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Seppo, Ganto, and the Zen Antiques Roadshow

Once upon a time, two Chinese monks named Seppo and Ganto went on a pilgrimage. Now, in those days, a pilgrimage could be an arduous and dangerous affair, and on this occasion they were trapped in a snowstorm. By sheer good luck, there was an inn nearby where they were able to take shelter and wait out the storm. Ganto, the older of the two, immediately stretched out in front of the fireplace and went to sleep. Seppo, on the other hand, immediately began doing zazen. After a good long snooze, Ganto woke up and saw Seppo still sitting in front of him. Seppo chided him, " How can you just go to sleep? Aren't we supposed to be on a pilgrimage?" And Ganto replied "Why don't you give yourself a break?" he asked. "It's been a long cold journey; what's wrong with taking a nap in front of the fire?" And Seppo replied, "I've never had the big enlightenment experience I've been searching for in my practice. I can't afford to waste a moment." So Ganto said, " Don't you know that a family heirloom isn't something that arrives one day through the front door - it's what you've had in your possession all along."

How many of us are practicing like Seppo - looking for some valuable new experience that we can then possess and treasure? How often do we overlook the treasure we already possess?

Ganto's metaphor of the family heirloom put me in mind of the TV show, "The Antiques Roadshow," where people bring in all sorts of old stuff for the show's appraisers to evaluate. Sometimes, some old table that's been in the family for generations and that nobody has paid any particular attention to turns out to be a genuine Chippendale; sometimes the stained glass lamp everyone thinks is a Tiffany turns out to be a worthless fake.

If you've watched the show, you've probably seen that two of the show's appraisers are twin brothers. Imagine a Zen version of the show with twin Zen masters on opposite ends of the room. People line up in front of each, and one by one show them their "treasure." On the left, whatever they bring in the master is ecstatic, " Incredible! What a treasure! You so lucky to have it," and so on. On the right, the other master says to everybody in his line, "Sorry, that's completely worthless, a piece of junk, throw it out." (Then, after lunch, they take a break and switch sides!)

Some of us, like Seppo, can't believe that our ordinary day to day experience is the treasure we seek. Others cling to each episode of their private soap opera and think nothing could be more important. So a teacher's job is to go back and forth between pointing out neglected treasures - pain, confusion, doubt, all the "nothing special" moments of everyday life - and pointing out the essential emptiness and impermanence of all the self-centered pseudo-treasures we hold onto as our most valued possessions.

What have you brought in for me to appraise today? Which kind of collector are you?