best (not possible for any number of reasons including the obvious that it wouldn’t be best.) They also create desire for holding on to physical items and experiences. And perhaps desire to be someone else who has that best thing/experience.
All of this said, Suzuki Roshi often used the phrase in his dharma talks, “The most important thing is…” And each dharma talk would have a different most important thing. What I understand him to be saying is, at this moment, the most important thing is…And at this moment the most important thing is…
What now, what now, what now.
I can’t compare my comparison experiment with anything I have ever done before. Hmmm…Can you?