There was a man by the name of Cudapanthaka, whose brother was a monk, a disciple of the Buddha. He wanted to become enlightened so he asked his brother to help him learn how to meditate. He received some instruction and he tried and tried but he couldn’t do it. He didn’t feel any closer to enlightenment. He figured he’d have to quit and find another way. The Buddha heard about him and went to talk with him and hear his story. He then suggested he sweep, just sweep the dust away. So he did. After quite a long while, he finally understood what that meant and why the Buddha suggested it to him.
I took this story in different direction—more in keeping with Reflective Meditation.
After I heard this story, I looked out my window and it was a beautiful, sunny day and what came to mind was sweeping my patio in the summer. Dust, dirt and leaves collect on my patio. Some of the dust gets swept away quite easily. Like little annoyances; they come and go rather easily.
Then there would always be some clod of dirt that baked onto the patio. The dirt got rained on and then the sun dried it out. It was stuck to the patio and I actually had to dislodge it with my shoe before I could sweep it away. Doesn’t this sound like the stickiness of our dukkha?
And then there’s the crevices between the 12 x 12 slabs of concrete.
The crevices seemed like my well ingrained habit patterns of thought, feeling and behavior—anger, anxiety, perfectionism, worry. I could attack it with repeated attempts to sweep them clean or even use a power washer, but they’ll just refill again.
I could sweep and sweep. No amount of sweeping would clean it out. Even if I used a power washer, in 2 weeks time, I’d have to do it again.
In Reflective Meditation, we take a different approach. We see the dust, dirt and leaves as sources of insight, something to be valued and not brushed aside. We take time to look at it carefully. What is it? What do I see? Hear? Feel? How does that pattern get enacted over and over? What are the conditions that contribute to it? How did I keep it going and how did it change over time. And of course doing all this exploration with as much kindness and compassion for my own dukkha.
The story of sweeping the dust away is a metaphor for conditions and dukkha for me. As such it is a source of insight, valuable rather than something that should be swept away. How could ‘sweeping the dust away’ as a practice help you? How could you make the image of sweeping a path your own metaphor for your practice?
Your well chosen analogy brings to mind the oft repeated phrase of “sweeping things under the rug” or hiding the dust and dirt without paying any attention to them. “Out of sight, out of mind” is just not the case as you make clear in your patio cleaning story. Not all “dust and dirt” is the same and each requires an awareness and acknowledgement of the differences to best deal with them.
Thank you for the sweeping away analogy. It reminds me of the digging and gentle sweeping done in archeological excavation- done carefully so as to reveal all the nuances of history to be revealed in a multitude of layers. Everything is valuable and everything matters, even as one layer is swept away to reveal another insight.
Your writing is a pleasure- graceful and clear.