ZEN IS AS SIMPLE AS PIE!
Let's say that reality is a juicy pie, a pie so rich and great that it holds all this world and all worlds, all of life, the particles and the stars, whatever was or will be ... baked within. It is a pie of countless ingredients, endless spices and flavors, both the sweet and sour, plain and bitter ... sometimes happiness and sometimes tears.
You are born, and you feel like you're a guy eating pie in life's diner ... an 'ordinary Joe' sentient being encountering and experiencing that pie on your own tongue. You feel like, in life, there's the subjective experience of 'you' and 'your mouth' ... and then there's everything not, namely, that pie you are digging into. You are not the pie, you feel, and instead just a guy eating pie.
But, really, you're just pie too, through and through!
Oh, the human mind draws divisions ... separating what's experienced as "you" on this side of the tongue from all that's touched on the other side. But need you slice the pie that way? What's more, stick a slice of "you" under a microscope and, it's quickly apparent, you're made of the very same stuff ... the same atoms and molecules, apples and flour and dough ... as everywhere else in the known pie. Perhaps the mix in you is a touch different from the mix elsewhere ... a few more raisins, a little more carbon, a little less salt or a little less sodium. But you're obviously pie as pie can be ... made out of the same batter, stirred in nature's kitchen, heated billions of years in stellar ovens, spun out of the 'Big Bang Bakeshop' with the rest.
And what's really amazing is that you seem to be pie come alive (as weird as that sounds)! You seem to be pie that's come alive and is ... enjoying pie!
But when I say "enjoying pie", well, that's a bit misleading ... because it doesn't always go down easy, and sometimes barely can be swallowed at all. Oh, it has its lovely and light parts, but also tastes and textures that do not please at all. We try to eat around the ugly and heavy parts ... stick to the things we like ... yet that's not always possible. Some of life just gets forced down the throat.
Ya see, you see and feel that "you" are (to your little eyes which cannot see the 'Big Pie Picture') not the pie or, at best (sometimes you can see this much) you feel like just one piece of the pie ... and your piece is incessantly judging and appraising, running toward or away from, all the other "not you" pieces of pie that your piece encounters ... sorting those other pieces into slices of life you like and slices you don't. What's more, your bit of pie ... the bitefull that is your bit ... has a complex relationship with the other bits and bitefulls which it sometimes finds loving and sometimes hateful, which bitefulls it must daily encounter and mingle with. Sometimes the relationship is harmonious, but other times there is conflict. Frequently you and the others "go together" ... and frequently tastes and flavors clash. You do not like to clash, and are often unhappy about the rest. "If I had written the recipe," you may say to yourself, "I'd have done so quite differently, leaving those other pieces and flavors out!"
But this world, this body, this universe seems such a finely balanced symphony of ingredients that ... but a small change here or there ... there might be no pie at all. Or, perhaps, just flat and lifeless gloppy goo. A touch too much (or too little) gravity as baking powder, a sun and stars too hot like an oven (or too cold or long in the 'ice age' freezer), a cooking time too short for the evolution of life, or (taking an even slightly different turn of events) a history of this cosmos or this planet much other than what was ... and, while there might be something on the table, it certainly would not be the product here which we are now tasting and ... just as vitally for our purposes ... "us" here to be the lucky ones to taste it!
We depend, right now, on the recipe being pretty much just as it has been. There seems, perhaps, some possible reason to the madness of this mix. Were we to travel back in time to change it ... adjusting the timer or temperature on the stove, the history of events, removing the tragedy and keeping only the comedy like adding sugar by the ton ... we do so only at the risk of the whole crust collapsing or the fertile yeast never having risen with life, our lives.
Thus, a much better course is just to see yourself ... not merely as a separate taster of the pie quite apart from what is tasted ... nor even as merely a single, small piece of pie mixing and matching with other pieces for better or worse ... but as wholly and only The Very Pie Pie-ing. One's True Pie.
(we can usually taste only the first perspective about ourself, maybe the second, rarely the third. Zen practice allows all to be tasted at once.)
For you are the Pie ... and not just a slice, but pie from top to bottom, pie pie-ing with every bite. You are the pie in the most intimate and wonderful sense ... pie that is Pie that is savoring pie. Therefore, in the way of Zazen, we rediscover our True Confection.
You are radically, intimately, wholey and truly the Pie right now ... and the Pie is you and always has been ... as much as you are radically, intimately you ... as much as the tongue in your own mouth, the fingers which hold the fork, the eye which sees the golden crust, the brain which tastes that taste, the stomach which digests it all ... were they to become suddenly alive and self-sentient (hey, in a world where pies come alive, anything is possible!) ... would see themselves as singly who they each are, but also would just be wholly and intimately 'you' (an eye that sometimes might go on strike, arguing with you that it is its own man and it doesn't get paid enough). Through and through, Ordinary Joe. When tongue is tasting, when fingertip is feeling, when eye is seeing, when brain is experiencing ... it is just you, dear Joe, tasting, feeling, seeing and experiencing (you are the one eating pie). And, likewise, when you taste and touch and experience pie ... it is just Pie tasting, touching and experiencing pie via its tongues, hands, eyes and brains which ... wonder of wonders ... all got baked in a Pie and temporarily lent to you and me and some other joes to move and wiggle around.
Living Pie that's living pie!
Now ... you and me and all the rest are (when seen from one simultaneously true perspective on who we are) pieces which can sometimes conflict with other pieces. THUS, if there are no pieces ... then there is no conflict ... no pieces of pie to fight over... no unfulfilled hunger and craving reaching for its share ... so immediately enough for everybody! In a moment of Shikantaza, there are not two ... judgments dropped, aversions and attractions gone, hunger sated and cravings fulfilled as 'nothing to attain', divisions of this vs. that, me and you tossed away. There is One Piece, One Peace. The collisions of tastes and ingredients are harmonized. All is of One Taste!
All is One Taste!
(and it is precisely for that reason that we should not stay there, nor seek something as tasteless and unmoving as a frozen pie) ... for One Taste, if truly meaning 'just one monotonous taste', would take all the flavor out of life. Thus, Shikantaza is also the One taste that is all tastes, the 'Taste' that's okay and 'at one' with whatever tastes comes along taste ... (not some One Taste just limited to one bland taste, to the exclusion of other tastes).
What this Buddhist practice allows you to do is ... Have your cake ( or pie) and eat it too! For, rising from the cushion like a luscious steam rising from hot pie fresh out of the oven ... you learn that the One Taste is the Whole Pie, and the Whole Pie is also the 100,000 flavors and ingredients it contains. In other words, you can still know the One Pie, Whole and Unbroken ... and yourself as precisely that Pie from head to toe ... AND the Pie (Pie with a "Big P") as its individual slices and ingedients and myriad flavors ... AND each separate mouthful and changing taste as wholly and holy special and to be treasured on its own ... AS EACH AND ALL, ALL ALONG, ONE AND THE SAME PIE!
There is only One Pie, and that Pie is All and every varied, ever changing mouthful.
You thus know, for the first time, a world of this and that ... and the roundness of the boundless pie dish that holds all. Aversions and attractions as necessary for ordinary life ... and aversions and attractions fully tossed away, all at once. Fears and regret, hopes for how the pie will turn out, dreams that it will win the baking prize at the County Fair as found in ordinary life ... now tasted through simultaneous knowing that the Pie/pie has no compare and rises with no place to get to, nothing to attain ... the Pie ever and always complete and whole from the first. Both perspectives on 'pie-ness' known as one ... like two tastes of a single mouthful of pie.
We have found our Original Pie ... and now are free to eat with gusto (though in moderation and with balance, of course ... in consideration of the waistline and healthy living). We now more readily accept what ever comes with the next forkful ... cherries or lemons, sugar or salt ... for we know that it is just the Total Taste, and nothing should be left out ... or life would be as bland and unnourishing as a diet of plain crackers.
Let the Pie just be the Pie just be the pie
Oh ... and a few last points:
Who is the baker? Is there a baker?
What is the purpose of any baker's baking this pie, assuming any purpose at all?
The Buddha was not too concerned with such questions, teaching rather a formula to allow us to "pie" without suffering. He had little to say (and maybe knew even less) about where the ingredients came from, how they got popped into nature's oven, let alone by whom or why. He was more about eating the pie on one's own fork, in one's own mouth, without worrying too much how it all got there. The Buddha's "you are the peace of pie" did not express much concern for what the pie was, its particular recipe or whether it was produced by nature or nurture ... for "you are the peace of pie" whatever and however the case. These questions, the Buddha seemed to say, do not really matter ...
For if there was a baker ... be the pie well, consume in moderation and share with your fellow diners.
And if there was no baker ... be the pie well, consume in moderation and share with your fellow diners.
But neither did the Buddha rule out a baker (or a bakery), a cookbook, or an agenda to it all. The issue was just not central to the Teachings that he himself was cooking up, to wit, "be the peace of pie" whatever the case. There is nothing to stop Buddhists from considering the question of the "Baker" ... and believing in a "Baker" or choosing not too ... so long as doing so does not interfere with the central message: to wit, "the peace of pie" just as it is, when we stop judging, clinging or pushing it away.
Now, if you ask me, it is perhaps possible that this infinitely convoluted universe, this so finely balanced (even if not always to our taste) world, this 'could not have been much different without our losing the very narrow recipe we needed to be born' mix, could maybe have cooked itself up, or perhaps just happened blindly to pop out of nature's oven all ready to serve ... and just at the time and place for us (you and me and not somebody else) to be here eating it ...
But I don't believe it so ...
... for it turned out too well by my eyes (if not always as I would have written the menu were I its author). It is sweet in the right places to allow sentient life, not sweet in the right narrow places so as not to prevent such life, and in the proportions and places to let our lives (in particular) be ... though surely not always in the places we might like to see. That leaves me to believe that something's cooking, something is afoot in the kitchen and there is a "reason" for the raisins. I feel like I have peaked in the kitchen and seen obvious signs of the pastry chef at work.
But ... and here is the thing ... one way or another, a baker is never clearly seen from the dining room. The cooks (if there are cooks) ... whatever the cause ... seem to stay in the kitchen. The pie comes out, we savor the work ... and the cooks (whoever or whatever is cooking, blind nature or Allah or a guy name "Stanley the Baker") are hidden behind the swinging doors.
Yet, too, the whole mystery is not too mysterious after all ... and satisfying answers can be known, as real as cherry filling on one's own tongue ...
For knowing the baker's name and street address (if the baker has a name and place to go home to when the work is done ... knowing if Stanley exists or not) has little to do with savoring the pie that something or someone seems to have gone to all that trouble to make for us (and a lot of trouble it sure seems was involved ... billions of years worth at least, assuming pies don't just pop out of the oven by themselves!). Whatever the reality of the kitchen and the baking, trying to know the baker's name, shirt size, favorite sports team ... is not ... the way to "know" best the baker as baker. The most effective and immediate way to "know" the baker as baker is to know the baked handiwork ... to indulge in the baker's pie, now placed before us on a plate we call "just this moment". This pie holds the master's genius and heart. The baker is found right here. To run from the table and try to get into the kitchen, thereby to ignore the pie in search of the chef ... is both to ignore the pie and not "find" the chef' or the chef's real gift. It might be described as the greatest insult to the craftsman to seek to run away from his "creation" in search of Truth elsewhere!
If there is a chef and a place of creation ... it is not "over there" or someplace else ... but right in front of you, ready for you to dig in ... and you too
So, Instead, let's just express gratitude for the meal ... imperfect as it may seem at times. Thank you, Stanley! (i might have used a little less salt ... but ya did good).
The Pie is Truth!
Therefore ... even if the kitchen is empty, and there never were a cook ... know the Pie (in moderation)
And if the kitchen holds a secret, and the cook you wish to know ... know the Pie (in moderation) and the secret will explode on your own palate.
(I think that will tell ya more about the chef ... more precious information ... than even knowing his phone number and dog's name)
It is not "pie in the sky when you die" ... but right here, right now.
Whatever its purpose should there be one (and my tongue tells me there is) ... whatever the ultimate recipe (our best scientists, like diligent dietitians, are still trying to figure that out) ... the best course seems to be to do what we seem to be here to do, namely, to DIG IN! GOOD EATING!
What's more (and this is a vital part of the story) ... the baking is not done, and still ongoing with each moment ... with every act, word or thought by each of us, constantly changing the pie and the recipe for the future ... every compassionate act, adding a drop of compassion to the mix ... every hateful word adding a touch of sourness to the whole. In fact, we too are contributing cooks of what this life-world-self Pie will become from now on, and future flavors ... sweet or bitter ... based on our actions stirring the Karmic mix right now. So ... cook your life with care! What this life-world-self pie becomes from this moment out is, more than we usually are aware ... very greatly up to us as we stir things up.
It is a living, breathing constantly changing pie ... ever fresh and new.
Master Dogen said of a painted picture of a rice cake (what passed for pie in those days) ...
The entire universe with all of its events is only a painted picture of a rice cake. People and all beings arise there and Awakened Ones and Ancestors Wake Up and become what they are through it. So, if there is no "painted rice cake" there is no way to "satisfy hunger." Without this painting of "hunger" how can you meet the True Person? ... You should practice this whole world as a "painted rice cake."
Zen is simple as pie.
Gassho, J (writing this made me hungry ... i wonder if we have any pie?)