A Seven Month Old Kung-an

July 4th, 2021

“‎Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos…”
― The Joker – Heath Ledger

I started doing meditation back in 2005. Usually, it has involved sitting silently on a cushion for an extended period of time in the company of other Zen practitioners. COVID put an abrupt end to group meditation, and the arrival of Asher into my life put an end to sitting quietly in any kind of peaceful setting. Asher is our seven month old grandson, and my wife and I care for him 24/7. He is a wonderful little boy, but my time spent with him is not conducive to any of the standard meditation methods.

Asher is an agent of chaos, albeit a remarkably cute one.

So, have I given up on Zen practice? Actually, no. I just use Asher as my kung-an (koan).

A koan is defined as: “a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.” The classic example of a kung-an/koan is the question,

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

There is no logical answer to that question, and none is intended. I’ve never been any good with these verbal puzzles. Mostly, I don’t have the patience to work through them. After a short while, I just say “fuck this” and move on to other things.

Asher is koan that I can never solve, but I can never stop trying either.

Zen involves a few basic ideas. One of them is the necessity to be in the moment, to be right here right now. When sitting on the cushion, it is often easy for me to let my mind wander to far off places. However, the piercing cry of a baby is an extremely effective way to focus the mind on what is currently happening. A baby in distress brings me back to the present situation much better than the ringing of a bell or the slapping of a stick. With Asher, I am almost always in the here and now. I have to be in order to care for him.

Zen has the basic question: “How can I help?” Asher provides an answer to that question for me continually. Sometimes the answer is “Feed me”. Sometimes it is “Change my diaper”. Sometimes it is “Cuddle me”. Because Asher cannot yet speak, I have to guess at the answer to what he needs. I often guess incorrectly. An action that answers the question “How can I help?” one time may be totally wrong five minutes later. Asher is a constantly evolving riddle. Caring for him has no set solutions, no pat answers.

Zen is all about transience. Everything changes. Asher is always developing and growing. I never wake up in the morning to meet the same little boy. He literally changes before my very eyes. Whatever I know about this little guy is instantly outdated. He is a moving target for my mind. He doesn’t stop, so I can’t either.

Zen is about compassion. I feel nothing but compassion for Asher. He is inherently lovable, even when he is screaming like a police siren. When he suffers, I suffer.

Zen practice is designed to enable a person to know how to act without thinking. Asher teaches me that. I flounder a lot, but eventually I tune in to his wavelength. I now know his “hungry” cry, and his “wet diaper” cry, and his “I’m really tired, but I refuse to take a nap” cry. We can communicate without words.

I will never really understand Asher. That doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I love this little boy.

That I can do.

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