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Polishing the Stone

I want to talk about a story that probably many of you have heard before, and which I'm sure I'll talk about again in the future, because it's one of those stories that really sums up how we picture our practice. There was once a very earnest, zealous young monk who was sitting by himself outside in the monastery courtyard. Even though the monastery had a long strict schedule of meditation, and the end of the day, instead of taking a break, a extra zealous students would go outside for some extra-curricular sitting. And then his old Teacher happened to walk by and saw him sitting, very straight, perfectly still, deep in concentration. The Teacher taps him on the shoulder, and asks him, "What do you think you're doing?" And the monk, very serious and very honest about his  ambition, replies, "I'm trying to become a Buddha." Hearing that, the Teacher sat down on the ground right next to him, and picking up a stone from the ground, started rubbing and rubbing it in his hands. And after a few minutes, the monk (even though he was trying very hard to concentrate!), couldn't resist asking the old Teacher, "What are YOU doing?" And the Teacher replied, "I'm trying to polish this stone until it becomes a mirror."

The old Teacher wanted his earnest young student to see that practice isn't about changing ourselves into something else, even though when we're as honest as this monk was, that's what we all hope practice is going to do for us. Some people, like this monk are ambitious and idealistic; others come because they feel hurt or damaged or inadequate and just want practice to make them feel OK. Traditionally, we are told that the monk can't become a Buddha by meditating because from the start he is already Buddha. Water can't get any wetter than it already is. But why then should he practice? Well, for one thing, he certainly doesn't feel like his idea of what a Buddha must feel like, does he? Continuously attending to that intrusive picture of what he thinks he supposed to be and feel should be his real practice. Over and over, watching and labeling all the thoughts , all the "shoulds," that attach themselves to his moment by moment experience. In a way, just endless polishing the stone until he can see himself in the mirror of the stone. Just an ordinary, dull, lumpy stone. Perfect!

But while it can be said that both the monk and the Teacher are already intrinsically Buddhas, they are functioning very differently aren't they? Even though "water can't get any wetter," there is an enormous difference between water that is given to quench thirst, or used to water a plant or to wash the dishes, and water that is carelessly spilled and wasted. When we really see water as water, we know immediately how to use it. When we entangle ourselves in pictures of how our life is supposed to go, we lose sight of our true nature, our true function, and then is easy for our lives to go to waste.

I want to talk about a story that probably many of you have heard before, and which I'm sure I'll talk about again in the future, because it's one of those stories that really sums up how we picture our practice. There was once a very earnest, zealous young monk who was sitting by himself outside in the monastery courtyard. Even though the monastery had a long strict schedule of meditation, and the end of the day, instead of taking a break, a extra zealous students would go outside for some extra-curricular sitting. And then his old Teacher happened to walk by and saw him sitting, very straight, perfectly still, deep in concentration. The Teacher taps him on the shoulder, and asks him, "What do you think you're doing?" And the monk, very serious and very honest about his  ambition, replies, "I'm trying to become a Buddha." Hearing that, the Teacher sat down on the ground right next to him, and picking up a stone from the ground, started rubbing and rubbing it in his hands. And after a few minutes, the monk (even though he was trying very hard to concentrate!), couldn't resist asking the old Teacher, "What are YOU doing?" And the Teacher replied, "I'm trying to polish this stone until it becomes a mirror."

The old Teacher wanted his earnest young student to see that practice isn't about changing ourselves into something else, even though when we're as honest as this monk was, that's what we all hope practice is going to do for us. Some people, like this monk are ambitious and idealistic; others come because they feel hurt or damaged or inadequate and just want practice to make them feel OK. Traditionally, we are told that the monk can't become a Buddha by meditating because from the start he is already Buddha. Water can't get any wetter than it already is. But why then should he practice? Well, for one thing, he certainly doesn't feel like his idea of what a Buddha must feel like, does he? Continuously attending to that intrusive picture of what he thinks he supposed to be and feel should be his real practice. Over and over, watching and labeling all the thoughts , all the "shoulds," that attach themselves to his moment by moment experience. In a way, just endless polishing the stone until he can see himself in the mirror of the stone. Just an ordinary, dull, lumpy stone. Perfect!

But while it can be said that both the monk and the Teacher are already intrinsically Buddhas, they are functioning very differently aren't  they? Even though "water can't get any wetter," there is an enormous difference between water that is given to quench thirst, or used to water a plant or to wash the dishes, and water that is carelessly spilled and wasted. When we really see water as water, we know immediately how to use it. When we entangle ourselves in pictures of how our life is supposed to go, we lose sight of our true nature, our true function, and then is easy for our lives to go to waste.