Here’s what we can do: hand it all over to the Dharma, to the practice. This tangle is just too much. Please take it.
I don’t know how popular the Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers were in the US in the 1970s, but in the UK they were big, and we couldn’t wait for the next one. We’d clamor and lobby to get our parents to take us to see even the re-runs when they came to town.
In one of them Peter Sellers, aka Inspector Clouseau, arrives at a grand mansion and rings the doorbell. It gets stuck and won’t stop ringing. Fancying himself a handy kind of guy he gets out his pocket-knife and tries to open up the mounting of the bell to get into its wiring. Eventually he pulls out yards and yards of wires, which get more and more tangled, and meanwhile the bell is still ringing. Finally the bell stops, just as the door opens and the butler appears.
Sellers is there at the door. He hands over the bundle of wires and says, “Here, I have mended your bell.”
What’s this got to do with Dharma practice?
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking we must be good students, good practitioners. Perhaps we should be in a state of perfect equanimity when we sit, or deep quiet joy or something, and instead we’re seething inside, or restless, or the thoughts just keep popping up as thick as a woven rug, no gaps anywhere. So then we may get a double whammy. Not only are we feeling grumpy or disappointed or anxious, or whatever it is, we are also being bad practitioners!
Many of us in the West seem to have some guilt around difficult feelings. Somehow it’s bad of me to feel this way. I should be feeling good, not bad.
But our practice is not supposed to compound difficult feelings with judgements about them. Instead, we should actually do like Peter Sellers, and hand the whole tangle over. Here—you deal with it. And the butler quietly takes the whole caboodle from him.
I’m feeling unhappy and I shouldn’t be. I’m never quite a good enough person. Now I have this marvelous practice of meditation that promises peace, love, joy, whatever, a path out of suffering can you believe it, and I’m obviously failing at it, because just look at me, sitting here suffering, miserable. So I’m no good at this either!
Here’s what we can do: hand it all over to the Dharma, to the practice. This tangle is just too much. Please take it. And note if you don’t see just a little wry smile appear on Buddha’s lips as you do so.
What would that be about? I’m feeling awful—and he’s smiling? Is there some kind of joke I’m not seeing?
The Dharma teaches that nothing has inherent self-existence. Not me, not other people, not a single thing has it. Perhaps if there’s a God even he or she doesn’t have it. We could just start with that, let that sink in a little.
Where does that leave the tangle in my hands or heart? For one thing it doesn’t mean I have to sort it all out. Rather, all the strands of thought and feeling “no more are than are not,” as Nagarjuna said.
Dogen said: “Thoughts are not unimportant but they’re not that important; feelings are not unimportant but they’re not that important.”
But still, what am I supposed to do with all this?
Give it to the practice. Which means: stop trying to fix it.
Instead, welcome it. Let it be. Let it not be a problem. Let it be as it is. You and the Dharma together—let it be, give it all a full welcome. That’s how we give it to the practice—by saying, come on in. You’re welcome here.
Maybe many things can work themselves out if we just give them a little space.
By Henry Shukman, from our Newsletter archives
Image, Pink Texture, by akader,CC0 Public Domain, from Pixabay.com