Once upon a time, at a Zen Buddhist center I attended, a group of us thought it might be nice to have an open house ... food and drink and music and conversation for anyone who was curious about Zen practice but a little unsure how they felt about the austere silences of the meditation hall.
As a member of the group, I made the proposal to the man who was leading the center at the time, an important man who loved his importance. After I made my pitch, he commented disparagingly, "Everyone comes when there is food." It was a slap in the face, a suggestion that food and drink and music and conversation were not really serious matters, matters as serious as the seriousness which needed to be applied to zazen or seated meditation. This was flimsy shit when compared to the search for enlightenment or understanding or peace of mind.
Everyone comes when there is food. Of course they do. Of course people enter through inconsequential doors as a means of seriousing-up in their lives. Everyone begins with lies as a means of addressing the truth they seek. What other fucking choice is there?
Anyway, we had the party and lots of people came and whether they ever went further with Zen practice I really don't know. It was a fun party, the food was good, people danced ... all within the confines of the Zen center that was littered with altars and statues and a kind of studied cleanliness.
Sometimes I think stories are like that. Telling a tale about people in a Zen center who decide to throw a party is more inviting, more accessible, than diving head-first into some disquisition about "attachments" or "delusions" or "compassion" or "enlightenment." Sure, there may come a time when such disquisitions excite a similar delight, but in the meantime, stories about actual-factual people keep matters on the ground in the mind. People -- people like me -- had a party and danced and ... well, I can sink my teeth into that and feel a connection. Whether there will be a further connection -- a willingness to investigate and make an effort -- well, that's up in the air ... possible, but not mandatory.
Stories dance and eat and smile and invite. They may lie like bandits, but their lies hold out, as always, a potential for willingness and effort. Or not. No matter.
Stories can be as tasty as potato chips. Aside from a rising cholesterol, what's wrong with that? People decide for themselves when and how to serious-up, when to forsake nosh food and get to the main course. Rigid imperatives, important shit, are only as important as the consent that individuals offer.
For all that, I do get further and further from a willingness to tell the stories that I know are delicious.
Everyone comes when there is food.
Of course they do.