This is what remains of our TV screen:
Our daughter, “Princess”, recently got a new Star Wars lightsaber,1 and decided to practice with it in the living-room, and this was the result. It happened on Mother’s Day too. The TV is now quite broken, and Princess is forbidden to watch TV or play video games for a long, long time. Apart from that though, I realized that it’s not worth getting too upset about.
It reminds me of something I read in the bilingual-book “What is Zen” (mentioned here). In the book, Rev. Fujiwara talks about an elderly woman who was ill from tuberculosis (kekkaku 結核). He writes about her:
She was confined to bed rest for an extended period, and was extremely frustrated. No matter how intensely she wished to recover as quickly as possible, it was beyond her control. She realized that all her fussing, fretting, and fuming were getting her nowhere. When she finally noticed this, she was able to calm down again. She succeeded in accepting her present condition. She became one with her illness.
Rev. Fujiwara then quotes a poem she composed:
躓くままに tsumaku mama ni
コスモスの kosumosu no
花美しみ臥せて hana utsukushimi fusete
今日を嘆かず kyō wo nagekazu
In English this was translated as:
Frustrated though I am,
I enjoy the beauty
of the cosmos flower
from my bed,
not regretting this day.
Similarly, when I see the broken TV, I can’t help but admire the beauty of the cracked display in this photo. It will cost money to replace this, but on the bright side the TV was 6 years old and probably was going to get replaced in a few years anyway. I’m not trying to be glib or write a bunch of unless “Zen” New Age platitudes though:2 I have to accept it’s gone. I can’t control when or how it will go, and I can’t go back to the way things were. I can only go forward but at least I can choose which direction forward.
Similarly, when our tree fell into our neighbor’s yard last month after heavy rain:
I was upset about it until I noticed the next morning that our house got more sunlight now. Further, the damage was surprisingly small. I wish I had cut it down sooner (I was going to do it the following month), but again I can’t change that now. It’s done. 終わり.
But I want to emphasize that this isn’t a kind of naive-denial. I’m not trying to delude myself (hopefully). In an old sutra, the Lokavipatti Sutta, the Buddha explains life like so:
“Monks, these eight worldly conditions spin after the world, and the world spins after these eight worldly conditions. Which eight? Gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure, & pain….His mind [the run-of-the mill person] remains consumed with the gain. His mind remains consumed with the loss… with the status… the disgrace… the censure… the praise… the pleasure. His mind remains consumed with the pain.
I’ve had wonderful times in my life: great food, romance, accomplishment at work, etc. I’ve also had terrible moments of disgrace, rage, and depression. Over and over again. If I allow myself to get caught up in these moments, good or bad, I will get strung along, worn out, unable to find peace of mind. On the other hand, if I can step back, even just once in a while, and not allow myself to get caught up in the constant ups and downs of life, I can find clarity, strength and peace of mind.
The rest of the sutra explains this in much greater detail. The point is, I can’t control the loss of the TV, nor the accident with the tree. Sooner or later, shitty things will happen just as awesome things will happen. That’s life.
P.S. Another post on staying “even minded”.
P.P.S. That said, Princess is still grounded for a long while.
P.P.P.S. Speaking of Zen, I composed the following death-bed poem for the TV:
Like the bell of Gion Monastery,
the ringing of the TV screen
reminds us that we too must die one day.
It’s a lousy poem, but then again I am not a Zen master.
1 Bad time to mention this, but it is a pretty cool lightsaber. ;-p
2 If you’re looking for Zen platitudes, you’ll find plenty at your local bookstore under the “Buddhism” or “Spirituality” sections.