A Zen master asked a student to bring a pail of water to cool his path. The student brought the water and after cooling the path, emptied the remaining drops on to the ground. “Why didn’t you give it to the plants? You shouldn’t waste even a drop of water.” The master said. The student attained Zen in that instant. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means a drop of water.
Sometimes a Zen koan makes you feel slightly foolish, doesn’t it? Upon reading it, you think to yourself – Really? That’s all it got to say? But I have to admit, that’s what I like most about a Zen koan. It says the least, in the most ordinary way.
It gives you a sense that you’re doing all right, as far as you follow common sense. It’s comforting to know, that as long as you’re being you, in the most uncontrived, unfabricated and unelaborated, rough and ready way, you’re not far from Buddhahood.
Before I even encountered any Zen parable, I’d been saving every drop of leftover water or recycled water, to water my houseplants. None of my rice-washing water, cold tea, or ice cubes in the fridge from last season ever got wasted. It’s not a practice based on principle, but more of a no-brainer fashioned out of inherent instinct. Naturally, the plants are flourishing in every corner of my home.
The flamingos in the hallway, they bloom all year round, with glossy pastel-red bracts and delicate rosy-pink spadices extending from swaying stems, looking exactly like a cluster of flamingos perching among abundance of heart-shaped foliage.
The peace lily in the den, its silky white blossoms repose on some dark-green stalks, a herd of cranes meditating in serenity.
And the jade plants in my study, their juicy green reminds me of the emerald bracelet my grandmother wore on her wrist. She’s a simple, uncomplicated, pristine woman, my grandma. She’s a Buddha-like presence in my childhood. Although she never studied Zen in her life.
As much as I am diligent in saving water and enjoying my plants, I’ve never felt ‘enlightened’ in any particular way, unlike the Zen student Tekisui did. My plants and I just keep on breathing, doing whatever we have to do in the moment, following our inner rhythm of seasons.
This morning, as I watered the violets on my windowsill, I got a glimpse of the neighbor’s dog, living out its everyday routines and rituals. Usually in the morning, it takes a stroll in the backyard. At leisure pace, it sniffs at some unknown scent in the air; it jogs around a bit, following its imaginary butterflies; sporadically it may come to a pause, holding its breath for something astir in the grass … In the afternoon, it sprawls out on the patio. Basking in the sun or clouds, it squints its eyes, surveying the semicircle of its finite domain … It’s just another day of a dog’s life.
Does a dog have Buddha-nature? The classic question comes to mind. As soon as it appears, it occurs to me how irrelevant the question is. I can just tell, for the neighbor’s dog, being a dog is what it is – perfectly adequate, with or without Buddha-nature. Any question imposed by human minds, would be simply redundant.