Sunday, January 4, 2009

Letting in the cow

[photo from]
The tradition is that Shakyamuni tried a lot of different paths, including a very ascetic path without eating and became just a living skeleton, but found that that wasn't the way and he accepted nourishment. Somebody offered him some milk and he drank the milk. We might symbolically see that as allowing whatever cows represent into his life, too. Some sort of nurturance, some sort of earthiness. So he accepted the milk and sat up all night, and in the morning he looked up and for the first time he truly saw the morning star.
This is John Tarrant's casual retelling of the story of the Buddha's enlightenment experience. I don't know why, but I am fond of cows, and when I read this passage this morning I felt pleased at the hominess of it. I happen to know it was a passing girl who gave him the milk; or some say, rice pudding.

I think a lot about the great simple cow of the body as I and my friends age. Civilization has taken us on a path away from the gross demands of the body, and it's been easy to spend most of our time in our minds and in control. But as we age, the cow ambles in the open door. It is large and exceedingly hard to budge; it goes its own way. It makes unnegotiable demands.

I noticed a commercial tonight on the evening news. I'm not sure what the product was; maybe Aleve. A woman of around sixty was playing badminton, bounding all over the court, and telling us voiceover that before she discovered the Product, her enjoyment was tainted by pain in her knees. But a little Product and wham! she can abuse those knees all she wants.

"Pain," I told the TV, "is your knee's way of communicating with you. You're not supposed to override your knee. You're supposed to listen to it." But the TV didn't answer.

Sometimes newcomers at meditation fall asleep sitting up. It tends to be the same people who do this again and again, always amazed at themselves. Maybe there's a diagnosis, narcolepsy or low thyroid. These things are worth getting checked out. Sometimes it's just that the brain might like to keep going, but the cow is chronically tired and grabs any chance for a little rest. I'm rambling here, like a cow slowly making its way home, so I will stop now and look for a pretty, sentimentalized picture. There.

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